Working to Death

A recent reader survey shows that British Columbia’s business professionals are working long hours, trending to near 70-hour work weeks. If you’re in this group, you’re setting yourself up for serious health and safety problems, most of which stem from sleep deprivation. In addition to these concerns, working long hours is counterproductive and does more damage to your organization than you might think.

The more you work, the less efficient you become. This results in more waste and less productivity. If the cycle continues, the end result can range from absenteeism due to stress and sickness to accidents on the job and even to death. One of the best ways to get yourself off the cycle of overwork is to pay attention to your work when you’re at work. Become efficient and productive during your regular working hours and you’ll never again need to put in regular overtime.

Here are ten things you can do right now to improve your productivity – i.e., do more in less time:

  1. Eliminate your physical and electronic clutter. Both are wastes that inhibit your performance. A clean office with sparse décor and no stacks and piles of stuff is more conducive to productivity.
  2. Zone in on your work. Organize your work items in zones based on how frequently you access or need an item. For example, if you use a paper cutter only once a month, there is no need for it to be in your office (zone 1).
  3. Move email out of your inbox daily. At the end of the day, your inbox should contain ZERO items – each email you open must be handled immediately. Use the B-F-A-T rule. After you open an email, read it and then B-bring it forward (if further action is required), F-file it (no action is required), A-act on it immediately (if a short response will do), or T-delete (toss) it.
  4. Prioritize tomorrow’s activities the day before. Then work on your priorities as scheduled. Stick to your schedule.
  5. Stop procrastinating at work. Socializing and playing computer games while at work only adds to your workload. Get help for procrastination – it could be as simple as taking a day off to refresh and recharge.
  6. Don’t ignore overwhelm. Figure out why you’re overwhelmed, resolve your issues, and move forward. If you’re constantly overwhelmed with work, maybe you’re in the wrong job.
  7. Think before you act. Productive people spend a lot of time thinking about and planning how to accomplish tasks before they actually do them. This helps prevent re-doing work.
  8. Configure your office space. The most efficient office space is a U-shape. It enables efficient workflow, saving you time. Better yet, ask your boss to consider an open space design for the entire organization. It will help improve your creativity and productivity.
  9. Use project management skills for big projects. If you’re new to project task estimating, take a best-guess at how long a task will take and then multiply that time by three to get a true timeframe.
  10. Use standards and procedures. If your organization does not have standards and procedures for EVERYTHING that needs to get done, then you are spending more time on tasks than necessary.

Implementing these ten tips will help you decrease your hours at the office, so you have more time to spend with family and friends doing the things you love. And at the end of the day, you owe it to yourself and to your employer to return to work mentally refreshed the next day.

Taming the Workaholic

Hi. My name is Mary and I used to be a workaholic.

Ever since I can remember, I would spend endless hours “doing.” First it was school projects, then work projects for my employer, and then in the 1980s when I started my own business, I spent endless hours working in, on, and for my business. And somewhere in between, I also spent countless hours volunteering for various associations, this on top of my already full work and family schedules. Why am I telling you this? Because along the way, I learned from experience and research that being a workaholic is not only counterproductive, but it can ultimately kill you or, at the very least, make you very tired and maybe even very sick. Here’s what else I learned.

Working more than 35 to 40 hours a week does not contribute proportionally to your productivity. In fact, studies have shown that industrial workers that worked eight-hour days produced the same amount of widgets as those that worked 10-hour days. However, occasional overtime can yield results, but the gains won’t be directly proportional to the time worked. For example, if the work week is extended by 50 percent, say from 40 to 60 hours, there would only be a 25-30 percent increase in productivity. This is because people typically do their best work between hours two and six of an eight-hour work day. After that, fatigue may affect productivity. In addition, if overtime is sustained over a long period of time, fewer productivity will result because of sustained mental exhaustion.

It turns out that factory workers may be able to turn out a fairly productive eight-hour day; whereas, knowledge workers are not as productive. Productivity for knowledge workers maxes out at about six hours a day (not eight). On top of this, research by the US military has shown that cognitive decline is equivalent to a .10 blood alcohol level with even just one hour less sleep per night. What this means is that if you’re not getting enough sleep, regardless if you’re a factory or knowledge worker, you may be making the same quality decisions as a person who is inebriated. Think about that the next time you show up for a full day’s work when you didn’t get quality sleep the night before.

Workaholics be aware: you are doing yourself and your organization a disservice. You will be far more productive sticking to a 35-to-40 hour work week. If you’re having difficulty adjusting down, speak to a coach or therapist and get back on track to getting your life back. You’ll be glad you did.