Working life provides a great many valuable learning experiences, but it will never provide the diversity of opportunity that an individual can obtain by maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Those who overwork are severely damaging their potential to learn, as John Medina points out in Brain Rules:
- Exercise boosts brain power (and, unless you’re a professional athlete or a manual worker, chances are your work provides few opportunities for exercise).
- People who experience chronic stress are sick more often, and if the stress is too severe, or too prolonged, stress begins to harm learning (now home life can be stressful too, but the odds are that overwork is the major cause of stress for many of us).
- Sleep loss cripples thinking, in just about every way you can measure thinking (I know it may be your out-of-work pursuits that could be causing sleep loss – let’s not go there – but overwork can be the problem too).
In their article Cognitive Fitness for the Harvard Business Review, Roderick Gilkey and Clint Kilts make the following recommendations to managers if they are to attain the highest levels of ‘cognitive fitness’:
- Work hard at play: participate in games and activities, particularly those involving some risk.
- Search for patterns: challenge and expand your mindset by experiencing new places and listening to alternative viewpoints.
- Seek novelty: study a new language, learn to paint, use new technologies, learn a musical instrument.
Above all, what this article recommends is for corporate drones to get a life. To be sharp, you need stimulus beyond your office walls. The opportunities for informal learning are severely restricted if your life consists of work, eat and sleep and no more. And if your day consists of the same experiences repeated over and over, you’re not developing at all – you’re probably not even going to be very good at your job.