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To Work Better, Should We Work Less?

Discussion in 'Productivity' started by Kevin Muldoon, Oct 4, 2015.

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  1. I found an article from last year entitled "To Work Better, Work Less".

    It raises a lot of interesting points, such as working additional hours not actually helping become more productive, and the benefits of taking time off to reflect.

    I worked in an office environment for a few years and can vouch for this. I'd hazard a guess that most people only do around 3 hours of real work in a 7-8 hour working day. The rest is spent walking around, chatting, time wasting etc.

    I have copied the article below for you all :)

    Between 1853 and 1870, Baron Haussmann ordered much of Paris to be destroyed. Slums were razed and converted to bourgeois neighborhoods, and the formerly labyrinthine city became a place of order, full of wide boulevards (think Saint-Germain) and angular avenues (the Champs-Élysées). Poor Parisians tried to put up a fight but were eventually forced to flee, their homes knocked down with minimal notice and little or no recompense. The city underwent a full transformation—from working class and medieval to bourgeois and modern—in less than two decades' time.

    Every August, Paris now sees another rapid transformation. Tourists rule the picturesque streets. Shops are shuttered. The singsong sounds of English, Italian, and Spanish float down the street in place of the usual French monotone. As French workers are required to take at least 31 days off each year, nearly all of them have chosen this month to flit down to Cannes or over to Italy, Spain, or Greece, where the Mediterranean beckons and life hasn’t stopped like it has here.

    Some might call it laziness, but what French people are really doing by vacationing for the entirety of August is avoiding the tipping point of overwork. Just as the city transforms overnight, so do French work habits—and this vacation time pays dividends. That’s because, even though the amount of time you work tends to match how productive you are as if on a sliding scale, length of work and quality of work at a certain point become inversely related. At some point, in other words, the more you work, the less productive you become.

    For example, working long hours often leads to productivity-killing distractions. Such is an instance of the saying known as Parkinson’s law, which states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Work less, and you’ll tend to work better.

    So too with practicing a skill. K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, conducted a study in Berlin and found that the amount of time successful musicians spent practicing each day was surprisingly low—a mere 90 minutes per day. In fact, the most successful musicians not only practiced less, but also took more naps throughout the day and indulged in breaks during practice when they grew tired or stressed.

    It has long been known that working too much leads to life-shortening stress. It also leads to disengagement at work, as focus simply cannot be sustained for much more than 50 hours a week. Even Henry Ford knew the problem with overwork when he cut his employees’ schedules from 48-hour weeks to 40-hour weeks. He believed that working more than 40 hours a week had been causing his employees to make many errors, as he recounted in his autobiography, My Life and Work.

    Of course, some low-income workers are forced to work long hours or multiple jobs just to make ends meet. But why do many other employees—including those who are incredibly well compensated—still overwork themselves even when they often don’t have to?Alexandra Michel, a Goldman Sachs associate-turned-University of Pennsylvania adjunct professor found that at two well-known investment banks (which she left unnamed) employees were working an average of 120-hour weeks (as in, 17 hours a day, every day). This led workers, as Michel writes, to not only “neglect family and health,” but also to work long hours even when their bosses did not force them to—and when they knew that working that 16th and 17th hour a day wouldn’t make them any more productive.

    Michel concluded that hardworking individuals put in long hours not for “rewards, punishments, or obligation." Rather, they do so “because they cannot conceive otherwise even when it does not make sense to do so.”

    It seems silly that many work long hours simply for the sake of having worked long hours. Perhaps the reason people overwork even when it is not for “reward, punishment, or obligation” is because it holds great social cachet. Busyness implies hard work, which implies good character, a strong education, and either present or future affluence. The phrase, “I can’t; I’m busy,” sends a signal that you’re not just an homme sérieux, but an important one at that.

    There is also a belief in many countries, the United States especially, that work is an inherently noble pursuit. Many feel existentially lost without the driving structure of work in their life—even if that structure is neither proportionally profitable nor healthy in a physical or psychological sense.

