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One Question to Know If You Can Predict Your Future

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One Question to Know If You Can Predict Your Future

The Boston “Big Dig” project — a central artery and tunnel through the city — is one of the biggest engineering fails of modern times.[1] While it did get completed, it took way longer than expected. It was eight years behind schedule when finished, and the cost got way out of control. It was supposed to be $2.6 billion and became $24 billion counting interest on the debt. Concrete was mixed wrong. A ceiling collapsed and killed a car passenger. The entire process was a mess.

    But how did this happen? How did a series of capable adults and city officials so drastically miss on the time and budget for a large project? And what can we learn from it?

    We are bad estimators

    We often want to assume projects and new initiatives will go according to a best-case scenario, i.e. no delays, no interruptions, etc. That’s usually not the case. Other priorities arise. Distractions happen.

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    You should be positive about the projects you undertake, yes. But you also need to prepare for the worst — and since most of us aren’t great predictors of the future, we definitely need those plans. Think of a basic, daily example: the supermarket. Oftentimes you’ll tell yourself “20-30 minutes for essentials.” Then you end up there 1 hour. We’re not good at estimating time, in general.

    When we were considering a new feature on Lifehack’s website, we initially thought we could finish it in two weeks. That didn’t seem like very long. But the concept of “two weeks” doesn’t help identify the time for each section of the project.

    So we asked ourselves a critical question: Can I break this down into smaller chunks?

    We decided to break down the work like this:

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    • 1.5 hours for research
    • 3 hours for building the tools foundation
    • 1 hour for testing
    • 1 hour for amendments etc.

      When we broke it down, it seemed like 2.5 weeks was a more reasonable time estimate.

      If you break a big project into smaller items, it’s easier to estimate. What if you thought of a 15-week project as 15 one-week projects? Wouldn’t that make the planning more successful?

      Further breaking it down

      Break big chunks into small, manageable tasks, then work through those one step at a time. Repeat the question: can I break this down still?

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        Whenever you break something down, think about going even further down — a 15-week project can get down to a 20-hour chunk, but that 20-hour chunk can become a series of 2-hour chunks too.

        The goal here is to make things easier for yourself — and make the estimation of time more realistic.

        Some projects, like The Big Dig, are huge in nature. That is true. But even The Big Dig could have been broken down into manageable chunks and probably come in closer to time and budget expectations.

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        In your personal life, you can definitely execute this strategy. Just make the big, overwhelming projects into small, manageable pieces. Work through those. Eventually the whole big project will be done!

        Featured photo credit: pixabay via pixabay.com

        Reference

        More by this author

        Leon Ho

        Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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        Published on September 21, 2021

        How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

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        How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

        The internet is flooded with articles about remote work and its benefits or drawbacks. But in reality, the remote work experience is so subjective that it’s impossible to draw general conclusions and issue one-size-fits-all advice about it. However, one thing that’s universal and rock-solid is data. Data-backed findings and research about remote work productivity give us a clear picture of how our workdays have changed and how work from home affects us—because data doesn’t lie.

        In this article, we’ll look at three decisive findings from a recent data study and two survey reports concerning remote work productivity and worker well-being.

        1. We Take Less Frequent Breaks

        Your home can be a peaceful or a distracting place depending on your living and family conditions. While some of us might find it hard to focus amidst the sounds of our everyday life, other people will tell you that the peace and quiet while working from home (WFH) is a major productivity booster. Then there are those who find it hard to take proper breaks at home and switch off at the end of the workday.

        But what does data say about remote work productivity? Do we work more or less in a remote setting?

        Let’s take a step back to pre-pandemic times (2014, to be exact) when a time tracking application called DeskTime discovered that 10% of most productive people work for 52 minutes and then take a break for 17 minutes.

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        Recently, the same time tracking app repeated that study to reveal working and breaking patterns during the pandemic. They found that remote work has caused an increase in time worked, with the most productive people now working for 112 minutes and breaking for 26 minutes.[1]

        Now, this may seem rather innocent at first—so what if we work for extended periods of time as long as we also take longer breaks? But let’s take a closer look at this proportion.

