Do you regularly work over 40 hours a week?
If you’re like many busy people in today’s information age workforce, you likely do. “So much to do, so little time” is the mantra of our workdays.
Research tells us that working long hours isn’t good for our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. (Check out this eye-opening study in an Inc. article.)
So why do we keep doing it?
Some people work long hours because they love their work. But many do it because the culture of their workplace is built on proving worth and dedication through logging more time.
You don’t need to work 60 hours a week to get it all done. In fact, by limiting your hours to 8 per day and 40 per week, you’ll actually be more productive. And even in long-hour cultures, results beat hours.
Success Measured by Results
It seems counter-intuitive. Why is it that you can get more done by working less?
It’s because work has a way of expanding to fill the time you have available.
Have you ever experienced this? You normally take 2 hours to complete a report, but an emergency comes up, leaving you with only 90 minutes, and somehow you’re able to get it done.
In addition, when you limit the time you have to complete work, you force yourself to focus on the most important tasks and let busy work fall to the wayside.
I had this experience in the last semester of my undergrad program in college. I was taking more credits than I ever had, had the most challenging classes because I was in my final semester, and I was working as an intern in HR, yet my grades were higher than they had ever been.
The most successful people don’t work long hours, they maximize the time that they are working, and have a hard stop time. If you can train yourself and your team to do this, both your productivity and work-life balance will soar.
It’s likely unrealistic for you to cut 5, 10, 15, or more hours from your work week cold-turkey style. So, let’s look at how you can quickly ease into a shorter work week in a way that will also dramatically increase your job satisfaction.
Drivers of Focus
I track the hours I work every week. On the weeks I finish the most projects, feel great about the speed and quality of my work, and have connected with lots of people. I’m often surprised at the end of the week to see that I somehow fit 55-60 hours of work into 35-40 hours. How does that happen?
It’s all about focus–focusing on the work that will have the most impact rather than the easiest work.
One of two things can drive focus: self-discipline or engagement.
When you use self-discipline to stay focused, you’re pushing yourself to do something you don’t necessarily want to do or that you don’t want to do at that moment.
You might use a timer to stay on track. You might make a game of how many tasks you can get done before noon. Or you may tell yourself that if you complete three more tasks, you can take a break and grab a snack!
Self-discipline is a wonderful ability. It’s very effective at getting more done in less time. However, constant pushing can be exhausting.
Conversely, if your focus is caused by engagement, the work is pulling you toward completion.
This engagement happens because you’re interested in the topic, you have a strong desire to help someone that the work will benefit, or you’re enjoying the process of the work itself. In other words, the work is meaningful to you in some way.
You don’t have to try to get it done and avoid distractions, you’re in the zone, so you don’t even see the distractions. Your motivation is the work itself, so you don’t have to set up external motivations to get the work done. Work feels lighter and less tiring.
Two Paths to the Same End
Both self-discipline and engagement will help you get more done in less time, and by increasing your reliance on engagement over discipline, you’ll end your work days with energy to dedicate to other activities and interests.
Next week, in part 2 of this article, we’ll walk through a step-by-step method to become more productive with less effort.
In the meantime, is your focus at work most often based on self-discipline or engagement? How do the two feel different or the same? You can leave your answer in a comment below.
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