As we celebrate Labor Day this week I began to wonder about this word labor and the history of this day‘s celebration. First, I love a word that can be both a noun and a verb. The noun labor means work, especially hard physical work. Most of us rarely do that kind of labor anymore. The verb means work hard: make a great effort. Make a great effort…hmmm.
When I dug into the history I learned that the first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City. It was planned by the Central Labor Union as a holiday with a street parade to show “to the public ‘the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations’ of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families.”
Even back then, in a period of explosive industrial growth, somehow they were still in touch with taking time off and celebrating. Or maybe I am romanticizing the intent. Maybe the intent was political or some financial gain for the folks planning the parades and festivities. I’m choosing to stick with the intent of appreciation, gratitude and celebration of the workingman, and woman.
Fast forward to today. We have become a country of “great effort” and great achievements. At what price? I read a statistic recently that took my breath away. According to a study by The Energy Project in collaboration with the Harvard Business Review “59% of workers are physically depleted, emotionally drained, mentally distracted, and lacking in meaning & purpose.”* If I think about the conversations I have with people every day about work, energy, stress and overall dissatisfaction with their work and their lives, I believe this statistic.
What to do? Especially as we are all coming back from our last summer getaways and heading into the long stretch of work weeks void of any collectively observed holidays until Thanksgiving.
Tony Swartz has some interesting ideas. He wrote a compelling article in the New York Times in February of 2015 about “The Rhythm of Great Performance.” Swartz has tested the idea of less work effort and more rest and renewal and given his team more weeks off every year. They encourage 20 minute naps and have seen growth and continued success in their organization each year.
One of his key lessons, taken from studies about expert performance in violinists, struck me as a doable reorganization for my day. He suggests doing your hardest work as early in the day as you can, focus for 90 minutes on your work, uninterrupted, then take a break.
What if on Labor Day you took a pledge to restructure your day into 90 minute work periods followed by a break to get up, stretch, breathe and walk around?
What if you followed that Labor Day tradition and as part of that break you also did a little mini celebration for the work you got done? Give yourself a gold star, read a favorite poem or quote, leave a message of gratitude for a friend who has helped you along the way.
What if? Are you willing to try it for one month to see what might happen?
If you’re ready, write done on a post-it note “I am ready to spend my time in focused 90 minute “great efforts” followed by a “great break” and mini celebration…every day. “
Post the note near your computer and then block out those work times and breaks on your computer. Follow it for a month. Let me know how it goes.
*What is your Quality of Life at Work? HBR.org & The Energy Project (=19,900+)