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Do You Actually Work 40+ Hours?

Do You Actually Work 40+ Hours?

    The last few months, I’ve been wondering about something. I am self-employed. I work in an office by myself. No one watches me or looks over my shoulder. I work flexible hours.  Do those hours really add up to 40 or more a week?

    My Productivity Experiment

    I did an experiment in which I calculated all of the hours I was actually working (i.e. writing, attending phone meetings, pursuing leads, responding to business-related e-mails) versus doing personal tasks or surfing the Internet.

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    It turns out that I do indeed work 40 or more hours a week, but those hours aren’t organized in 5, 8-hour chunks like the hours of traditional employees. Rather, I am able to complete several administrative and business development tasks for my business in the morning and do heavy lifting writing in the late afternoon, when my energy level is highest.

    Especially if I’m sitting at my computer the whole time, I definitely lose steam between 11AM and 3PM, and again between 6PM and 9PM. But it’s not uncommon for me to continue working with all cylinders firing after my children are in bed.

    9 to 5 as inefficient?

    Even though I’m pretty efficient overall, my rate of efficiency during the “traditional” 9 to 5 work day is not that great. And yet I suspect I’m not alone. I don’t think most employers would be thrilled that people are tooling around on social media for hours every work day, but this is common and part of being human.

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    Human beings only have the ability to focus intensely for a few hours at a time, at which point our energy slackens and we switch to an activity that requires less brain power. In the days when most of us worked in the fields or in factories, it didn’t matter if we were able to concentrate because so much of the work was rote. But a great deal of today’s work relies on creativity, analytical ability, and strategic thinking, and for that, we need to be sharp.

    Long Breaks for the Self-Employed

    Everyone’s productivity cycle is different, and as a result of my research, I’m learning how to manage mine. After working for a few hours in the morning, I go to the gym, run errands, grab lunch outside, or take a nap during my low energy time in the early afternoon. I write like a fiend in the late afternoon and continue through the early evening, and then, after a two hour break engaging with my kids and having dinner with my husband, I’ll sit down at the computer and finish a project or catch up on e-mails.

    Unfortunately, if you’re employed in a traditional business environment, you can’t have a schedule like a self-employed person. You are expected to work productively for 8 hours straight, and at some point during this long stretch, you are likely kidding yourself.  Coffee can only do so much. The typical office culture does not allow you to recoup your energy in an effective way, so you sit at your desk clicking mindlessly or staring into space. This isn’t good for anyone.

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    The Solution for the Average Employee

    Given that productivity cycles vary by individual, knowledge workers are most effective if they set their own hours and leave the workspace to do something else when their energy depletes. Thanks to technology, being tied into the business from home 24/7 is now feasible.

    However, I’m a realist, and I don’t think the majority of workplaces are ready to employ telecommuting on a grand scale (although I can see this happening in the next 10 years).  What employers can do is encourage flex-time. Let your people come and go as they please provided the work is getting done with great results.

    Get them up and away from their desks by setting up fitness and recreation programs onsite or nearby, and create a culture where eating meals is a social and/or networking activity instead of yet another thing to be done in front of the computer. When people are permitted to work when they feel their best, productivity will improve across the board.

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    (Photo credit: Image of business documents on workplace via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on June 18, 2019

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Making Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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