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Don’t Burn the Midnight Oil

What can you do if you have a tendency to work too hard or too long?

(The question is written as though you may not have this tendency. I’m just being polite. If you are a leader, you often do work too hard and too long!)

The first remedy is to recognize the problem.

Listen to those who are in a position to know the difference between good, old-fashioned hard work, and over-the-top effort. You may not want to listen to someone who knows what’s happening in several soap operas or whose idea of hard work is to primarily just “think about what they need to get done.”

However, you should listen, without being defensive, to someone who is also a hard worker and who is in a position to observe what you are doing to yourself. If that person says, “You’re hurting yourself,” then stop doing that! You are likely hurting others, too. You may have a right to hurt yourself, but you certainly don’t have the right to inflict the effects of your compulsion on others.

There are some people who believe that “pulling an all-nighter” is needed quite often. This behavior is a throwback to their college days, when they spent most of their time before Final Exams being distracted by collegiate-life “recreational opportunities” (read: partying, drinking, dancing, and often more intimate socializing). At some point, usually at 10:00 p.m. the night before the test, it occurred to them that they may need to study. They carry forward this habit into their work lives and may even brag about often doing all-nighters.

These people are not real leaders.

They obviously can’t prioritize, are not sufficiently disciplined to stay on target to the task, and are not leading in a direction that others will want to follow. If you often have to pull all-nighters, you may want to re-think your desire and ability to be a leader. You have a challenge to work out of yourself. You can still become a high-quality, valued leader. You just need to focus on killing the all-nighter approach. Get ahead of the work. Place your priorities where they should be.

Sometimes brief spurts of excessive effort or time are really required.

Examples are when you’re kicking off or completing a new initiative or when a project is dangerously stalled. But occasionally, time and energy are expended just because you can. Writers are often asked why they write. My favorite response (from a forgotten author) is that, “I write because I have to.” Some leaders lead whatever they see or dream up just because they have to—they are compelled to lead. One of the characteristics of a leader is that, when faced without a challenge, the leader will make one (or more.) The leader will then add those additional challenges to the growing list of “have-to-dos” until they are buried and burned by the midnight oil. Not good. Not good at all.

Ask the “Why” questions? Why am I doing this? Why do I think I need to devote this much time and effort? Why can’t I stop?  Stay around to provide the benefits of your leadership for a long time.

Don’t burn out in the middle of the night!


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