Part of the reason I left my job in management consulting was because I was completely burned out. When I started my job with the City of Detroit I knew I had to take a different approach toward work. Instead of working until work was done, I decided to work "whistle to whistle" - going as hard as I can during the work day and trying to avoid after-hours work.
SKILLS AND INSIGHTS GAINED
Ask for help from others – To get to the decision of working whistle to whistle, I sought advice from my wife. I have always admired her discipline to not working after hours, even though she always had plenty she could do in the evening. So I asked her why she didn't feel guilty about leaving her evenings work-free. She told me that she didn't feel guilty because she worked very hard and didn't waste time when she was at work. Her advice shaped my own philosophy.
Management matters – When I started to actively avoid after-hours work, it's not like my or my teams' targets became any less ambitious. Simply working more efficiently would never be enough. The real way to work smarter is to never work on low-value activities in the first place. That's now a bedrock belief in my philosophy about what good managers do - ensuring that their organizations and people only do work that actually achieves a result.
Focus on the result, not the process – When starting to work whistle to whistle, I started realizing that in previous jobs, I expended a lot of effort to satisfy the expectations of others even when it didn't make a difference for achieving a goal. For example, as a consultant I often worked for hours on complex presentations for meetings with partners even though the same result would have been reached with a simple chart. I no longer work just to keep up appearances.
IMPACT AND LESSONS LEARNED
The decision to work whistle to whistle has made a tremendous impact on my life. I've been able to work without burning out. It's just that simple. The lesson here is also simple, we do not have to accept the status quo when it's foul, we may choose to do something different.