In work, it seems that the older I get the more and more prevalent it is that people work long hours. REALLY long hours. Emails getting responded to late at night, meeting invites sent out on a Sunday afternoon and a collection of tired, shook workers reporting for work everyday. Sure I work in a production facility that has a full-time employee presence, but the fact still remains that there exists a large portion of people are working even when they are “off”. This theme isn’t just isolated to my area of work either. It was the same in previous industries I’ve worked in and from talking with friends it just seems to be the norm nowadays.
Many people report to their jobs and work all day and long into the night. They have so much on their plates that it just takes that long to get everything done. They have meetings in the morning and deadlines in the evening. Management ask for this, that and everything under the sun. The worst part of it all is that a good deal of this is all spent doing things that they don’t consider to be important. Yet onward they trundle getting everything done.
Throughout the day however it is often the case that they get distracted by one thing or another. Emails coming in “needing” to be responded too, people coming over and asking questions or queries, even things like Facebook and the internet cutting into the time here and there. Then they go make themselves a cup of tea and get pulled aside by someone either looking for information or to pawn off some work. At the end of it all, not a lot of REAL work has been done and the day is half over.
This creates an environment where one never really has any sense of accomplishment, or at least not that often. They work crazy hours and do everything that’s asked of them but yet, still feel like they get nothing done, and its draining. It results in staying late in the evenings and waking up early stressed about something that’s overdue. Slowly but surely your work day starts earlier and ends later.
Before too long however this isn’t even enough. People keep asking and asking and asking. The job list gets longer and longer and longer. The inbox gets fuller and fuller and fuller. You process it all as much as you can and still it’s not enough. Enter the Saturday morning and Sunday evening check-ins. You are now a qualified “worker”.
This isn’t a pretty picture and yet its painfully common. Its made even worse by the fact that it’s no longer just middle and upper management that are expected to work these long hours. Its becoming something that’s expected and demanded of everyone. In some industries going home at 5 on the button is met with just as much shock as leaving at 10 Am.
There are some easy ways to not fall into this trap however, with the top tips I can offer being easily implemented into everyday work.
The first and most important one is setting up a list of MIT’s, or most important tasks. Each day when I go into work I have a set list of things that I “need” to get done each day and some other tasks that can wait a while or be passed off completely. So the first thing I do everyday is go down and pick 4 or 5 things that I NEED to get done or work on that day. Anything that is not on that list gets put off until after those MIT’s are completed.
The benefit of this is that when 5 o’clock comes around, if you have all your MIT’s done then you can head off home. The things that you needed to get done are all completed and you can rest easy knowing that when someone asks you if you did that critical report you can say with confidence that you did.
Usually however, for me at least, having a list of things that need to get done results in a high level of focus and concentration meaning that I knock these MIT’s out of the park before lunch leaving my entire evening free to complete these non-essential task resulting in even more work getting done.
The second tip I have is actually around reducing the numbers of these non-essential tasks and all you have to do to is say No. When someone asks if you can help them out with something, say no. When someone asks you to take on another project, say no. When someone asks you to attend a meeting, say no.
Now, of course I don’t mean isolating yourself into a bubble and not being a team player. Although that will help cut down the number of non-essential tasks you have, it will probably cut down your job too! No, what I mean is giving an honest answer to every honest request.
Lets say you have your time fully booked out and utilised efficiently. All your projects are on track and you are keeping on top of everything, but only just. It takes effort, determination and planning. Then your boss comes up and asks you to take on another project. Sure you can be a “yes man” and do it, or you can say no. Say that taking this on will negatively impact your other projects and not only will they fall to the wayside a bit, you won’t be fully committed and able to deliver this one. Sure they may insist that you take it on and you might just have to struggle on through, but when all shit hits the fan and everything falls apart you not only have reasons behind why it’s all gone awry, but you can also say that you flagged up this issue before it even arose.
This applies even more so to the smaller, nonessential tasks that we often get placed with. “Joe can you look into this”, “Peter can you investigate that”. If you have the time, then by all means work away, but if it means you will no longer be able to deliver on your key projects, your MIT’s, then just respond with a definite no.
We all get tasked with things that are not part of our “job”, the list of things that we are actually employed to do. As time goes on and we show those around us that we are smart and capable people we get asked to be involved in more and more things. This is great because it allows us to progress, to learn and to grow. If we have passion for the position, as we should, it is an exciting time and can lead to a better quality of work life. It’s when these “side” projects become too much that it starts to have a detrimental effect.
By developing a list of MIT’s every day or week and learning to say No when it suits will not only result in ensuring that we are completing our best work, but that we are doing it fast and efficiently. It will allow for more time to be spent on taking on extra tasks when possible and knowing when old ones can be handed over to someone else.
Not only this, but it means that the work day is long enough to get everything we need to do, done and allows us to rest easy outside of the working day. Remember, life should be about working to live and not living to work. Get in, hit it as hard as you can with as much passion as you can muster and get the fuck out. Not only will it lead to you becoming a key employee in your company, but you be happier because of it.