One of the number one complaints I hear from people who’ve “made it” professionally is that they feel overworked. This is true for corporate CEOs, middle managers, and even entrepreneurs. They are making more money than ever before and yet they realize they are working too much. Here’s the scary part, though: They are proud of it.

The REAL Reasons You are Overworked

Have you ever felt that way? You know you are working way too much and yet you feel a sense of pride?

The Working Rich

A Harvard Business Review article entitled Why Men Work So Many Hours said this about taking pride in being overworked:

How do the elite signal to each other how important they are? “I am slammed” is a socially acceptable way of saying “I am important.” Fifty years ago, Americans signaled class by displaying their leisure: think banker’s hours (9 to 3). Today, the elite — journalist Chrystia Freeland calls them “the working rich” — display their extreme schedules.

Did you catch that? Being overworked is something to be proud of. Rather than long weekends of golf and luxury at the beach, today’s elite wear their 70-hour weeks like a badge of honor.

It’s not only socially acceptable today, but admirable, for you to decline coffee with a friend or a mini-vacation with family because of your busy schedule. It’s something you can say with pride.

Here’s what you are really saying:

I am important. People need me. My employer needs me. My team needs me. My company cannot survive without me. I have no time for little things or little people.

In short, you are missing out on life. And for what?

3 Reasons You’re Overworked

Here’s the thing about this Workload-As-Status-Symbol Syndrome…it’s not about hustling, working hard, chasing a dream, or even how critical you are to the success of your company.

You’re overworked because of three common reasons:

1. An inability to delegate

When you fail to delegate, everything falls back on you. Workload always increases as your business grows, rather than others taking on more work.

You don’t delegate because you can always do better. You don’t trust others to do things exactly like you would. What a miserable trap.

SOLUTION: Start delegating non-critical tasks immediately. Identify the things you aren’t good at or hate doing and start assigning those tasks to others.

Here are two posts that will help you learn how to delegate better:

What Every Great Leader Eventually Learns

This One Weird Discovery Made Me a Better Leader

2. Fear of missing out

If you are anything like me, you don’t like to be “out of the loop.” You want to know what is going on at all times.

It was difficult for me, but I learned to be comfortable knowing only what I need to know. It’s incredibly freeing.

SOLUTION: Identify these three things: Why do you fear missing on something? Who will it affect? What is the true cost? The reality is that missing out is not as bad as you usually think.

3. Trying to live up to someone else’s standards

The boss and the top sales guy stay until 8:00pm, so you do, too. All the other optional attendees go to the meeting, so there you are every Tuesday wasting an hour.

Many organizations’ cultures say that you are expected to work past dark, talk about how busy you are, and commiserate with each other in a pathetic attempt to feel or sound important. These types of cultures, though, suck the margin out of your life.

When you stop trying to live up to someone else’s standards, you’ll suddenly find a lot more freedom in your life (and margin) to do the things that really matter.

SOLUTION: Come to grips with the reality that most people care more about your performance than the time you spend. If you are delivering the goods and you leave two hours earlier than everyone else, they’ll idolize you, not look down on you. Stop trying to be like someone else. Do your thing and do it well.

Importance is Misunderstood

One reason we are so overworked is that most people would rather feel important than be important.

All three of these reasons can be summed up in one word: Ego

Your ego holds you back from delegating, it inflates your importance, and it causes you to try to be someone else so you’ll look good.

The reality is that most people would rather feel important than be important.

Being overworked is not the same as being important. In fact, it often strips away your true importance – to your family, your friends, and your legacy.

Are you overworked and proud of it? Have you seen others fall victim to this fallacy?

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11 thoughts on “The REAL Reasons You are Overworked

  1. Rick Siderfin says:

    This is a very important topic that needs to be discussed far more often. Despite knowing the truth of what you say all too well, I still feel pressure to change my working hours depending on what others are doing – as opposed to changing my working hours depending on what my actual priorities are.

    Thanks Matt for this timely reminder!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I remember that I used to start my day off doing email…at 6:00am. Why? To show everyone else that I was up and at ’em. The problem was that I was devoting my BEST hours to other people’s agendas. Now, I rarely check email before 10:00am.

  2. Brian Ehrler says:

    Being busy and proud of it is just another excuse for not getting work done. 🙁 Many people work work work work and accomplish very little. I would much rather measure someones efficiency at completing tasks than how busy they appear. A dragster spinning its wheels doing a burnout “looks busy”

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      So true. I didn’t even touch on that, but often busyness is a great excuse for not doing the important work.

  3. Zechariah Newman says:

    Very true Matt. I have to admit I feel guilty when I am not working a lot. I know its weird but its the truth. I think it is from an attitude of I need to earn this much money. I am not where I use to be but I have a long way to go.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Not weird at all. You are in the majority with achievers. Keep inching in the right direction and you (and your family) will notice it.

      1. Zechariah Newman says:

        I know…thanks for the encouragement;)

  4. Jon Stolpe says:

    Great post, Matt. (And it fits in with a delegation series I did on my blog a few weeks ago.) Unfortunately, we live in a culture where busyness and stress is a badge people wear on their sleeves with pride. We must learn the important discipline of taking regular Sabbaths – one minute an hour, one hour a day, one day a week, ….

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Well said! I’m learning myself but getting accustomed to taking more days off and more hours off and coming back refreshed, creative, and firing on all cylinders.

  5. Dale Church says:

    I find I tell myself that I will work extra today so I can have off more time tomorrow. This rarely happens as I always find more things to do the very next day. LoL You think I would learn.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      One of the things I had to learn was getting very comfortable with leaving work to do. Makes all the difference!

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