Coming in early and leaving late is deplorable

When I ask people about the habits of those they work with, inevitably they’ll mention people that come in early and/or stay late. And they’ll describe the work of these individuals as admirable. Sometimes it’s the basis with which one justifies their own lack of advancement, because they don’t put in long hours.

But, the practice of working long days is not laudable. It’s not something to aspire because it can lead to rather deleterious effects for the individual and for the organization. Humans simply aren’t made to be productive for 60+ hours per week. Productivity often falls off well below 40 hours.

Wise people know that the first 20 hours of each work week, are the most precious. And they allocate them accordingly, to highly valuable work. When done well, the first 20 are often enough to not only break even, but make a profit. To have something to show for the week.

I would challenge those working 60 hours per week, to reflect upon what they’ve done, and think about what was and wasn’t worthwhile. What did you accomplish for yourself? What did you do for the organization? What did it cost?

Upon reflection, most people can identify plenty of things that aren’t worth doing. What’s laudable is the person who catches these things before they do them, at the start of a new week.

Here are a list of things that people waste time on:

  • Not having a purpose for a meeting, and then sitting in that meeting for several hours as the conversation wanders into frustration.
  • Mindlessly checking for new emails every 15 minutes. Doubting and rewording responses to the most trivial of matters. Using email as a todo list, constantly scanning through for something you can reply to while being reminded of the myriad of things you don’t want to deal with.
  • Conflating effort and results. Thinking, the more time one works, the more they’ve accomplished. Quite the opposite, the more you work, the less you often accomplish.
  • Allowing real time notifications of email, voice mail, phone call, and messages to disrupt productive work. Many people talk about the fact that we can’t account for the productivity of all the technological revolutions that have happened in the past decade. Believe me, we can account for it, the time isn’t saved, it’s being wasted. There’s nothing more counter-productive than being immediately accessible to anyone and everyone, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Instant messaging rarely saves time, and rarely enough to offset what it wastes.
  • Confusing presence with purpose. Taking a break during the day is a great way to relieve stress and mentally reset. But, spending two hours on social media sites (facebook, linkedin, twitter), reading news, etc, is a problem. If you really want to spend hours browsing the internet aimlessly, why not do that from the comfort of your home?
  • Busy work that ultimately serves no purpose, for example, reworking the copy on a website nobody reads.

What did you do last week that you could have easily not done and been just as successful as you were? What could you have done, instead of what you did, to have been more successful? How can you avoid doing things that aren’t worth doing in the future?