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Work Myths vs. Work Reality

As we move out of an era of rigid workplace rules where job security was top of mind, modern businesses are eager to learn new and innovative ways of operating. Work-life balance and a sense of purpose have officially surpassed job security (and even pay raises) in importance. So with this fairly new paradigm in the Western workplace, we’re all wondering how to pry ourselves away from the safety of outdated routines and plunge into a more rewarding unknown — namely, freedom and fulfillment at work.

Part of this process inevitably involves reassessing what we thought was truth. In other words – replacing our work myths with research-backed truths about how businesses and professionals actually thrive.

Myth: You need to work from 9–5, Monday-Friday to get everything done. If you don’t, you’ll fall behind, lose money, or worse, go out of business.

Reality: Your energy ebbs and flows. Tasks should be accomplished when you feel most inspired to do them (or during the best hours of the day for that specific task). If you cram things into a schedule that doesn’t work for you, try to multitask, or get things done prematurely, it won’t be your best work AND you’ll be frazzled.

There is now a significant body of research that raises big questions about the effectiveness of a 9–5, Monday-Friday work schedule. This doesn’t mean that everyone has to rebel and start moonlighting, especially if you feel no friction from a 9–5 schedule. However, rigid schedules without refreshing breaks can easily backfire, causing exhaustion and squashing creativity.

This is why big companies like Google and Apple set aside ‘free’ time for employees to work on personal projects or their own ideas for the company. While some managers would see this as a productivity risk, smart entrepreneurs see it as a huge catalyst for both company innovation and employee engagement.

Jason Fried poses a sobering counter-argument to the culture of busyness and obsessive productivity in his book Rework:

“Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is home because she figured out a faster way.”

Myth: There is only one way to do it. Changing systems is too much of a risk and wastes time.

Reality: If your method for accomplishing something feels stale, confusing, or like drudgery, there’s probably a better way to do it.

There’s a common saying that “this is how we’ve always done it” is the most expensive phrase in business. In other words, getting stuck in patterns just because they’re familiar can be degenerative, even if those patterns used to work well.

“Working without a plan may seem scary. But blindly following a plan that has no relationship with reality is even scarier.” ― Fried

Myth: Decision-making requires a lot of debate, research, and speculation.

Reality: Decision-making is simple when your values and goals are clearly defined.

“When you don’t know what you believe, everything becomes an argument. Everything is debatable. But when you stand for something, decisions are obvious.” ― Fried

Myth: Work is drudgery.

Reality: Work can be hard, easy, stressful, exciting, or anything in between.

Google’s definition of work is “mental or physical activity as a means of earning income.” This is the most common conception of work — that it is effort exerted as a means of earning income. But this transactional relationship between work and money is part of the reason the U.S is in an employee engagement crisis. When we need income to live, and that’s the only reason we work, then we equate work with enslavement — something we have to do regardless of what we want to do. Accessing more enjoyment at work starts with first examining how your current position can serve you and point you in the direction of what matter matters to you.