Back in 1930, John Maynard Keynes prophesied that in hundred years time we’d all be working 15-hour weeks. Fingers crossed.
Until 2030, it’s a 40-, 50-, or even 60-hour work week for most professionals, dealing with all the peaks and troughs that come with such a relentless workload.
You can’t fight the system
While we all know that working long hours is inefficient and injurious, employers still expect it and employees still do it, with working hours in the US and Europe stubbornly clocking in at over 40 hours a week for decades. Evidently, we all believe that working at work improves productivity.
It’s a habit that’s unlikely to break anytime soon, but there are coping mechanisms to shake off the inevitable work slumps.
Rather than fight against the natural ebb and flow of the work week and your own circadian rhythms, why not work with them?
Identify which days and at what times you’re most productive and those when you’re most idle. Just recognising this is part of the battle: once you know your own particular habits you’ll know how to better structure your days and feel less guilty when everything seems an uphill struggle.
Morning, noon and night
Mornings are generally the most productive times of the day, with productivity peaking at 10.26am, so spend this time focussing on your most creatively demanding tasks, rather than waste it wading through your inbox.
If it’s not a Monday, schedule any urgent calls or intellectually demanding interviews for first thing in the morning to get them out of the way, leaving you to concentrate on working without interruption for the rest of the morning and the afternoon.
The afternoon is prime slump time. From 2.55pm you start flagging, staring into the distance like a romantic poet and starting to plan your evening.
Given the dearth of energy and creativity, afternoons, particularly just after lunch, are a good time for routine meetings, customer visits, responding to important emails and major phone calls. They help break up the long stretch of the afternoon and don’t interrupt peak productivity.
And if you’re at your wits end with one task, switch to another. Even if the new task is completely unconnected, engaging with fresh material and spending time away from the other task can provoke new ideas.
Productivity tends to peak again around 4.16pm as ‘the fear’ and the incentive of finishing on time kicks in, so make the most of this little boost.
Before you leave work, or your desk if you’re a remote worker, tidy your work space and prepare (even just mentally) what you need to do for the next day. You’ll be far more ready to tackle tomorrow and you won’t have to spend an hour each morning filing away papers before you can start being productive. This is particularly important on Friday and Monday night when you’re preparing for the week ahead.
The productive professional’s work week
Monday should see you rejoicing (no really!). It’s a fresh week and, after Tuesday, Monday is the most productive day – it just requires the right approach.
Monday should be yours and your team’s guide for the rest of week.
- Use the morning to finish up anything that’s run over from last week.
- Hold a brief weekly meeting to review last week’s work and any on-going projects, and then divvy up the week’s tasks using something like Basecamp.
- Respond to any important emails.
- At the end of day, write and/or review your to-do list for the week to ensure you know what needs to be done.
You and your colleagues can then spend the rest of the week doing rather than planning.
If you’ve got your catch-up meetings out of the way and you’ve used Monday to set the course for the week, Tuesday should be plain sailing.
Use today to concentrate on your largest and most challenging tasks.
Happy hump day. (Keep it clean.) The furthest day from either weekend.
If you’re feeling lost:
- Go back to your to-do list and identify the top priorities to help you focus.
- Take a break, go for a walk.
- Drink more coffee. It’s good for you, apparently.
- Try a new time management technique. Pomodoro didn’t work for me, but there are plenty out there.
If you’re struggling to tackle a big project or you’re suffering from information overload and have lost all hope, step back and break it down into smaller, more manageable tasks.
The inevitable, ill-judged sequel to Wednesday. It may be a little closer to the weekend, but not close enough.
Do as you did on Wednesday: go back to your to-do list from Monday, ask yourself what you really need to achieve this week and get to it.
Or why not treat yourself. Book something to look forward to for the weekend: meet with a friend you haven’t seen in a while, get tickets for a play, decide on a new hobby or choose a new book to read.
Friday is the most unproductive day, but you can still make the most of it.
Spend the morning tying up any loose ends from the week and save your simplest tasks for the afternoon, making calls, responding to emails and planning the week ahead.
While the pub will be calling, Friday afternoon is also a good time to take stock of what you and your team have accomplished that week.
Collate all your metrics – new customers, website traffic, deliveries, etc – in a report and share it with your team. It’s gratifying to see what you’ve all achieved.
Knowing me, knowing you
Of course, work is not all about you.
Your time will always be dictated by the timetables of others, whether they work in your office, in another country, or they’re clients who work in an industry which keeps peculiar hours.
Turn it to your advantage.
Perhaps some work better at home on some days and in the office on others. Maybe some are night owls and others early birds. Use yours and your team’s different working rhythms to fine tune your working arrangements and delegation of tasks – that way you’ll be more productive and hopefully need to work fewer hours. Roll on 2030.