    In certain trades, such as law, it makes sense to work more than necessary, because fees are assessed hourly rather than as lump sums. This, of course, hurts the client, who ends up paying for non-productive work, but in the short-term it is a coup for the law firm. Also, although overwork leads to sharply decreased work efficiency (which costs American companies between $450 and $550 billionannually in lost productivity) and heightened stress and sickness, it is still cheaper to hire one employee to work 80 hours per week than it is to hire two employees to work 40 hours per week.

    America's Workers: Stressed Out, Overwhelmed, Totally Exhausted

    Some companies have begun to diverge from this thinking, though, taking after the “work less, work better” philosophy. The Michigan-based software company Menlo Innovations looks down on employees who clock in more than 40 hours per week, seeing overwork not as a sign of dedication but as a marker of inefficiency. Working overtime has even led to a few layoffs at the company, according to Brigid Schulte, the author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time.Finally, there is also the simple reason for perpetuating overwork: cultural inertia. Americans have worked long hours in the past, so regardless of new technologies or jumps in efficiencies, we continue working the same number of hours, even if doing so has no discernible effect, or even a negative effect, on productivity. On top of that, everyone else is already stuck in their ways: being the first person in the office who starts cutting back on work time "for the sake of productivity" without fearing repercussion would require courage and a bit of naiveté.

    Many people are still stuck on the fundamental importance of work compared to free time: the structure it gives, the purpose it affords, the morality it signifies. But what if we viewed leisure time not as goofing off, but as necessary time for reflecting, for inspiring creativity, and for saving up brainpower and energy for future work?

    Although it has its share of economic problems, France has less than nine percentof its employees working “very long hours.” (By contrast, 11 percent of Americans work “very long hours,” and Turkey has the largest proportion: 43 percent of its workers do so.) France also has one of the world’s best work-life balances. Working too much is at best, pointless, and at worst, actively harmful. Overwork dictates our physical health, psychological health, and our time with family, and often it is rooted in our own desire to ennoble the act of working, to feel productive (even if we’re not being productive), and to be able to tell other people, “I’m busy,” as a means of social prestige.

    It took serious work for modern Paris to be created. Baron Haussmann was hated by a great number of Parisians for his vision of a more efficient Paris, and there was serious backlash throughout his 17-year project, as recounted in Patrice de Moncan’s Le Paris d’Haussmann. He did not, however, take any extended breaks during the whole project, as Napoleon III continued to push him to finish as quickly as possible. In early 1870, he finished the Place de l’Opéra and was in the process of starting construction on the national opera building itself.

    But after Napoleon III appointed Émile Ollivier, a fierce critic of Haussmann, as prime minister, the emperor became swayed by Haussmann’s opponents and relieved him of his duties. Haussmann floundered about, spending time abroad and staying out of the public spotlight until the late 1870s, when he came back to Paris to re-enter politics. A year before his return, the opera had been finished.
    You can view the original article at http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/08/to-work-better-work-less/375763/

  2. "I'd hazard a guess that most people only do around 3 hours of real work in a 7-8 hour working day."
    - what bothered me quite a bit in the offices I worked in was this: some folk would do, as you point out, about 3 or 4 hours of real work, but I could sometimes sit there and do their whole week's worth of work (sometimes more) in a single day. For example, when it comes to data entry stuff, I've seen people sit in an office environment for something like two weeks basically copying and pasting data from one format to another (heck, I've even seen companies bring in low-paid staff for a week just to do this very type of work). For me, I can only do that for about an hour or so -- after which my brain just naturally starts thinking: there must be a better way; perhaps some script or something that can automate the process. In a few positions I've had, I've managed to go to my boss with a solution that does months worth of someone's work (and can do it repeatedly) in only a few hours -- without any member of staff even being present. At the end of the day, it's not really the number of hours you work, but what you do with those hours!
  3. p.s. Haha - Tell that to Elon Musk!
    Kevin Muldoon likes this.
  4. I agree. However, most companies do not view things that way. They pay you for the time you are in the building. It's such a backward way of viewing the world.

