Working to the bone is for the birds

Navy SEAL photo downloadsEver notice that here in the United States, we pride ourselves on how we work ourselves to the bone?

While people will tell you not to work on your vacation, we all know that they’re secretly impressed that you do, and in many cases, you’re expected to. Working more than 50 hours a week is accepted if you want to work your way up the corporate ladder and retiring with vacation time on the books is common for many Americans. Why? Don’t we all know that by working too long, too hard and too much, actually reduces our effectiveness? The late Stephen Covey addressed this issue in his 7th Habit, Sharpen the Saw, and former Navy SEAL commander Rorke Denver talks about the dangers of not taking a break in his book Damn Few: Making the Modern SEAL Warrior.

Anyone familiar with the Iraq or Afghanistan wars knows that the operational tempo of our special operations personnel were at all time highs. Missions that used to be months apart were nightly occurrences. “No days off, no real breaks,” says Denver. “Day missions, night missions. We never slowed down. A raid to take down a house, a five-hour operation, and we might do two or three of them a night,” (Denver 197).

The weather conditions were harsh, men wore body armor, sometimes there were gunfights, but there was always the cycle of planning, executing and doing it again. Denver noticed that as the deployment went on, little things were starting to go wrong. A flat tire, a forgotten radio, guns not working that had to be fixed so they turned back: “We seemed a little more clumsy, a little less nimble – it seemed to me like we were losing our edge.” (Denver 198).

Denver’s solution was to take some time off, ensure his team got sleep, acquired some pizza and broke into some impromptu sports (reverse softball and a water fight with the Marines). Even some wake boarding. Nothing but fun for two days. “When we got back into the battle, we were fresher, sharper and more energized. We had the steam we needed to get us to the end.” (Denver 199).

Ways to take a break:

  • Turn off your email for awhile (especially if you have an audible message whenever you get an email – you’re conditioning yourself to respond to the Urgent but not the Important and often at the expense of the Important) –  tune out from social media for a bit – don’t worry, all of your friends will be there when you get back
  • Read for pleasure
  • Get a hobby and spend some time doing it
  • Take lessons in something, self-defense, music, pottery, yoga, Zumba, drawing or painting whatever
  • Join an intramural sports team
  • Whatever you used to enjoy as a kid, whether its Legos, video games, collecting dolls, comic books, or bike riding, whatever it was – revisit it
  • Give yourself a good old fashioned elementary school recess – yes, I’ll still jump on my kids swing set from time to time – it feels great

Stephen Covey once asked the question – ever been to busy driving to stop and get gas? That said, I’m also part of the American work ethic – hard work is what built our country, what won us wars, what allowed us to land on the moon. Extraordinary people working tirelessly – ah wait? Were they really tireless? Or did they take breaks. Did Lewis and Clark sleep once in awhile? Weren’t the astronauts required to sleep and even today, the astronauts on the space station are given required time off.

Working to the bone is not only for the birds, it’s far less effective and if you don’t take a break, the birds will be gnawing on your bones.

Denver, Rorke, and Ellis Henican. Damn Few: Making the Modern SEAL Warrior. New York: Hyperion, 2013. Print.


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