Beware the barrenness of a busy life” (Aristotle)

Warp speed is how I would describe the ever-increasing pace at which people have been working over recent years. When you consider that momentum builds on itself and that we are creatures of habit, it’s not difficult to see how well-intentioned, conscientious people can unwittingly develop self-defeating habits. 

As recently as the 1950’s NZ rated in the top five countries in the world for standard of living, with a health system that was regarded as second to none.  So, what has happened in such a relatively short time that our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been declining for decades to the point where we are amongst the lowest of all OECD countries? *

There are many reasons for that and there are people far more qualified than me to comment, but there is an irony here because Kiwis are now working longer hours than we ever have, and if that’s the case, we should be producing more, not less. 

If you ask people how they are, you are likely to get the reply,  “busy”. We have fallen into the busy-ness trap of working harder, not smarter. Having worked with hundreds of people in different organisations over the last thirty years I have noticed that people are becoming increasingly overloaded with work, particularly in the last five to ten years. When you overload, you overwhelm. 

Despite the long hours, good intentions and best efforts, the reality is organisations are microcosms that make up our GDP and it’s not a pretty picture. At the risk of being overly simplistic, I think our counter-productive way of working has its genesis in what is known as Parkinson’s Law, which simply stated, says – ‘work expands to fill the time available for its completion’. While that may be true in some cases, when workloads become so large, constant and pressure prompted, the law of Diminishing returns kicks in and the effort expended exceeds the outputs. That is a nonsense, and yet it persists. 

Of course, the above modus operandi doesn’t apply to everybody. There are people who work effectively and efficiently every day, but the statistics show they are the exception rather than the rule, (Much of the work we do with clients is helping them to navigate the often difficult terrain of organisational expectations so they don’t liquidate the asset in the name of results). 

Kiwis are an enterprising, adaptable and determined people and we have shown on numerous occasions our ability to overcome challenging situations. The COVID-19 virus situation has forced us to slow down and I think people will re-assess many things about modern-day life, including the way we work. 

The world will be a different place post COVID-19 just the same way that 9/11 changed what happens when you go to the airport. When I go out for my daily walk, I see families out together, children running and skipping, playing hopscotch and other games. The thing I have noticed most is, the laughter. The silver lining to this awful virus might be for us to get back to basics and realise that the best things in life are in fact, free.

One thing is for sure, we are a resilient people and we will get through this together and be the stronger for it. 

 *Source: Productivity Commission based on Stats NZ

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