People throw beads from the balcony of the Royal Sonesta Hotel to crowds below on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2014.   Despite threatening skies, the Mardi Gras party carried on as thousands of costumed revelers cheered glitzy floats with make-believe monarchs in an all-out bash before Lent.   Crowds were a little smaller than recent years, perhaps influenced by the forecast of rain.  Still, parades went off as scheduled even as a fog settled over the riverfront and downtown areas. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
People throw beads from the balcony of the Royal Sonesta Hotel to crowds below on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The culture, the people, the passion, the vivacity – the sight was surreal.   A weekend in New Orleans was all it took.  This past weekend brought realization of how less time should be spent fretting over economic well-being and fearful of prospects.  The uncertainly of the future is enough to drive Millennials to an early grave, however this past weekend gave me a new perspective.

What a change from life in Los Angeles.   Windows beckoned with jazz music, bead necklaces colored in Mardi Gras gold, purple and green flew from balconies, and locals proudly chanted the patriotic anthem of their Saints football team.  It was game day against the Texas Cowboys, a Southern rival.

While in New Orleans, drinks are merrily poured and food is wonderfully fried, there’s no doubt the Downtown LA office dwellers are sat silently at computer screens finishing off a 14-hour workday.  The rat race to finish off investor deals and merger acquisitions weighs on each mind.  After all, the most important thing is earning more money than the next guy, isn’t it?  Well…maybe not.  Too often I find myself heading in this direction and it takes a conscious effort to reframe my thoughts – at the end of the day, what is life really about?  Maybe the people of New Orleans have it right.

There are many ways to think about this argument, and many questions to ask.  In the grand scheme of things, we have a very finite amount of time to make our mark on the world – both as individuals and as a species.   From a factual standpoint, the average life span of a species on earth is a few million years.  Will the human species cease to exist in a few million years, like most other animals?  If so, why, and what will replace it? Or are humans so unique and different from other species, that experience from other species cannot be applied, and humans may continue to exist for a much longer time?  Regardless, as we visualize our time on earth, we must appreciate the relatively miniscule time we have.

So, how will you spend most of your time?   If working long hours makes you happy, then by all means go ahead.  However, if you’re one of the majority who work to earn the money and time to play, there needs to be more of a balance in the current corporate world.  Evident in the nonstop Los Angeles office culture, the taste of uber productivity from constant innovation only tempts us further down the path of ‘harder work equals greater reward.’   Maybe not.

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The graph above is from Daniel Cook’s Rules of Productivity presentation posted on his Lostgarden blog.  It shows that working 60 hours a week leads to a productivity deficit or slump—one which you’ll have to recover from. He writes:

“In a 60 hour crunch people have a vague sense that they are doing worse, but never think that they should stop crunching. They imagine that working 40 hours a week will decrease their productivity. In fact, it will let them rest and increase their productivity.

This behavior is fascinating to observe. Zombies stumble over to their desk every morning. Temper flare. Bugs pour in. Yet to turn back would be a betrayal.”

This brings up a fundamental question: where do we draw the line between productive work and overwork?   Things can always be better, faster, smaller, bigger, etc… When I think back to the crowds thronged in the New Orleans streets, these people earn an honest living by day, but once the workday ends, they take the streets, let loose, and enjoy each other’s company as they cheer on their beloved Saints.

Street parties in New Orleans or office lunches in L.A. – who’s right at the end of the day?  It’s a tough question to answer, but regardless there should be a balance in the short life we all have together.

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3 thoughts on “Hey You – Relax. Here, Drinks on Me

  1. I completely agree with Daniel Cook’s Rules of Productivity. Overworking is a call for exhausted employees. I think that progressive employers are finally taking this concept and putting into action solutions so that their businesses (usually start-ups/small businesses) can thrive. Many of the people I talk to who work at start-ups have keys to their offices. Their bosses tell them they may work at any hour of the day, sometimes even at home. This initially blew my mind- how can they trust that you won’t slack off? I stupidly asked this question the other day to my friend; he responded, “Well, if you slack off then your work isn’t done. You’re fired.” I realized how much more productive employees could be if they were given the wiggle room to decide their hours, so long as they got their work done. I also think that employers are applying other methods of increasing productivity such as providing lunches, snacks, dinners on the company. Similarly, I was shocked to hear that free food would actually give the company a greater return (since they’re losing money buying food). I then realized that by providing delivered lunches and dinners, employees would not be taking their legal lunch breaks outside of the office; they would stay in and eat, likely at their desks as they work. Overall, I think that we are over productive these days, but employers have adopted interesting tactics that maintain this high-level of productivity while pleasing employees as well.

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  2. I really enjoyed this post as it pertains to every single American worker; as a senior graduating in the Spring, I am consistently deliberating what sort of time commitment I am looking for in a job. There are some jobs that pay $80,000+, but the work week is painfully brutal at around 60 hours/week, whereas there are more averaging paying jobs expecting a typical 40 hour week. Where do my priorities lie– making money or having more leisure time? That is the question. I think that for a lot of people, pushing yourself can increase self-esteem. When we challenge ourselves and succeed, it has a more positive impact on our lives all around. With that said, pushing yourself too hard can result in overload and ultimately, a crash. It is so important to find the extent to which you can push yourself without ending in a crash, and finding this threshold takes years of self-observation. I think that to avoid these situations, as you said, it really does rely on the employers. Before hiring an individual for a job, it is crucial that the employer be fully transparent of the job’s expectations to the candidate. If a particular position requires an excess amount of time and will be more stress-inducing, this must be known to the candidate. Beyond that, it is in the hands of the candidate to determine what sort of intensity that they can handle. Throughout the course of a career, communication between an employee and an employer is critical to maintain a healthy relationship which is conducive to higher quality performance.

    With all of that, I would find it interesting to compare the average work hours/week in American and compare that to other countries. According to Forbes, America is #13 on the list of countries with the highest average annual working hours. I would be curious how this statistic can be related to the success of the countries’ various economies.

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  3. The previous post hit it right in the nail. There are many jobs that are well paid but with long hours every week. I am quite unsure about other industries but at least in Civil Engineering 50 hrs/week are normal weeks. Yes, the pay is great and all that, but what good does it do when you cant even enjoy it the money you are making.

    The problem I see is that its a trend that we are too afraid to break because if we do we are seen as “lazy”; for example one of my friends was telling me that in his office there is this unspoken rule that no one leaves the office until the manager leaves, even if you are not really that busy. Perhaps changing the culture starts from upper management in big companies, but then again the big executives are there because they worked really hard so it becomes a vicious circle.

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