        While breaks have become only nine minutes longer, work sprints have more than doubled. That’s nearly two hours of work, meaning that the most hard-working people only take three to four breaks per 8-hour workday. This discovery makes us question if working from home (WFH) really is as good a thing for our well-being as we thought it was. In addition, in the WFH format, breaks are no longer a treat but rather a time to squeeze in a chore or help children with schoolwork.

        Online meetings are among the main reasons for less frequent breaks. Pre-pandemic meetings meant going to another room, stretching your legs, and giving your eyes a rest from the computer. In a remote setting, all meetings happen on screen, sometimes back-to-back, which could be one of the main factors explaining the longer work hours recorded.

        2. We Face a Higher Risk of Burnout

        At first, many were optimistic about remote work’s benefits in terms of work-life balance as we save time on commuting and have more time to spend with family—at least in theory. But for many people, this was quickly counterbalanced by a struggle to separate their work and personal lives. Buffer’s 2021 survey for the State of Remote Work report found that the biggest struggle of remote workers is not being able to unplug, with collaboration difficulties and loneliness sharing second place.[2]

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        Buffer’s respondents were also asked if they are working more or less since their shift to remote work, and 45 percent admitted to working more. Forty-two percent said they are working the same amount, while 13 percent responded that they are working less.

        Longer work hours and fewer quality breaks can dramatically affect our health, as long-term sitting and computer use can cause eye strain, mental fatigue, and other issues. These, in turn, can lead to more severe consequences, such as burnout and heart disease.

        Let’s have a closer look at the connection between burnout and remote work.

        McKinsey’s report about the Future of work states that 49% of people say they’re feeling some symptoms of burnout.[3] And that may be an understatement since employees experiencing burnout are less likely to respond to survey requests and may have even left the workforce.

        From the viewpoint of the employer, remote workers may seem like they are more productive and working longer hours. However, managers must be aware of the risks associated with increased employee anxiety. Otherwise, the productivity gains won’t be long-lasting. It’s no secret that prolonged anxiety can reduce job satisfaction, decrease work performance, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues.[4]

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        3. Despite everything, We Love Remote Work

        An overwhelming majority—97 percent—of Buffer report’s survey respondents say they would like to continue working remotely to some extent. The two main benefits mentioned by the respondents are the ability to have a flexible schedule and the flexibility to work from anywhere.

        McKinsey’s report found that more than half of employees would like their workplace to adopt a more flexible hybrid virtual-working model, with some days of work on-premises and some days working remotely. To be more exact, more than half of employees report that they would like at least three work-from-home days a week once the pandemic is over.

        Companies will increasingly be forced to find ways to satisfy these workforce demands while implementing policies to minimize the risks associated with overworking and burnout. Smart companies will embrace this new trend and realize that adopting hybrid models can also be a win for them—for example, for accessing talent in different locations and at a lower cost.

        Remote Work: Blessing or Plight?

        Understandably, workers worldwide are tempted to keep the good work-life aspects that have come out of the pandemic—professional flexibility, fewer commutes, and extra time with family. But with the once strict boundaries between work and life fading, we must remain cautious. We try to squeeze in house chores during breaks. We do online meetings from the kitchen or the same couch we watch TV shows from, and many of us report difficulties switching off after work.

        So, how do we keep our private and professional lives from hopelessly blending together?

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        The answer is that we try to replicate the physical and virtual boundaries that come naturally in an office setting. This doesn’t only mean having a dedicated workspace but also tracking your work time and stopping when your working hours are finished. In addition, it means working breaks into your schedule because watercooler chats don’t just naturally happen at home.

        If necessary, we need to introduce new rituals that resemble a normal office day—for example, going for a walk around the block in the morning to simulate “arriving at work.” Remote work is here to stay. If we want to enjoy the advantages it offers, then we need to learn how to cope with the personal challenges that come with it.

        Learn how to stay productive while working remotely with these tips: How to Work From Home: 10 Tips to Stay Productive

        Featured photo credit: Jenny Ueberberg via unsplash.com

        Reference

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