Do you really know how productive you are?
Sure, you get stuff done. The end of the day comes around and you’ve ticked a few things off your to-do list. You may have even completed your top three goals for the day and turned over some emails.
But could you clock off at the end of each day a little sooner?
I’m sure some of you love to spend more time at work because it’s a great place to be, you like your peers and the work is meaningful. I’ve been that employee.
I also know there are many of you who spend more time at work than you want.
Imagine if you could spend one less hour at work every day — what would you do with that hour?
As Franz Kafka so efficiently put it,
“Productivity is being able to do things that you were never able to do before”.
Now some will argue that if you must spend a little more time at work to do your job, it will be positively recognised by the boss and may contribute towards an annual bonus.
But if your performance is assessed biannually, by the time each half-year review comes around you’ve potentially donated up to 100 unpaid hours to the workplace!
Although in the age of ‘flexible work practices’, that extra time spent at work is not always looked upon favourably, nor a guarantee of reward. In fact, the ‘for the love of the company’ justification for spending more time at work risks over emphasis of ‘duration of work’ over ‘value of work’.
A focus on ‘duration’ over ‘value’ is initially seductive, especially for new managers trying to impress. I fell for it early in my career and continuously spent more time at work to accommodate my expanding responsibilities and duties.
Only later did I realise the human tendency to simply expend more time to address more work. The logic of starting earlier in the day or working back late to accommodate more work is sometimes necessary for occasional bursts of work. But when it has become a habit, you’re at risk of being overworked and underpaid.
If you could deliver more productive value in your day and spend less time at work would you choose it?
If so, start with these three suggestions.
Cut meetings to 15 minutes — or at least make them an appropriate time to be truly efficient. Everybody knows Parkinson’s Law – avoid allowing activities to simply fill the space allowed. Imagine the response if you told everyone that as today’s meeting is only 15 minutes you can all go home 45 minutes earlier?
Control your interruptions — set times for people to contact you directly via instant messaging or mobile. This enables them to have your full attention when they do call, but not so much access that you are continually dropping and picking up your work between enquiries.
Work iteratively — become a work juggler and maintain motion on all of your tasks. Everything you have promised to deliver could be progressed once every day until completion. You know the feeling when someone is waiting for your work and you’re dreading the call because the job hasn’t moved since the last call. Maintain flow and avoid dropping the balls.
Before you begin to change your work practices to become more productive, set expectations with others about your new regime.
Let them know what you are changing and how it results in you spending less time at work and achieving more. I’m sure when they hear about the results they will do the same.
The bottom line is you have a choice about how you work and how much time you end up spending at work. Continually assess and understand your productivity and you’ll get your job done with time to spare.
Fail to continually improve your productivity and you’ll be forever wondering — where did the time go?
We’d love you to share your ideas here about how you remain productive in the workplace.
Written by Craig Stephens
Craig is a coach and mentor who develops the purpose, presence and performance of professionals, teams and organisations.
This page was last edited on