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Why Harder Isn’t Smarter

We’ve experienced many ‘aha’s’ during the pandemic. While employers have long feared hits to productivity if employees worked from home, we’ve all learned otherwise. Turns out, when the line between home and work disappeared in the lives of working professionals, we all started working harder than ever. Of course, many of us were already habituated to “overworking,” so the pandemic just intensified a pre-existing condition.

Working harder than everybody else is not the only way to exceed expectations. Especially as a working parent who by definition has less time – don’t try to win that game. The sacrifice you’ll pay will be too great. Find other ways – your unique Super Powers. What can you do or see that no one else can, that can contribute value? Be intentional about that.
Michael Katchen, CEO of Wealthsimple


We have lived in a culture of overwork for a long time. Some estimate that over 90% of white-collar professionals work 50 or more hours per week and nearly 50% work over 65 hours per week.  

And think about time tracking systems – they don’t track quality; they measure quantity. Yet, this is a central way we measure productivity, despite it not having a clear connection to what people actually achieve.  

Our environments and colleagues reinforce overworking.  We all know people who make it known that they operate according to a “first one in, last one out” work ethic.  Their cars always seem to be in the parking lot, they’re sending emails at midnight, they’re complaining/bragging about working 60+ hours/week.  If we’re not outworking our competitors, it can feel like we’re putting ourselves at risk. 

In many workplaces, these kinds of overwork patterns are normative, pressuring us to work more and more (and more). As a result, burnout rates are higher than ever.  We’re feeling stressed, anxious and irritable.  We’re exhausted and foggy brained. 

While overwork has cultural and structural causes, we have learned that there are effective ways to avoid the overwork trap (without penalty) by working smarter:

What To Do (Bites)

  1. Don’t let overwork settle into your professional identity

    Grinding out 60 or 70 hour work weeks can lead us to think of ourselves as tougher, more dedicated than others.  Without us ever intentionally deciding on it, overwork can become part of our identity, a point of pride, a badge of honor, something we consider centrally important to our professional identity. If you find yourself having these kinds of thoughts, take a step back.

  2. Take an emotional inventory and get radical about prioritizing

    What toll might overworking be taking on you? Worrying and focusing too much on work?  Has your mental health, physical health, and relationship quality declined at times? Get smart about prioritizing what matters most and focus on that.

  3. Remember your career is a marathon, not a sprint

    The same pressures on you to work hard now will exist next year – and the year after that.  So take breaks.  Find ways to relax.  Set firmer boundaries between work and off-time.  Don’t work when you need or want to rest. Ironically, taking breaks and setting boundaries will likely help you be more effective at work.  Deep thinking work especially taxes the prefrontal cortex of our brain. It keeps you on task, is responsible for executive function and it helps us override impulses. It’s that part of the brain that needs the break!


  1. It’s important to change your language, especially with your boss. Stop talking about time and talk about your impact and outcomes. For example move from “I really spent a lot of time on this” to “I’m really pleased with how this project turned out. We’re going to see the impact…”

  2. If you have too much on your plate, speak to your boss – not about what you can’t do, but rather gain alignment on priorities and bring a plan. By leading them to focus on fierce prioritization, you’re setting the example that success comes from not doing everything, but focusing on the few things that drive value and impact. And don’t forget – come with a plan. That reinforces leadership.

  3. Do one thing at a time. Seems like a simple thing, but it can be quite difficult for most of us used to multi-tasking. Complete one task first before taking up another. Believe it or not, it is stressful to do five things at the same time. Also, having several tasks in varying stages of incompletion intensifies the experience of racing against time. Focusing on – and completing – a single task at a time can (a) increase our sense of control and (b) help us cope emotionally with stress.

    And, of course, delegate!


See our growing list of super smart women and men who have invested their time to help Cram it all in Year women like you. Want to participate?

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The Sophia Project is our corporate program that unleashes working parent talent through Intentional Subtraction.