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Do You Actually Work 40+ Hours?

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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 October 21, 2021

    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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