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  • Writer's pictureKaitlin Henze

How can we disrupt "hustle culture"?

Updated: 5 days ago

Many of us have an underlying belief that hard work leads to success.

This is something that is taught to us at a young age and continuously reinforced in the United States. People are rewarded for working long hours, accomplishing huge projects, getting top grades, and being available at all hours of the day. We believe that in order to be viewed as ambitious, dependable, and dedicated, we must work harder and longer than others.

Let's look at a few ways this is manifested:

  1. Airplane passengers get visibly upset when the wifi does not work on the plane as that disrupts their ability to work.

  2. Our calendars are filled with meetings, so we find ourselves working late into the evening to accomplish our tasks.

  3. We answer work emails and texts from the phone in our beds, while walking the dog, or while playing with our kids.

  4. Leaders work on their PTO, so employees feel pressured to do the same, which fosters a culture of never having a true disconnection from work.

Do any of these show up in your workplace culture?

The problem is that the underlying belief that we have to work harder, longer, and later in order to achieve more creates a culture of burnout because we assume that working more hours or taking on more projects will get us a promotion, bonus, or reward. However, even if we do get the promotion or earn more money, we are often left feeling depleted, lonely, and resentful. Often, we make excuses by thinking that the constant grind was due to a specific project or boss. We tell ourselves "I will care for myself better next time".

So how can we create a culture of accountability and productivity without causing burnout?

The answer lies in prioritization and alignment

  1. Prioritization is all about making intentional tradeoffs so individuals, teams, and entire organizations focus on what matters most. In Cal Newport's book Slow Productivity, he discusses the strain of administrative time that is added with each new project or commitment. The key to being productive is to focus on the work that is most critical and intentionally saying "No" to everything else. So how do we determine what is most critical?

  2. The answer to that is alignment. If we have strategic goals, objectives, or even a long term vision for the organization, the only way we will achieve it is if we focus on work that will contribute towards our goals. That means we can align all of the tasks, projects, and work that our teams accomplish to our strategic goals to determine what we want to prioritize. The more closely tied a project or task is to the strategic goals, the higher priority it should be.

The most important part of prioritization and alignment is to constantly revaluate. We never know with 100% certainty which tasks will help us achieve our goals or which work we should prioritize. When making tradeoffs, sometimes we get it wrong. So, the key to being successful with slow productivity is to ask yourself and your team what is working, what is not working, and what can we change.

This enables a "pull" system vs a "push" system at work. Cal Newport urges teams to transparently discuss the work that needs to be accomplished and allow team members to select projects and tasks based on their capacity and skill set. Rather than a culture that "pushes" work on people, together the team prioritizes the work that needs to get accomplished in order to meet their strategic goals, and team members select work based on their capacity.

So how do we know what work team members can "pull" from? Here is a simple prioritization and alignment practice that I help my clients incorporate into their team meetings at the beginning of each month. Note that this comes after you have set your strategic goals.

Discuss as a team:

  1. What projects/tasks will our team own this month? (write them out on sticky notes, a Miro Board, word doc, ect. )

  2. Which of the Company's Strategic Goals/ OKRs will each project/task help accomplish? How? Place each task under the strategic goal that it will help accomplish.

  3. If a project/task does not clearly align to a Company goal/OKR, ask “should we be doing this?”

Note that the tasks/projects discussed in this exercise are the larger, time consuming buckets of work. It is not necessary to include items like "send an email" or "attend this meeting". My rule of thumb is that any work that will consume at least 10 hours of work per month, can be a part of this discussion.

I have seen this simple practice which only takes about 30 min help teams align their work to their goals and jointly prioritize where to focus their time and energy. When ingrained in the culture of an organization, the concept of slow productivity can increase employee engagement, productivity, and accountability, while preventing burnout!

Finally, I will leave you with my three favorite Time Management Tenants from Christina Wallace's book The Portfolio Life:

  1. Your worth is separate from your work

  2. You deserve to be healthy and happy

  3. Your relationships, personal growth, rest, and joy are not optional

Let those sink in, repeat them to yourself, share them with your team, and join me in the fight against hustle culture!

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James Brooks
James Brooks

I love the idea! It reminds me a lot of the Scrum approach that evolved in software development - the work to be done is listed as "stories" on sticky notes along with an expected amount of effort. The priorities of the stories changes as the project proceeds and business needs change. Each period, the team pulls in stories from the top of the priority list and commits to work them. It makes sure the most critical work gets done while avoiding burnout.

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