The basic fact that there are only 24 hours in a day is more of a challenge than a statement to
countless entrepreneurs and executives, many of whom get up each morning before the sun
rises and work until long after it sets in an attempt to squeeze every ounce of productivity from
the day. Their determination and work ethic are impressive, but their intensity is also a surefire
recipe for burnout: a condition brought on by stress and exhaustion that can cause depression,
anxiety, insomnia, and other symptoms.
Leaders across the business and professional world face a significant risk of burnout as a result
of their demanding positions, especially in modern work environments where the 40-hour week
is more of a goal than an accurate description of work conditions.
As Matt Plummer notes in his recent article in the Harvard Business Review, employers have
typically tried to address burnout by increasing pay, by offering services like gyms or childcare,
or through mindfulness initiatives. However, as Plummer points out, these solutions target the
symptoms of burnout rather than its primary cause, overwork. Therefore, he presents his own
tried and true techniques for reducing overwork, improving productivity, and soothing burnout:
In order to increase productivity and thus ease the burnout-inducing burden of overwork, then
it’s essential to develop a plan. Start by setting realistic, sustainable goals for improving your
productivity, and then flesh out a plan that will allow you to meet those goals.
As part of your strategizing, you’ll want to pick a particular productivity metric—it can be hours
worked, tasks completed, or something else—and track it. You can review this data to identify
how you can increase your productivity and design experiments to see what influences it. For
example, do you get more done on days where you go to the gym before work?
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your productivity won’t be transformed in a day, either. While
the urge to tackle every issue that weighs on your workflow is natural, this wide-angle approach
will further slow you down because you’ll end up trying to do too much at once. Instead, pick
one skill or behavior to change and work at it.
Setting a plan and finding new tools to help your productivity will make a difference in the short
term, but for your productivity increases to be lasting, then you’ll need to internalize new habits
Setting goals is one thing but sticking to them in another. As you embark on your productivity
enhancing journey, you may fall into the classic trap of unsustainable enthusiasm that slowly
falls away. Avoid this by finding ways to keep yourself on track; if you have a professional
mentor, for example, consider asking them to hold you accountable as you move forward.