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Mistaking Hard Work for Good Work
More is better, right?
That notion drives many of us to work monster weeks so we can rework, polish and rework again presentations, fact sheets and strategy papers. We are sure perfection is attainable and desirable—and researchers are sure that we’re wrong.
“Research has shown that when weekly hours worked exceed 50 or 55 hours, cognitive performance (e.g., emotional intelligence skills and the capacity to reason and solve problems) and work engagement levels begin to decline, dragging down the quality of the work produced with it,” productivity experts Matt Plummer and Jo Wilson write in the May Harvard Business Review article “The Lie That Perfectionists Tell Themselves.”
The idea that more can ultimately mean less in terms of work is not a new one, of course. The authors note Henry Ford reduced work hours in his auto assembly plants from 48 to 40 hours a week, at least in part to reduce a high error rate by workers.
If you’re still convinced churning away at the keyboard while the cleaning people vacuum around you pays off, consider this tidbit from Plummer and Wilson: “According to research done at top strategy consulting firms, managers struggle to distinguish between those who work 80-hour weeks and those who work 50- to 60-hour weeks, suggesting the extra work generally isn’t noticed.”
Striving for perfection can have another serious drawback: perfect is seldom called for.
What productive workers should strive for in an assignment is timeliness and impact, Plummer and Wilson suggest. The perfectly phrased sentence or detailed footnotes often go unnoticed or even unread.
“Some workplace cultures understand this,” the authors say. “In our conversations with some of the leading technology companies, we’ve heard stories of poorly designed, typo-ridden presentations being shared with C-suite leaders. Leaders were often unfazed by the lack of perfection.”
The next time you find yourself slaving over an email and fretting about making sure you’ve included every possible salient fact and choice, remember this, Plummer and Wilson suggest: “We know that longer, more complicated emails are less likely to be read and spending the time to provide more strategic options/choices generally leads to poorer decisions.”
As we struggle with getting the most out of our time effectively, you’d think the internet should be a great time-management tool and time saver. After all, information you used to spend considerable time hunting down is now literally at your fingertips. But Graham Jones, an internet psychologist who studies online behavior, says the time management techniques we apply to the rest of our lives often don’t work when we are online—and the great time-saving device of the modern era often can end up being an enormous time consumer.
“Trend data from Google shows we are twice as interested in the concept of managing time now than we were at the beginning of the 21st Century,” Jones writes in “Time Management Techniques Don’t Work When You Use the Internet” on the website Business 2 Community.
Jones lists five ways the internet can cost us valuable time. The top two?
- Altered sense of time. We seem to get lost on the internet, to the point of having little idea how long we have spent on a given task. Jones says studies have shown when people estimate how long they spent on the internet, they often say five minutes when they actually spent closer to 25.
- Repetitive working. Everything is so handy on the internet that it’s easy to keep going back to something. We find an email or a website, read it and then often decide we need to go back to it hours later. Try to cut down on such “double work.”
One key to bringing discipline to your online work life, Jones says, is to make “appointments” with the internet and social media instead of simply living online and checking this and that whenever the urge strikes.
Need help making the most of your time? The Council is offering a three-week virtual workshop beginning July 9 on “Time Management Essentials.” Participants will gain a greater understanding of how to “put first things first” and how to stay focused on things that matter most to them. Determine your time management profile and learn the five steps to effectively manage your time and increase productivity. Members register here.
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