Stress, burnout and advice

Sometimes I think I give too much advice. I like to give advice. I like to give good advice! But not everyone needs advice, sometimes people need empathy more than anything else. So I hope that my predilection isn’t a big negative on my listening skills. I hope it isn’t affecting them much at all, but I guess if I’m honest, I have to admit that it probably does, and I should be careful.

But there is one definite upside of giving advice, which is that if I find myself saying it to someone else, then I have to listen to it. Sometimes, the first time you can really hear something is when you find yourself saying it.

And most recently I found myself saying, “You have to take time for yourself. Study after study shows that a 40 hour work week maximizes productivity, especially for knowledge workers.”

I’ve been working some ungodly hours for most of the semester. More than 40? Sometimes more than 60 a week. I haven’t liked it, but I’ve felt like this is what I need to do to get everything done.

And maybe I slipped into that grossly unproductive zone where you are working and working at things and not really getting anything done. And making mistakes. I know I’ve made a lot of mistakes. The first exam proofreading was embarrassingly bad.

So. Stop. Stop it now. I am stressed. And I am feeling a lot of burnout. And you know what? I do not need to be a hero here. I’m afraid of not doing enough, but maybe that is stupid. If I did less, maybe I could do more.

And so, I need to try to take all or most of this next weekend off.

Don’t believe me? This web article is not perfect, but it discusses the relevant research.

It comes down to productivity. Workers can maintain productivity more or less indefinitely at 40 hours per five-day workweek. When working longer hours, productivity begins to decline. Somewhere between four days and two months, the gains from additional hours of work are negated by the decline in hourly productivity. In extreme cases (within a day or two, as soon as workers stop getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night), the degradation can be abrupt.

Many of the studies quoted above come out of industrial environments, and it may be argued that the more creative mental work of programmers, artists, and testers is fundamentally different. In fact, it is different , and Colonel Belenky explicitly addresses that:

In contrast to complex mental performance, simple psychomotor performance, physical strength and endurance are unaffected by sleep deprivation.

The ability to do complex mental tasks degrades faster than physical performance does. Among knowledge workers, the productivity loss due to excessive hours may begin sooner and be greater than it is among soldiers, because our work is more affected by mental fatigue.

2 thoughts on “Stress, burnout and advice

  1. What great advise for all of us. I have been thinking lately about the number of hours I put in each week working part time. I need to really track (write down) the amount of time spent on school things, and make sure I too, am not overdoing it. Enjoyed the article. m

  2. Thank you for the kind words, Marcia! The article and the ideas are important, and they are almost completely unknown and ignored in many fields (especially academics) these days. So we are stressing and hurting people to get more out of them, and … we aren’t getting more out of them. Which is stupid.

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