Thursday, December 25, 2008

Workoholism -- Does it lead to higher productivity?

Michael Cottle at the New Republic details how the upcoming Obama administration is filled with self-avowed workaholics. Hard work is clearly necessary for success, but these staff members are at the extremes: working late nights, weekends, and eschewing a personal life.

There are plenty of arguments against devoting your life to your work. Folk tales like Ebenezer Scrooge warn that if you are too devoted to one thing it will turn your heart black. And we've all heard stories of retired workaholics who wish that they had spent more time with their kids.

But what I'm wondering about is if working every waking moment of the day will actually make you more productive. I don't think it will. There is a reason that LeBron James and Steve Nash don't play 48 minutes every night, and it isn't entirely physical. Even the best performers need some time away from the action to see the big picture.

One of the workaholics mentioned in Cottle's article is the new white house chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Maybe that's why he mentioned a month ago that "you never want a serious crisis to go to waste," because it is "an opportunity to do things you could not do before."

I think the workoholism so encouraged in Washington these days helps to breed even more fervent partisanship. Without time to stand back and get perspective, all that we focus on is our short-term goals. Perhaps the new admin should consider a mandatory nap time.