I think I’m one of the luckiest people alive. I have a job I love in a company that is changing the world (well, the recruitment world, anyway), I have the most awesome co-workers anyone could wish for and I belly laugh every single day I’m in the office. Sometimes I even find myself laughing at home just remembering the thing that made me laugh in the office! It doesn’t get much better than this.
But being a start-up in a very competitive industry, we are all working longer hours than the Researchers, our Doctors, Therapists, family members and friends (the ones we have left) think we should – even my dog looks at me as if I’m a stranger some days! And the truth is that as much as we all love what we are doing, there are days when we all feel tired, over-stretched, sluggish, irritable and low on creativity. And then there are the days when we are totally reliant on stimulants to keep us going – it is no coincidence our offices are located adjacent to coffee shops!
The greatest challenge for me and my colleagues is to make sure we strike some sort of work/life balance and in that sense, we are not special! We are a bit lucky though – being an online business with offices on both sides of the Pacific, we are able to telecommute from home on many days. And all our lovely bits of mobile technology mean we are always contactable. But is this flexibility and “freedom” a bonus or a burden?
The truth is that working extended hours doesn’t necessarily make us more productive – the research is well and truly in on this one – it actually makes us less productive. Nor does working from home come without its challenges – in some cases the blurring of the work/home line means there is no refuge, no place that is truly “ours” and that can lead to relationship and sometimes mental health problems. More serious is the effect extended working hours over an extended period has on our health.
I could go on here about all the awful health effects of long working hours but you only have to type “working hours and health effects” into your browser to get the lowdown on what awaits – heart disease, diabetes, depression, stress disorders, stroke, cognitive decline….researchers the world over are doing a great job at showing us the evidence. We just need to heed it.
I could also join the merry band that wants to protect the corporate hierarchy model and say that telecommuting doesn’t work but I won’t, because it can. A recent study of the Chinese online travel company, Ctrip showed that the call centre operators working from home handled 13.5% more calls than those staff in the office, equating to a whole extra day of productivity out of those working from home. And no desks, chairs or water coolers to buy! Not to mention the hundreds of successful companies that started in someone’s spare bedroom, dining room or garage.
Rather than go on for pages about the ills (and joys) of working hard while staying productive and having a life, let’s just look at ways we can achieve all three.
1. Plan in order to execute
“Every minute you spend in planning, saves 10 minutes in execution.” – Brian Tracy. Working harder without a clear plan just disperses your energy. Taking a step back and taking the time to plan what to do will make you more focused, and you will find it easier to channel your time and energy into a few concentrated targets, making you much more productive.
2. Set realistic goals about what you can get done and then do it
Most days our To Do lists are longer than a double-length roll of toilet paper! Too often we touch but never complete things on our list, leading to a feeling of being overwhelmed which only drains our energy and dulls our creativity. Prioritise your tasks, break your list down into bite-size chunks and focus on getting those things done. A great way to stay focused over the day is to define three outcomes you want to get done and channel your time and energy into those.
3. Walk and talk
Get out and about with your colleagues. If you have something you need to discuss with a co-worker, kill two birds with one stone and go outside for a walk together. In my experience most of us can walk and talk just as well as we can sit and talk. Physical exercise and being outdoors will bring clarity and energy to your conversation, both of which are linked to increased productivity.
4. Create a home office that’s not in your “home”
One of the major contributors to stress and anxiety for people who work from home is the feeling of never being away from the job. The computer is there, so you’ll just check emails on your way to the kitchen to start dinner, you’ll check them again while you are helping the kids with their homework, you’ll have a quick look again between clearing the dinner plates, and so on. Select a room or space in your home that can be closed off from the rest of your family life and only spend time there when you are “working”. Treat it like any other office that you would leave at a certain time each day. You will find that your productivity actually increases when you are “in the zone”.
5. Find the OFF switch
Busy people have a tendency to become hyper-vigilant, always prepared for a call or an email that may change the course of their day. Hypervigilance creates a state of anxiety that can lead to exhaustion and neither of those are friends to productivity, having fun or being in the moments of your life. Form a habit of switching off your mobile devices for prescribed periods of time. It’s easy – choose a particular time of the day when you are not contactable for an hour or two. When you get really good at this you might even be able to manage three hours!
6. Get away from it all on a regular basis
Completely separating from your work makes you more creative, focused, and energized, because it allows you to see your work from a different perspective. Join a sports team, take up a hobby, visit the theatre, volunteer with a community program or lie in the long grass with a good book – anything that takes your head out of your work for a while.
7. Create a fun place to work
Contrary to what “the suits” have always had us believe, goofing off is linked to increased productivity at work. People who laugh a lot are healthier, look better, feel better, are more fun to be around and get more done! Encourage mirth around the office, wear your clown suit one day, or play a practical joke now and then.
Working long hours and getting things done has never been more fun!