Are You Working Too Much in Higher Ed. Leadership?

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How many hours are too many?

Given that I am a strong advocate for living life fully and not letting our careers damage other important aspects of our existence, I am often asked “How many hours of work are too many?” or “Should I avoid working from home?”. Unfortunately, there is no magic number. What I call balance isn’t 50/50; balance is what you feel when you’re not falling on one side or the other. The goal is to have both professional success and emotional wellness. The “recipe” looks different for different people.

All of my clients are leaders in higher education. They all have big jobs to do! It’s not 1980 anymore; they can’t leave the office at the end of the work day and disconnect until the next morning. Most people do need to keep an eye on messages when they are out of the office but it’s not necessary to check compulsively 24/7. How much is enough and how much is too much?

The right “amount” of work depends on the situation, job responsibilities, organizational culture, and individual values and goals. For example, when someone starts a new job and has much to learn about the new campus, the people, and the job, it will be necessary to invest more time and effort. In time of crisis, or change, or turnover, more efforts will be required too. But it doesn’t mean that your job should take over your life.

Quantity vs. quality

Let me make one thing very clear: I am not against working more than 40 or 50 hours, I am against wasting hours. People who are not protective of their personal time tend to have poor work habits that lead them to waste more hours than those who realize that evenings and weekends are not “free time to make up for hours wasted during work hours.”

Let me explain what I call wasted hours:

  • Time spent discussing things that don’t lead to any progress or decision.

  • Long meetings that could be just as effective in half the time.

  • Lack of clarity on priorities, causing people to waste time trying to decide what to do next.

  • All forms of procrastination and avoidance.

  • Distractions and interruptions (caused by others or even yourself).

  • Perfectionism that cause people to allocate far too much time to something that could be done well in half the time.

  • Lack of structure with clear timelines and deadlines, and lack of accountability in a more general term.

  • Time spent complaining, worrying, catastrophizing, ruminating, or gossiping.

  • Time spent reacting to chronic problems instead of creating solutions to prevent them from happening again.

  • …and so much more!

Please stop counting how many hours you’re working because it doesn’t measure the value you bring to your campus. Stop thinking that being busy is a virtue. Stop looking at the sacrifices you’re making to show your worth and pay attention to your productivity and results instead!

Measure outcomes rather than effort

I am sure everyone reading this – including myself – can recall a day when we’ve worked 8, 9, or 10 hours but didn’t feel accomplished. Maybe we had too many interruptions, maybe we procrastinated on writing a tedious report, or maybe we were held hostage in a day-long meeting. We all know the difference between being busy and getting important work done.

Please decide that starting today, you will be far more intentional in how you’re spending your precious hours. Stop accepting situations or old habits that cause you regret. Even if the culture on your campus fosters wasting time, you can raise the bar for yourself.

As first step, I invite you to observe how your days unfold, for an entire week, and compare it to the intention you had each morning. You need to trouble-shoot. What causes you to deviate from your original plan? When it is your own doing? When is it other people that bring chaos? What can you do about it?

You may feel tempted to blame others, but that won’t be helpful. Your personal power is in focusing on what you can control, not judging other people. Take responsibility for the role you play in allowing the behaviors that cause problems or delays. Perhaps you need to create new healthy boundaries, or create new systems to change how things are done, or train your staff so that they can work more independently.

Even if you think you’re doing your best, I promise you that there are new ideas and perspectives that would benefit you, your department, and indirectly, anyone who looks up to you as a role model.

Where do you start? I have three options for you, depending on your level of commitment and your desire to optimize your time and productivity.

  1. You will find hundreds of helpful strategies in the many blogs I have on time optimization on this page.

  2. Or even better, you can sign up for my 5-week time optimization program, now for only $47, and start immediately here.

  3. Or if you are not sure you’ll make the time and follow-through without accountability, or if you have additional professional development goals, let’s talk about one-on-one coaching. Click here to schedule a complimentary call with me.

About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, and online courses. Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.

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