Get Serious About Parameters

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 17, Issue No. 1a
May 1, 2018

By Dan Coughlin


I’ve been coaching executives since August of 1997. When a pattern of behavior persists for over 20 years in multiple industries and in multiple roles across multiple organizations and in multiple countries, you know you’re on to something. This pattern of behavior is clearly engrained across societies and exists far beyond the trends of any given year.

Specifically, I’m talking about working way too many hours.

Since 1997 I’ve coached more than 250 people and have provided more than 4000 coaching sessions. Throughout those 20-plus years one behavior that has been consistently in the top 3 most common behaviors of more than 80% of my coaching clients is that they are working far too many hours.

Unbridled work reaches a peak and then slides into a mess of exhaustion, burnout, and loss of purpose. That leads into personal and family problems. If we called it a disease, we could raise money for it and try to cure it. Instead we applaud people for working an insane number of hours. This is the cause of the problem. We compliment people on working themselves into an unhealthy way of being.

What’s the goal of work?

The purpose of work is to achieve an outcome. The work is measured by the quality of the outcome. As we improve outcomes, we demonstrate a higher quality of work.

The problem is we equate “quality of work” with “the number of hours spent working.” That’s a big mistake. Quality input does generate quality output, but “excessive working hours” and “quality of output” are not connected to each other. More likely, “excessive working hours” connects to “a decline in the sustainable quality of output.”

This all is a fancy way of saying: stop working so many hours.

A medical resident works 80 hours a week. That’s about 14 hours a day. I don’t want those people operating on me. They’re exhausted. But at least they know the end is somewhat in sight. In this article I’m talking about people who are working 70-80 hours a week every week month after month year after year. They are burned out and exhausted. They know they’re not doing the best work they are capable of doing. They feel they have to work this hard to keep their job and their lifestyle. It has become engrained in their way of doing things.

Why does excessive work keep happening?

When a behavior is this permanent and pervasive, there has to be reasons beyond just the people I’ve met through my executive coaching work. The reasons have to be embedded in the global society. I think the reasons can be summarized as they two beliefs:

  • As bosses, we believe we are expected to get as much out of our employees as we possibly can, and we equate that to the number of hours our employees work.
  • As employees, we believe we are expected to give as much value as we possibly can, and we equate that to the number of hours we work.

Therefore, the more hours our employees work and the more hours we work, the better the job we are doing.

Reasons to Break this Habit

Think of an extraordinary singer or professional athlete. That person performs at most a few hours for a few days a week. And the person takes long breaks between tours and between seasons.

Imagine a professional basketball player playing three games a day for 300 days a year. The person would break down.

Imagine a professional singer giving a concert for 70 hours a week for 50 weeks a year. The person would be so hoarse she would never sing again.

Why do you look at yourself as some superhuman work robot?

What to Do Instead

Dedicate 40-50 hours a week to producing the best quality work that you can do.

Then stop working.

Reenergize. Give your brain and your body a rest. And then come back to your work with renewed energy. The quality of your work will go up. Working 10 hours a day seven days a week is NOT healthy. Bitterness sets in. Anger sets in. Burnout sets in. Those emotions bubble over and affect your work when you’re actually working.

Please break the beliefs that you were raised on. Work a reasonable number of hours. Establish a firm parameter. And operate within that parameter. The output you produce will be of a higher quality.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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