    And some people are a master of looking busy, but not actually doing any work.

    A friend of mine was telling us about this recently. He's a really intelligent guy who is equally as successful. He got a PHD in Chemistry from Oxford and then moved to London, became an accountant, and started working for all the major banks. I wouldn't even hazard a guess as to how much money he was making, but the size of the house he bought back in Scotland suggests it was a lot.

    Anyways, he realised at one point that after being promoted a few times, he was effectively doing nothing every day. He would just sit in his office and was not actually doing anything (remember, he is making £xxx,xxx per year at this point). So he said he tested them and just didn't come in some days. He fully expected to be pulled up for it, but he wasn't. He had somehow managed to find himself in a high paying job in this company which no one really checked on. No one really knew what he did, so they did not know what he was supposed to be doing.

    I am, of course, not doing this story justice, as I have missed out a lot of the technical details he explained to us; but it just illustrates how people can get away with doing next to no work in large companies.

    Here's a story about my first foray into the world of business.

    When I came out of University, I continued to work at the swimming baths until I found work. I got my first office job a couple of months later. It was a temp position with the investments department of Clydesdale Bank.

    It initially involved a lot of filing, but they soon moved me onto curating all of the files and preparing the information in files for the investment team. I would get through, say, ten to fifteen cases per day. The woman who was full time sometimes struggled to submit three cases and most of the time those cases had to be sent back because there were errors on it.

    A month or so later, there was a job opening for the position I had been doing. Myself, and the women who had been full time with Clydesdale Bank for over twenty years, both applied. She got the job.

    My contract was coincidentally due for renewal the day I found out. So I walked into the manager's office and told him I would complete the day, but would not be coming back. I asked him how they could hire someone that was doing around 10% to 20% of the work I was doing and he said it was because I had aspirations. He said they would rather take on someone who would do that job for ten years than someone who would do it for one or two years and then look to do exams and move up.

    Without doubt, it was a stupid and short-sighted mindset to have. They effectively were happy to have someone who was terrible in their job take the position if it meant they stayed longer.

    With regards to data entry, I thankfully have only had to do that one time.

    When I was in Australia I took a part time job at Time Magazine. My job was to take the subscription information sent in from cut out forms from the magazine and then enter the data into the computer.

    I had been working online for close to four years at the time I took this job, so my typing was pretty quick. Or so I thought.

    I sat there all day in an empty office and doing nothing but manually inserting the information into the database. Apart from lunch and a small toilet break, I never left my desk. Despite this, the boss asked me if I was finding it difficult as she was surprised at how many I completed. I was completely shocked and baffled by this as up until that point, everyone I worked with in offices remarked on how fast I typed. However, it sounds like this woman was looking for a super fast touch typist for the job.

    Considering how little the job paid, I was surprised the woman expected so much for me.

    In total, I worked two days in the job before realising I would be better off sitting in an internet cafe all day working on my websites :D
    Raspal likes this.
  5. I do wonder if people would get more done if they knew they didn't have to be there all day... And I also feel like productivity varies wildly from job to job and person to person, and company to company.

    As a teacher, I worked my a. off... all the time. And I felt like most of my fellow teachers did, as well. Not only did I never goof off, I barely had a break to catch my breath or use the bathroom, and lunch was maybe 20 minutes... And it was extremely stressful.

    But I've worked before in places and also heard about jobs that others have worked where it seemed the goal was to work as little as possible while appearing to be working or "busy".

    And I cannot believe how many people do Facebook at work these days. CRAZY! I never had time for FB at work, that's for sure. heck, I didn't have time for the work I had to do.
    Kevin Muldoon likes this.
  6. Urgh it's something I've felt. I don't think more hours means your more successful or productive. Sadly I've worked too many jobs that require hours to be productive, including opening letters and putting things in piles. :(
    Kevin Muldoon and Heather like this.
  7. Great article. Liked this bit:

    “the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.”

