Talked to a young lawyer recently. Three years out of law school, he specialized in litigation. I asked him about his hours. He said that leaving office at 9pm was norm. But there would be nights when he would leave at 11pm or later. I wasn’t surprised. Many of my friends who are lawyers and accountants keep these hours. Longer hours are beginning to be norm in all sorts of work. In her key book about work, Lynda Gratton imagines the world of work in 2025:
It’s a global world that’s so interconnected that working 24/7 is the norm, a world where 5 billion people are connected to each other through their handheld devices and as many people as want to can connect to you. Imagine it — no peace, no quiet, no reflection time. Constantly plugged in, hooked up, online. (Lynda Gratton, The Shift, London, UK: HarperCollins, 2011, 58.)
We don’t have to wait for 2025 to imagine this “working 24/7” world. This is already the norm for some. The Darwinian nature of the global economy where consumers demand “better, cheaper, faster” all the time means that most of us are working harder and working longer hours. That is if you have a job. The economic downturn in some parts of the world has left many jobless. All the more, those of us who have jobs are willing to work impossible hours to keep them. But does working longer hours mean we are more productive?
A recent article in Inc. magazine gives three secrets of the most productive people taken from an article by Margaret Heffernan.
They take breaks.
It’s easy to think you will get more done if you never stop. But what’s clear is that we can easily get resource depleted (that is tired) and quickly get stuck. Taking a break refreshes your mind, allowing you to see new solutions.
They are great collaborators.
Highly productive people tend to have wide networks. They get more done by bouncing ideas off colleagues, clients, and other contacts.
They have lives outside of work.
Far from being maniacally focused, highly productive people have rich private lives. Interests outside of work hone different skills and let you think in different ways.
(“The Takeaway,” Inc., June 2012, 10.)
I have long believed that if you wait long enough, empirical science only confirms what has been in the Bible all along. Here is God’s prescription for how we should balance work and rest.
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11 NIV)
I won’t go into the historical and theological debates about how the Jewish Sabbath (7th day of the week) is related to the Christian Sunday (1st day of the week). Suffice to say that the Lord’s intent was that people should live in a certain rhythm, a rhythm of hard work and rest.
Following God’s pattern of hard work and rest will directly support all three of Heffernan’s secrets of productivity. First we will get the rest we need. Next, rested folks will have more of the energy they need to work with others, for the collaboration they need to succeed. And periodic periods of putting work aside are a regular reminder that though work is important, life consists of much more than work.
However our ultimate commitment to a regular “sabbath” is not pragmatic. It is a commitment to live our lives in a way that respects how God created us. It is part of our discipleship.
Some form of weekly or regular sabbath is not an optional extra for the New Testament Christian. It is fundamental to spiritual health and even emotional health, as some medical studies have shown. (R. Paul Stevens, “Sabbath,” The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity, Edited by Robert banks & R. Paul Stevens, Singapore: Graceworks, 2011, 876.)
When we structure our lives as God intended it, we find ourselves healthier, and as healthy human beings, we find ourselves more productive at work as well.
The work world will not change anytime soon. The pressure to work longer hours will only increase. However, if we take our work seriously, we must take our rest seriously as well. But living with a hard work and sabbath rhythm is ultimately an expression of the fact that we take God seriously. And that must be true of the followers of Jesus Christ in any age.