Don’t believe me? Next time you are driving a car (preferably your own), find a road that requires you to stop at the end of it (shouldn’t be too difficult). Now drive along and bring your car to a stop in a controlled manner without using the brakes. Either you’ll drive a lot slower than normal or you’ll have a crash (hence please use your own car). Case closed. Brakes enable you to drive faster than you would without them. (Thanks to Brian Gammage at Gartner, from whom I first heard the title of this post, in a bar in Barcelona…)

Why does this matter? Too often I see people frazzle and burn because they believed they didn’t have time for a break – “too much to be done” being the popular mantra. Continually working excessive hours leads only to mistakes being made. How serious those mistakes are depends on the industry you work in and what you are doing at the point of shut down – and you will shut down, just like the laptop about to run out of battery power. (The common example to show the benefits of rest is ‘Sharpen the saw‘ from Stephen Covey’s popular ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’.)

A more subtle aspect of this problem can be seen in organisations who focus too much on improving productivity. The drive to design processes that achieve maximum efficiency can lead to creating small repetitive tasks that will bore the socks off most people (the person designing the process is too often not the person who will have to carry it out – wrong!) Bored people are rarely as productive as they could be and will burn out quicker too (oh the irony: the lazier we become, the more tired we become). If you want to increase productivity, then do everything you can to ensure people enjoy their work. This means providing variety in daily activities and opportunities for timeout to do ‘other stuff’. With a bit of planning, that ‘other stuff’ can include team building and knowledge sharing, leading to some useful side effects such as: new ideas for improving the organisation and broad support for implementing them. (Net result: more productivity than can be achieved by dull efficient processes.)

Anyways, back to the frazzle and burn out issue. Having preached away, I have to confess to being a bit of a pot calling the kettle black, beavering away and then hitting a brick wall periodically. This year the wall came with a nasty twist to remind how fragile life can be, resulting in one of those whole life re-evaluation events. So, for those of you who are long over due for a rest, remember this: you never know what’s around the next corner, despite the many attempts at predictions, so consider the advice provided in one of my favourite poems – ‘Leisure’ by W.H. Davies (1871 – 1940):

What is this life, if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich the smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Dedicated to a close family friend – Lou Williams (1973 – 2005). This New Year’s eve is going to be a tough one. Roll on 2006.

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