Try Working Less?

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A recent article by Sue Shellenbarger in the Wall Street Journal’s “Work and Family” column caught my eye: “If You Need to Work Better, Maybe Try Working Less.” Read the article here.

sue shellenbarger

I don’t work every minute, but for the last several years I have worked seven days a week. My job increasingly seems split between “work” and “email”, and as hard as I try I feel both are spiraling out of my reach to manage in a rational or calm way. This is due to an increased workload, and the nonstop communication between email, blackberries and smart phones facilitate.

Working any time and all the time now affects 70% of us, according to the Society of Human Resource Management.

But the situation has now hit a point, the Shellenbarger article suggests, “where a paradoxical truth applies: To get more done, we need to stop working so much.”

Shellenberg reports that a ground-breaking four-year study, set for publication in the October issue of the Harvard Business Review, seems to confirm that getting away from work can bring unexpected on-the-job benefits.

The study found that sticking to a predictable time off can lead to improved productivity.   This means–block out time not to do work.

After years of working on and off most weekends, Shellenbarger decided to try a new approach of taking off at least one entire day every weekend for a month, away from reporting, writing and all other work.   She hated it. As simple as it seemed, sticking to a time-off plan really stressed her out. candle

But she honestly admitted her experiment got her to change her work style. “This forced me to put proven time-management principles into practice,” she said. “Plan blocks of work time and stick to the plan; set short-term deadlines to keep work from spiraling out of control; and keep up with email daily, to avoid backlogs.”

I am inspired to  try a similar “time out” plan for October. I’ll report back on how well I do and if the required “day off” makes me upset, stressed, or even more efficient.   Anyone want to try? (It will be like making a pact to give up smoking together…)

3 thoughts on “Try Working Less?

  1. Diane, thank you for offering your perspective. I will reread it for support whenever my self-resolve starts to wobble!

  2. Very thought-provoking discussion, Karen. I”m inclined to think that America’s strong Protestant, capitalist mentalité makes overworking the norm. We have internalized the exhortation to be productive, and I imagine there are people looking forward to the singularity, when flesh and machine are made one, so that some part of them will be awake and working at all times.

    Unfortunately, we haven’t gotten rid of the sense of guilt regarding our workpace. We need to be productive in order to compete globally, but we also have to make time for ourselves, our families, our communities, and whatever else is outside and needing time. My own feeling is this: it’s my life and I’m certainly old enough to decide my priorities. If I decide to work seven days a week (not a chance, but who knows), that’s my choice and it will in some way meet my needs if not exactly make me happy.

    I think balancing work and personal life isn’t possible, becuase they are one in the same. We work, we go dancing or the the museum, we think, we are. Some hours I am paid by others to think and do certain things, some I am paid by me to do what I want to do. But it’s all my life whether I live it in my office or snuggling a cat at home.

    Maybe it isn’t necessarily managing your time so much as paying yourself first. When that is appropriate or absolutely urgent is for you to decide. Sorry for the long-winded response!

  3. I’ve been trying to do the same since getting back to school: Taking Saturdays off. Considering the large amount of work I do throughout the week, it stresses me out a bit, but the first week it went very well. I’m hoping it works out very well again next week… Otherwise I’m working 24/7, with absolutely no break. Not at all fun!

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