Late last year, a Gallup poll found that U.S. workers are still almost as worried about being laid off, having their hours cut, or losing benefits as they were during the financial crisis of 2008-9. At the same time, many companies have spent the past few years asking workers to take on heavier loads, to make up for cut positions and hiring freezes. In short, a lot of people are putting in a lot of face time — but unfortunately, working constantly isn’t the same as working efficiently.
(Photo Credit: NASA/Flickr)
Human beings don’t produce their best work when they work all the time. At Entrepreneur, Buffer’s Belle Beth Cooper explains the productivity problem thusly:
“In one of my favorite books, Stephen Covey tells a story about a woodcutter whose saw gets more blunt as time passes and he continues cutting down trees. If the woodcutter were to stop sawing, sharpen his saw and go back to cutting the tree with a sharp blade, he’d actually save time and effort in the long run.”
Work all the time, in other words, and you’re working with a dull saw. But how do you explain that to your boss, who in turn must account for her team to her own managers, and so on, up the anxiety-riddled chain?
1. Trust the data.
Numbers are persuasive; math never wheedles or whines. If you can demonstrate that working differently will add to the bottom line, you’ll be in a much better position to get your way.
Start with the science of productivity. Research shows that working longer hours does not add up to producing more or better work. In fact, creative workers can only put in about six solid hours of real work a day, before their brains essentially switch off.
2. Document what you do.
For a set period of time, write down everything you do all day, and what it produces. How much time do you spend, for example, sitting in meetings where your presence isn’t required, or answering questions that would be better handled by another member of the staff? If you can demonstrate redundancies, you might be able to convince your boss to shave a few hours off your chair-time.
Just make sure you show your successes, as well. Do too good a job showing your wasted time, and you might be the one who ends being made redundant.
3. Present solutions, not problems.
As much as possible, focus on changes that would enable you to be proactive, rather than reactive — and that require little in the way of investment from your boss or the company.
For example, if you can arrange to answer emails two or three times a day, you might save yourself hours of wasted time over the course of a week. (It takes an average of 25 minutes to return to a task after an interruption, and that adds up in a hurry.)
If you can present your manager with a free solution to a problem he didn’t know he had, you’re much more likely to get the go-ahead to give your experiment a try. Worst-case scenario, you’ll look like a person who’s trying to save the company time and money. Best-case scenario, you’ll buy back a few of those hours you used to spend having a life.
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