    That is to say happiness is ultimately not found in late nights spent at work, but in finding a way to work less, even if that means buying fewer things or recalibrating your perspective such that having free time no longer suggests moral shortcomings.​

    I also agree that the task will take as long you have to do it in. If I know I've got just 4 hours to work then I will get a job done. But on another day, if I know I've got six, I will find myself getting distracted easier and working slower.
    Tarannum and Heather like this.
  8. I have done experiment about this before some days.

    I was very overwhelmed by work so I decided to reduce working hours to 4 hours per day.( Without any distraction like internet, household chores, phone calls etc.)

    I have made schedule for week and allocate important work.

    The result was surprising.

    I have completed all my important tasks in that week and done almost double work comparing to previous week. Means my productivity was doubled by reducing working hours and concentrating on single task at time.
    Heather likes this.
  9. That is something that many people do not understand.

    Writing articles, for example, can sometimes take an hour to write 1,000 words and can sometimes take five hours. It really depends on the subject, our knowledge of that subject, and the amount of research involved.

    I know that if I was employed by a company on a full time basis and they forced me to complete an article in just a few hours, the finished product could be sub-par because I didn't devote enough time to it.

    This makes you think about what "Work" is.

    I could sit at the computer for twelve hours a day doing nothing and say I was working hard. However, I could complete the same tasks in a third of the time if I focused and didn't have any distractions.

    Fifteen hours of solid working every week is better than thirty-five hours of sitting around and going at a leisurely pace.
  10. There is an interesting article today on BBC about a Swedish company that is trialling a 6 hour working day instead of an 8 hour working day. They will be doing this for 9 months.

    The idea is that people will be more productive when they are at work. They still receive an hour for lunch and work for three solid hours before and after lunch.

    "It's difficult to concentrate at work for eight hours, but with six hours you can be more focused and get things done more quickly," he says.

    His staff are at their desks between 8.30am and 11.30am, take a full hour off for lunch and then put in another three hours before heading back to their homes in the Swedish mountains.

    They're asked to stay away from social media in the office and leave any personal calls or emails until the end of the day. Salaries have not changed since the initiative started in September.​

    You can read the article in full at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-34677949

    I think this is a great idea.

    I worked in offices doing 9 to 5 hours for years and the last hour of the day was normally spent watching the clock tick down so you could get away. There is no doubt in my mind that productivity decreases after a certain point.
    Heather likes this.
  11. I like that idea, too... the 6 hour workday.

    @Tarannum That is so great about your increased productivity when you reduced your hours! :)

    @Kevin Muldoon And if you're me, your 1,000 word article could take even longer... and probably turn into 2,000 words, too. I do think that maybe I'm getting a little faster at writing. Or maybe I'm getting less perfectionistic. I don't know.
    Tarannum and Kevin Muldoon like this.
  12. Heather,

    Actually it is great formula. I decide to stick it to 1 month and lets see the result.
    Heather likes this.
  13. yay! Let us know how it goes. :)
  14. Ya. Sure.
    Heather likes this.
  15. That sounds good Kevin. But maybe over time, the last hour in the new six hour day will be spent waiting for the day to end, then in the five hour day and so on...
  16. Perhaps there is a risk of that, however I do believe that a lot of productivity is lost because of people being tired or people just sitting there because they are paid to be there.

    For example, how many of us have worked in an office and went for a big lunch and then came back in the afternoon and did next to no work. And how many times have you stretched work from one hour to two or three because you didn't have any other work planned.

    There should be more focus on results and less focus on the time you're in the building.
  17. I'm guilty of that!

    I agree with the focus on results aspect, but then you don't want to go too far the other way and only get paid on results, which in some fields can be hard to quantify.
    Kevin Muldoon likes this.
  18. Agreed.

    It must be difficult for managers to juggle that aspect of it as it is difficult to know how long certain tasks will take to complete.
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