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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 August 6, 2020

    Why Working 9 to 5 Is Outdated

    Why Working 9 to 5 Is Outdated

    Bristol is the most congested city in England. Whenever I have to work at the office, I ride there, like most of us do. Furthermore, I always make sure to go at off hours; otherwise, the roads are jam-packed with cars, buses, bikes, even pedestrians. Why is that? Because everyone is working a traditional 9 to 5 work day.

    Where did the “9 to 5” Come From?

    It all started back in 1946. The United States government implemented the 40 hour work week for all federal employees, and all companies adopted the practice afterwards. That’s 67 years with the same schedule. Let’s think about all the things that have changed in the 67 years:

    • We went to the moon, and astronauts now live in space on the ISS.

    • Computers used to take up entire rooms and took hours to make a single calculation. Now we have more powerful computers in our purses and back pockets with our smartphones.

    • Lots of employees can now telecommute to the office from hundreds, and even thousands of miles away.

    In 1946 a 9-5 job made sense because we had time after 5pm for a social life, a family life. Now we’re constantly connected to other people and the office, with the Internet, email on our smartphones, and hashtags in our movies and television shows. There is no downtime anymore.

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    Different Folks, Different Strokes

    Enjoying your downtime is an important part of life. It recharges your batteries and lets you be more productive. Allowing people to balance life and work can provide them with much needed perspective and motivation to see the bigger picture of what they are trying to achieve.

    Some people are just more productive when they’re working at their optimal time of day, after feeling well rested and personally fulfilled.  For some that can be  from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m; for others, it could be  2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

    People have their own rhythms and routines. It would be great if we could sync our work schedule to match. Simply put, the imposed 8-hour work day can be a creativity and morale killer for the average person in today’s world.

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    Productivity and Trust Killer

    Fostering creativity among employees is not always an easy endeavor, but perhaps a good place to start is by simply not tying their tasks and goals to a fixed time period. Let them work on their to-do list at their own pace, and chances are, you’ll get the best out of your employee who feels empowered instead of babysat.

    That’s not to say that you should  allow your team to run wild and do whatever they want, but restricting them to a 9 to 5 time frame can quickly demoralize people. Set parameters and deadlines, and let them work at their own creative best with the understanding that their work is crucial to the functioning of the entire team.

    Margaret Heffernan, an entrepreneur who previously worked in broadcasting, noted to Inc that from her experience, “treating employees like grown-ups made it more likely that they would behave the same way.” The principle here is to have your employees work to get things done, not to just follow the hands on the clock.

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    A Flexible Remote Working Policy

    Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously recalled all her remote workers, saying she wanted to improve innovation and collaboration, but was that the right decision? We’ve all said that we’re often more productive in a half day working from home than a full day working in the office, right? So why not let your employees work remotely from home?

    There are definitely varying schools of thought on remote working. Some believe that innovation and collaboration can only happen in a boardroom with markers, whiteboards and post-it notes and of course, this can be true for some. But do a few great brainstorms trump a team that feels a little less stressed and a little more free?

    Those who champion remote working often note that these employees are not counting the clock, worried about getting home, cooking dinner or rushing through errands post-work. No one works their 9-5 straight without breaks here and there.  Allowing some time for remote working means employees can handle some non-work related tasks and feel more accomplished throughout the day. Also, sometimes we all need to have a taste of working in our pajamas, right?

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    It’ll be interesting to see how many traditional companies and industries start giving their employees more freedom with their work schedule. And how many end up rescinding their policies like Yahoo did.

    What are your thoughts of the traditional 9-5 schedule and what are you doing to help foster your team’s productivity and creativity? Hit the comments and let us know.

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