What you really achieve during a 16-hour working day

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It seems to have become a bit of a trend over recent years, where people make a point of letting you know just how many hours they have worked. It’s no longer considered acceptable to get into the office at 9am and work to 5.30pm, if you don’t work until your mind is whirring and your eyes are burning you simply aren’t committed.

I have to admit that before the Christmas break I had got into the habit of coming into the office at 7.30am and working through to around 6pm every day, thinking that this was reflective of my desire to do a good job for my clients. WRONG!

Most of my clients were still in bed, and although I do still get into the office earlier than my contracted 9am start, it is for the right reasons – usually to read the news and to prioritise my tasks for the day ahead.

While reading the i today I came across a really interesting article written by Katie Law, which further reinforced my fear that working longer hours doesn’t necessarily make you more productive. In fact, quite the opposite.

The piece, titled ‘How to do a full day’s work in only four hours’ (no surprises for why it caught my attention) places the emphasis on efficiency as opposed to the hours that we spend doing stuff. The main message, which was taken from Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, a 52-year old former Silicon Valley consultant and lifestyle expert, was that most people can only focus for four hours each day.

If that’ the case, why are we trying to drag this out to eight or more and commending people for it? Basically, we are rewarding inefficiency or at least giving someone who should be recruiting the kudos to believe they are super-human.

In order to be as effective as you can be, the idea is that you work to your limits and that we try to change the mindset that we have all created; longer and longer hours translates to commitment and results.

What started as a desire to do well suddenly manifests itself as a route to ill-health, tiredness, inefficiency and resentment.

But, here’s the good news, there are ways to change. The tips from the article are as follows:

1.       Four hours focus

Focus on tasks and don’t be distracted by emails, voicemails or unnecessary meetings.  Interestingly, it suggests Smartphones should be turned off at least two-nights a week.

2.       Curse of the open-plan office

We have an open plan office, and whereas it definitely has its benefits, the article makes a good point – it’s a honey pot of distractions. The recommendation is to use headphones to cancel out the noise and chatter or go back to individual offices *gasp*.

3.       Break-out areas are bad

Although breaks are confirmed as being a good thing, the idea of having a break-out area doesn’t serve its purpose. Rather than giving people the time to refocus, the article says that all they do is keep people in the office for longer.

4.       Keep meetings short

Pang says that meetings should never be longer than 40 minutes and any devices should be banned! I could marry this man. One thing that irks me above all others is people taking phones or laptops into meetings. It’s rude. As far as I’m concerned, we should go into a meeting, get to the point, create a plan, assign actions and get on with it. Perfect.

5.       Routine is critical

Probably my favourite of them all, and not easily achieved in PR, but routine keeps the mind focused and allows someone to be more organised. Needless to say, this means that you also use your time more wisely.

6.       Take a nap

I love this idea but it’s totally impractical. Apparently, companies including Google have nap pods and encourage employees to take 20-minute shut-eye every six hours. Bonkers, but hey, you can’t fault a multi-million corporation for trying something different. I’m all for a bit of disruption – in fact, I might go for a lie down. Zzzzzzz…

7.       Stop working mid-sentence

Finally, neuroscientists have found that when people stop working on something knowing that they will go back to it, their subconscious keeps processing it. As such, the idea is to embrace this and ‘zone out’. Let your mind do the work for you.

Although I don’t agree with all of the points made by Pang, I am going to try and put more routine into the way I work and to stop believing that working 16-hour days makes me a better and more productive person.

The truth is that no one will thank me, least of all the husband that I never see.