Dr. Kevin Majeres, class of ‘97 graduate of the University of Dallas, professor of cognitive behavioral therapy at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of OptimalWork, doesn’t believe that stress, burnout and procrastination are the unavoidable plight of the student and professional.
Majeres and his colleagues decided to respond to these largely unaddressed problems of the student and professional life by trying to find a more productive and rewarding way to complete tasks.
OptimalWork is an online platform that builds upon research of neuroscience and behavioral psychology as well as the habit-building philosophy of Aristotle and virtue ethics. The platform builds not only upon the science of human behavior, but also upon higher ideals of self-betterment, love and service.
The platform makes use of this science and philosophy to correct bad habits that tend to come with intense workloads, such as trouble focusing, procrastination and burnout. Instead, OptimalWork is meant to help its users maximize their focus and productivity, completing their work more efficiently and rewardingly so that they can prioritize things outside of work, such as sleep, social time and exercise.
A further goal of the platform is to rediscover the meaning of work so that its users can always do their best in work as well as the rest of their lives without work consuming or detracting from their lives.
All UD students now have a year-long membership with OptimalWork through the university. Its features are both of a personal focus as well as a professional one. The Inventory feature allows users to self-evaluate, helping the program be tailored to the user, while the True Success feature aids ideal visualization and refocuses work. UD students also have access to the Golden Hour feature and the Master Class, both of which help students focus on their work and aid productivity.
In the fall of last year along with his colleagues, Dr. Matthew Spring, director of academic success and assistant professor of English at UD, launched a pilot program of OptimalWork for UD students and staff. With the success of the pilot program last year, Spring said, “We requested that the university expand the reach of the program to the entire university.”
The pilot program included especially high-achieving professors who struggle with burnout, as well as students ranging from those on academic probation to those with 4.0 GPAs. OptimalWork is meant to help with productivity, but also help in creating a balanced lifestyle. “It helps with actually de-emphasizing a bit how much emphasis we put on work,” said Spring.
The pilot program helped students struggling to keep their grades up to focus on and complete their work; it helped students with high GPAs to find balance in healthy lifestyles and decrease burnout; OptimalWork even helped professors regain active and social habits.
Dr. John Kaisersatt, adjunct professor of business ethics, said, “[OptimalWork is] a tool and a method for learning to align each hour of work with the highest ideals that you have in life.” OptimalWork utilizes virtue ethics, and according to Kaisersatt can even help build personal virtue.
Kaisersatt assigned OptimalWork as part of a homework system for his Business Ethics students. “It’s also something that they can connect the dots between studying Thomistic virtue ethics and how it’s reflected in a practice system,” said Kaisersatt.
Kaisersatt sees OptimalWork as the prime function for technology, which is a neutral tool that can often be used in a manner that detracts from human existence. By de-emphasizing the importance of work while simultaneously encouraging accomplishment, OptimalWork’s goal is to turn attention to human flourishing instead of the distraction and dopamine high that usually comes from our technologically-focused society.
Sharbel Habchy, a sophomore computer science major, uses OptimalWork to refocus his attention and study with intentionality. Habchy said, “By being more intentional about it, you feel more accomplished when you’re done.” Habchy mainly utilizes the Golden Hour function on OptimalWork, which he says subtly challenges him, making him more eager to study and less stressed when studying.
“As of right now, our vocation is to be a student,” said Habchy, “And part of being a student is to do well in your work.” The best way to pursue this vocation through OptimalWork is to increase productivity without allowing your personal life and mental health to be consumed with the process of task-completion.
Thomas Schindler, a junior politics major, likes that OptimalWork has such a large scope, making its user take into account different aspects of life while studying. When the user completes the Inventory on OptimalWork, there is an algorithm that gives the user a specific plan to help with things the user has identified as personal struggles, such as lack of sleep or socialization. According to Schindler, OptimalWork is beneficial because it asks the question, “How can you take that mindset of doing your work well, into every single part of your life?”
Schindler likes that OptimalWork helps him focus on the motivation behind his work. “Having a motive [is important] so that you can be enthusiastic about your work,” said Schindler. “When you’re enthusiastic about it, it goes faster, you tend to do better.” Schindler especially likes that OptimalWork focuses on noble motives, such as love and service.
With the high-achieving students of the UD community, OptimalWork seems especially beneficial. Made to decrease stress and burnout and increase productivity, focus, and a balanced lifestyle, OptimalWork may even help to achieve personal human flourishing.