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Way Too Overworked These Days

Taking a step back from our overworked lives

not so labor intensiveMost of us are laboring too much and too hard these days. And everyone in this unpredictable economy and highly competitive work environment has to do more with less or as one manager told me “do more with nothing!”

A nationwide office productivity study by Xerox and Harris Interactive reveals most people are working over 60 hours a week. And over a third are working weekends. This focus on doing everything faster and cheaper has created a workplace in which everybody has shifted into high gear — rushing, racing and running. The problem is that this work style not only increases stress but actually undermines effectiveness and productivity.

When you are rushing around you don’t communicate well. You talk too fast, too much and don’t listen. “Hey who’s got time to listen, I’ve got to get to my next meeting.” So say goodbye to teamwork and great customer service.

The quality of your work and your thinking also deteriorates when working marathon schedules. The Xerox study indicates that most people feel they only perform at optimal levels for 4-5 hours a day. So for the other half of the day you work slower, don’t think as clearly and make more mistakes.

And forget about coming up with new ideas when you are dashing from meeting to meeting or trying to catch up on your email. At this pace all you’re doing is repeating what you have done in the past — maybe a little faster. Maybe.

The kicker is that much of the stuff that you are laboring over isn’t productive or adding value. In fact it’s the opposite. Much of what we labor over is actually costing rather than creating time and money.

Research at a multinational food company reveals that people spend 15% of their time doing value-added work, 20% doing necessary work, 20% doing unnecessary work, 15% not working at all and get this 30% of their time doing rework. A major cause of the rework was making decisions too quickly without thinking them through.

Instinctively, workers know quality counts more than quantity. In fact, Xerox found seven out of ten workers think generating higher quality work is the best way they can add value in their jobs.

So what’s getting in the way?

A big time and energy waster is that technological breakthrough that was supposed to make us all more efficient — e-mail. Most people are spending over an hour a day on email alone. A recent Wall Street Journal report indicated that within a few years people will spend three to four hours on it.

How much e-mail is really important? When asked this question to people in over 100 companies of all types and sizes, the answer was 10 percent! In other words most people are spending over 50 minutes of each e-mail hour on things that aren’t helping them move forward. And if what you’re doing isn’t moving you forward, it’s holding you back.

Paper is another productivity problem. It steals time, saps energy, costs money and often prevents us from things that add value to our work.

When Xerox and Queens University looked into the problem, they discovered 40 percent of worker time spent on documents delivers “little or no value” and reduces time for interaction with customers. People actually spend more time receiving and reviewing documents than they do creating them!

Proctor & Gamble, one of the world’s most sophisticated marketing companies, has a rule: whether it’s paper or electronic nothing can be more than one page. When we wrote multimillion-dollar advertising proposals, the total recommendation had to be on a single page. You could have support materials but the whole message had to be on that one page.

While e-mail and paper consume much of our precious productivity, endless time-wasting, mind numbing meetings chew up the lion’s share of what’s left. Survey after survey shows meetings are rarely sources of innovative thinking and most are a huge waste of time. Respondents in the Xerox/Harris study said they get as many great ideas lying awake in bed at night as they do in the endless meetings that fill their days.

So as you’re putting your burgers on the barbie this weekend, think about how to reduce the labor you are exerting on things that are wasting your time and decreasing your productivity and quality of life. Eliminating these will enable you to have more time to spend on labors of love.

About Robert Kriegel

Robert Kriegel Ph.D. is a former advertising executive, faculty at Stanford's Executive Management Program and the author of several best selling books including, "How to Succeed in Business Without Working so Damn Hard."


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