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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 March 23, 2021

    Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

    Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

    One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

    The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

    You need more than time management. You need energy management

    1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

    How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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    I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

    I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

    2. Determine your “peak hours”

    Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

    Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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    My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

    In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

    Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

    3. Block those high-energy hours

    Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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    Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

    If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

    That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

    There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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    Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

    Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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