The Work Week – A Manifesto

The Work Week – A Manifesto

Let’s talk about time. An interesting article surfaced regarding the affect of working a 32 hour week versus a normal 40. I cross referenced it against a New York Times article about a similar experiment in New Zealand. The takeaway from both was how worker’s time decreased, but output remained constant. There were even tangible affects in attendance and morale. This got me thinking, if you shorten the work week, what changes? If you are expected to do the same quantity and quality of work in a shortened window, you will find ways to get your job done. But how and from where?

The Process

I’ve often said the most productive person in any work place is the parent who needs to be home in time for their kid’s soccer practice. They need to get their job done come hell or high water. They don’t have time for idle chit chat, a long lunch, or browsing Amazon. They tend to work out what needs to get done and the shortest path there. I learned this from Sheri at a previous employer. She was a coworker who had a young family and a lot of demands on her time. At the time I knew her I was single, and although we did the same job and I worked many more hours, her output seemed to be much better than mine.

There was a conversation about overtime once on our team where many of us were working crazy burnout hours. Someone made one of those half jokes about her leaving at four everyday while everyone else stayed. I caught up with her and she explained to me how she got it all done. She made it a point to come in earlier when the office was quiet and she would have less distractions, she never stopped working until she had a stopping point, that she put a lot of effort into simplifying her processes, and always worked ahead when she had slack time. In many ways her attitude inspired me to get better at what I was doing and now that I have a family I appreciate her advice.

Therefore, is it possible to get the same amount of work done in a shorter window? Are we really that inefficient? Take your own day to day. Do you think you’re getting as much done as you can? I’ve become obsessed with time management techniques to find a way to get more done in less time. I’ve tried just about everything from reading “Eat That Frog” to the Pomodoro technique, finally settling on an un-timed flow method that is based on a singular focus using a very controlled pace. But is refining personal work processes the only solution?

The Proposal

One fact I’ve learned is that no matter how much time put into process improvements, time burglars will surface. Here is a proposal that relies on everyone in an organization realizing the value of other’s time. Although Americans may never get a 32 hour work week, there are a few changes that can make at least get us back to 40. Here is my proposal.

  • Meetings shouldn’t last longer than 30 minutes. The default meeting time is an hour, but let’s back that down to 30 minutes and force the organizer to qualify more time needed. To get down to 30 minutes, agendas should be agreed upon beforehand so there’s no scope creep and everyone knows what’s going to be discussed. Everyone should do some basic preparation beforehand so there’s no time wasted rehashing old information. We should communicate more effectively by being honest and direct with each other and get straight to the point.
    • Some people may not think this is attainable, but I use it often to get on the calendars of vice presidents and key sales leaders. My experience has been that most anyone will give you up to 30 minutes, whereas very few will give you an hour. As a lesson, the more you value others time too, the more likely they are to give it to you.
  • This meeting should have been an email! I worked with someone who had this on her coffee mug and would carry it into meetings she thought were unnecessary. I loved it. We should all agree that if there’s no decision to be made or that decision has already been made and we’re only sharing mundane information, an email will suffice.
  • Respect the IM. An IM (Instant Message) is not an email program. IMs are for quick messages with one/two word answers that don’t require research. For example, “have time for a call?” is a brilliant use of IM. Note: a high priority does not mean you can IM. You can flag an email instead and it will get read just as quickly. The IM is often over-abused to the point that some people just never log into their chat client during the day, which completely negates the cost of purchasing it.
  • Send email chains to the garbage bin. Email replies should be limited to two max from a respondent. I have a strict policy and it is this: If I hit “reply” a third time, I’m calling you to hash it out. I don’t have time to read through, edit, re-edit, and then send my reply. I’ve already realized that either context has become an issue or I’m not being clear in the first place or I’m missing something that isn’t being communicated properly.
  • Voicemail should already be in the garbage. Never leave someone a voicemail if you really care about their time. Voicemails take too much time to log in and check. If you call someone and they’re not there, send an email instead letting them know you called and what about, or send an IM and see if they can take your call if they have a “green” status. If we don’t leave voicemails in our non-working life, then why do we still do them in the office? In fact, most young people prefer not to use office phones anymore anyway, so this is just a good practice to get used to doing.
  • Learn how to be concise. There is a term I love about writing emails and it’s “BLUF”. This means “bottom line, up front.” I learned a hard lesson at one point where I felt none of my emails were getting read. And why would they? They were long winded. As such, I decided to limit all messages to two paragraphs at most, with three short sentences in each paragraph. I also led with the meat of the message. If they wanted to read on they could, but ultimately it saved me from having my message flagged as a follow up, and never followed up on. Response rates went up!

So maybe this is a rant piece, or maybe it will start a conversation that needs to be started. Either way, don’t leave me a voicemail if you want to discuss it.

Ceiling at Cincinnati Union Terminal
Ceiling at Cincinnati Union Terminal