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Work Less, Get More Done

| April 25, 2017

by Jim Bruce

Most of us firmly believe that there is a linear relationship between the hours we work and the productive results that we generate, at least to the point of sheer physical exhaustion.  Research has begun to show, however, that it’s more complicated than that.  That, in fact, the stressors that keep us from focusing and generating results, kick in much earlier.
John Pencavel, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and Senior Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Research, has studied this issue.  He concluded that typically productivity per hour declines rapidly after about 50 hours per week and that productivity declines so much after 55 hours that there is no point in working any more.  Said differently, those individuals who brag about their 70-hour work weeks, are not getting any more done than those who work 55 hours a week.
Pencavel’s result leads one to ask, how, if I only have 50-55 real productive hours each week, should I prepare and work to get the most out of those hours.  Travis Bradberry, consultant and co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, has suggested a set of changes, identified from his work with successful people, that you can make in how you spend your weekend time what will enable you to make significant progress on working more effectively for the whole week.  Here are his ideas:
1.  Disconnect.  Bradberry argues that if you don’t remove yourself electronically from your work from Friday evening through Monday morning, you’ve really never left work.  He suggests for those people who have to be available that they set specific times on Saturday and Sunday for checking email and responding to voice mail.  Otherwise, really disconnect!
2.  Minimize Chores.  He notes that chores have a way of taking over the weekend.  When that happens, time to relax and reflect disappears.  Here he proposes that you schedule weekend chores much like you schedule tasks during the week.  Decide how much time you will allocate to chores, schedule that time, and handle what cannot fit within the time by deferring that work, finding another approach (e.g., delegating or contracting out), or deciding that it doesn’t need to be done.
3.  Reflect.  Schedule some time, without the distractions and disruptions of the Monday to Friday workweek, to carefully contemplate the larger forces that are shaping higher education, your university, your job.  Use the insight you gain to shape your approach for the coming week.  This is much like the suggestion we’ve made that you take some time on Friday afternoons or on Sunday evening to reflect on your coming week and work on your calendar. 
4.  Exercise.  If you don’t have a regular exercise regime during the week, use the weekend to make it happen.  Exercise, and in particular exercise outdoors, reduces stress and stimulates new ideas.  History is replete with inventors, writers, and other successful individuals who knew that being outdoors sparked their creativity.  Many would take long walks every afternoon.
5.  Pursue a Passion.  Bradbury reminds us that pursuing a passion provides a great way to escape stress and to open your mind to new ways of thinking.  You can help stimulate different modes of thinking by playing music, reading, writing, playing with your children, etc.  And, all of these can pay rich dividends in the coming week.
6.  Spend Quality Time with the Family.  Spending quality time with your family is essential to recharging and relaxing.  Find something that everyone enjoys and do it.  You’ll enjoy the time together and be glad that you identified time to be with each other.
7.  Schedule Micro-Adventures.  Studies show that anticipating something good to come at a future time is a significant part of what makes an activity pleasurable.  Knowing that you have something, exciting planned will improve your mood throughout the week.
 8.  Wake Up at the Same Time.  Some individuals are tempted to sleep in on the weekend to catch up.  While it might feel good temporarily, in the long run it is not helpful.  Your body craves, and operates, on the assumption of regular sleep schedules.  When you depart from your normal wake-up time, you are groggy that day and it continues to impact you in the days to come.
9.  Designate Mornings as “Me” Time.  Bradberry notes that with a family it is hard to get “me” time on the weekends.  He suggests that you take the first few hours of weekend days for yourself.  This is a time when your mind achieves its peak performance.  Perhaps doing something physical first followed by something mental would be a good option.  And, I’ve found this approach to be good for a daily routine. 
10.  Prepare for the Coming Week.  As noted earlier in the paragraph on Reflect, take some time to plan the coming week.  If you don’t think the week through carefully, as the week unfolds you will find too many “gotchas,” things you could have put on the calendar had you just reflected on the work you need to do.
Bradbury gives us ten good ideas for how to use part of our weekend to prepare both our mind and our body for the coming week.  Selecting and implementing only a few of these ideas will significantly improve your week and should reduce your stress levels.  I hope that you’ll give it a try.
Make it a great week.  .  .  .  .     jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.
Travis Bradberry, How Successful People Work Less and Get More Done,, May 2015.
John Pencavel, The Productivity of Working Hours, Elservier SSRN, April 2014.