Last night, my wife and I saw a friend around 7:00 pm who complained she had to return to the office and continue working after 8+ hours already that day. When asked if she had a specific deadline or reason, she shrugged and said she didn’t.
Maybe this woman or her manager wrongly think success is measured by the amount of hours worked. Maybe she had a deadline or project on which she had procrastinated. We’re not sure, and each situation is different. Often, smart work does require long hours, but smart work must be focused on the results and not on the amount of hours worked or the location of the hours worked. Employees and employers should both reconsider the notion that “hard work” is defined by the amount of hours worked. Here are some ideas on how to think about smart work as opposed to long hours.
1. Work with your manager to have a specific, measurable, timed outcome. You should mutually discuss and agree on reasonable expectations so that you can make it happen without micromanagement. Some people work better late at night yet are required to work from 9 to 5 which damages productivity. Others might thrive from 9 to 5 and not be productive at other times. Some morning people are more productive from 5-10 am. The point is that a measure of success based on the number and timing of hours worked is sometimes used instead of a measurable outcome of the work, whenever it was done.
2. Sometimes, the most productive work is done outside the office or during non-business hours. Networking, conferences, travel, and spending time with clients or donors on their timing is often more productive than 9-5 desk work.
3. This principle can be easily abused. Don’t. For example, an employee might ask to leave a few hours early one day to spend time with friends or participate in a hobby. That’s probably fine as long as that employee is meeting deadlines and meeting expectations during the time he or she is working. It’s not fine when the same employee just had a meeting with the supervisor in which they discussed failure to meet expectations and discussed remedies. It’s plain and simple: don’t be the one who abuses this principle! Use it to your advantage, not your detriment.
4. Use effective time management strategies, scheduling, and prioritizing. This way the hours you do work will be productive and you won’t feel guilty leaving early one day or taking a day off every now and then. If you find yourself working long hours, is it because you procrastinated and dawdled during regular business hours or because you have a legitimate reason like a deadline or special event? How much did you look at Facebook, check your personal email, discuss non-business issues with colleagues, and watch YouTube when you are complaining about how many hours you have to work?
5. Employees with a smart work attitude are usually more productive than workaholics or those who think long hours equal productivity. When you are working and focused, you are more productive than when you are trying to work at all hours from all locations.
There are exceptions, and most jobs require some long hours to meet deadlines or cater to special events or times of year. For example, Capitol Hill hours are determined by voting schedules and people often have to work long nights or weekends. Nonprofit employees often work extra when there is a gala or special event. The main point is that you examine how you are spending your time during the hours you do work in order to be the most productive.
Roger Custer is executive director of America’s Future Foundation.