Shorter working hours – could they make you more productive?

Now the clocks in the UK have been moved back an hour to make it lighter in the mornings and darker in the early evening, I’m sure I’m not the only one whose body clock has had a bit of trouble re-setting itself.

This morning my eye was drawn to an article on today’s BBC news pages ( , which discusses the success of a move in Sweden to reduce people’s working hours to six a day, hopefully resulting in a better work/life balance, and, thus far, the results seem to be promising. In the main, workers in businesses taking part in the experiment start work at 8:30am and finish at 3:30pm, having taken a full hour lunch break. This means that they have extra time for their own pursuits during the late afternoon daylight.

Does this impact on productivity and do they get through the same amount of work? One boss is quoted as saying “”It’s difficult to concentrate at work for eight hours, but with six hours you can be more focused and get things done more quickly” and workers are asked to keep away from social media and personal phone calls and so on during their work hours.

Whilst this mode of working could be difficult for academics, the principle of focus wouldn’t be difficult to emulate, probably with positive results. What do you think? Could you focus more to complete your day’s targets in less time and reward yourself with even one hour to take a walk, do some thinking or even have some lunch!


You can’t bank spare time… so make sure you invest it wisely.

Time is finite and is arguably our most precious commodity, but it’s all too easy to let it trickle through our fingers, forgetting that we can’t stash even a second of it away for later use. Every day has just 1440 minutes in it. We spend a considerable number of those minutes asleep and in doing the things we must do: eating, showering, caring for others and so on. For most of us, the rest is spent in travelling, ferrying children to and from their activities, working, and, heavens help us, in meetings. Then there is ‘spare’ time, which is usually spent in leisure activities, hobbies, exercise and so on. And of course there is the time that just ‘disappears’ , very often online and on social media.

I’m not suggesting that every minute of every day should be scheduled, but it really is easy to let precious time go to waste. To use it more wisely and productively, how about thinking of time in investment terms?

As an example, when you travel, do you consciously invest your time wisely? It doesn’t really matter what you choose to occupy your mind during the journey – it could be listening to music, thinking about your new book or paper, discussing things with your travelling companions, learning a new language or planning anything from a lecture to project – all these things are productive and show a measurable return on investment. So can (as long as it’s not you driving!) staring out of the window, enjoying the view and being grateful for the time to do so. The ROI there is in the refreshment of your mind and ideas.

Time spent with friends and other loved ones can also be considered a great investment. I’ve recently been moving books and amongst them were the works of Khalil Gibran, whose most well known work is ‘The Prophet’. In that, on the subject of friendship, he says “For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill? Seek him always with hours to live.” Worth considering I think.

So, how could you use your ‘spare’ time more productively this week?


A productivity tool for you…

I’m sure many of you will have come across the Pomodoro Technique (™) as a means of maintaining focus and getting stuff done, but if not, here’s how to get started.

The technique was, I discover from this Wikipedia article, developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s and it involves working in a very focussed way with a timer running for a period of time – in this case, twenty five minutes – then taking a short break to rest the eyes and the brain – in this case five minutes. After a number of work sessions, you take a slightly longer break.

I first discovered it when I was tasked with a horrible job (which shouldn’t have been mine anyway!) and wanted to get it done as fast and painlessly as possible. I originally set out to bash away at it until it was done, but I found I was losing the will to live and making stupid mistakes after about forty minutes. That was when I remembered Pomodoro. I had a tomato shaped kitchen timer which I used daily to control the length of briefings (I’ll describe that in a different post) and since ‘pomodoro’ is Italian for tomato (and, I now discover, was what Cirillo used), I used that. It worked well for me and I hope it may do so for you too.

If you don’t have a mechanical timer, your search engine of choice will provide you with lots of links to places where you can download Pomodoro timer apps for your phone, tablet, laptop or desktop. There is of course the danger that you will spend so much time on productivity techniques that you are still no more productive, but I’m sure that couldn’t happen to you… could it!

Some vacation thoughts for leaders

Disconnect with a Mental Vacation Before Taking the Real Thing

Do you find it takes you a week to wind down when you finally get a break?

Well, with the time for taking holidays coming up, this seems like a good time to re-post a link to this Harvard Business Review  article by Carolyn O’Hara, which suggests mentally preparing yourself before you leave.

It’s all too easy to take work on holiday with you, whether it’s physically (I’ll just read through this stuff in the evenings and catch up a bit) or mentally – waking at 3a.m. wondering what to do about x or y or z. But if you do so, you’re simply transferring work to another location and losing the wonderful opportunity a holiday gives you to return refreshed and with as clear mind and a restored sense of perspective – Recreation is just that: re-creation!

I’m a great believer in practising new things mentally before actually undertaking them, so I see no reason why this wouldn’t work. I know there’s always a huge amount to be done before you can leave for a vacation but building in some ‘winding down’ time into your task list could pay dividends. She also has useful tips for really enjoying your holiday once you leave the office – and for easing yourself back into the flow.

Here are her headlines:
Practice with a mental “vacation” everyday
Plan ahead and define “emergency”
Empower your team
Give yourself permission to check in
Leave projects behind
Manage your re-entry
Savor your memories

Disconnect with a Mental Vacation Before Taking the Real Thing –

And when your team members take a holiday, help them prepare and then ease them back in kindly and thoughtfully!

Have you ever thought someone else was after your job?

Have you ever thought someone else was after your job? Well, you might be surprised.

Some interesting statistics [1] I read in this month’s CIPD magazine:

87% of people believe they could do their immediate superior’s job

53% say they wouldn’t take it if they were offered it

39% say they don’t know what it actually entails.

I’m not sure who were the targets of the questionnaire, but I think these figures raise some interesting points.

First, the people who believe they could do your job. Some will be right and some won’t, but a large part of your responsibility as their superior is to bring them on and help them to be the very best they can be. Have you checked through your targets and goals for the coming year to be sure that you’ve built that into your plans? And have you made sure that in their development and performance review or appraisal (you do do those, don’t you?) they can see a progression path ahead of them?

As to the ones who wouldn’t take your job if they were offered it – why do you suppose that is? Is it because they’re happy and fulfilled as they are, or is it because you project such stress or unhappiness or weariness that they wouldn’t want to be in your shoes? If you are unhappy or weary or stressed, are you getting the help and support you need from your superiors? And if you’re at the very top of the tree and the buck stops with you, do you have a peer support network or a coach to talk things through with?

Finally, the last figure. I recently retired from a senior management position and had made a very real and concentrated  effort to ensure that the person stepping into my shoes would be well prepared, would know what the role involved and would have at their disposal all the necessary resources to be successful. Despite my best efforts, my colleague was surprised at the breadth of things I had dealt with, so no, my efforts weren’t a complete success, but I’m confident that the work that both I and other senior colleagues put into succession planning are easing the transition.

Succession planning is fairly common in business, but not always so in higher education. If you had to be replaced tomorrow, how would your colleagues, department or business cope?

[1] source:

Break Bad Habits by Keeping Your Plan Simple

I was speaking with a former colleague (now retired) last week who used the expression “I’m trying to…” so many times in our conversation that I was reminded of a posting I made last year. Personally I’ve stopped ‘trying’. It took conscious effort, but I think it was worth it. Now I either actually do whatever it is, or I don’t do it, but i don’t ‘try’ to do it. Life’s too short for that!


Break Bad Habits by Keeping Your Plan Simple –
Research from the British Psychological Society suggests strongly that trying to change too many habits at once doesn’t work, whereas focusing on one at a time does. This should be no surprise to anyone who’s ever over-committed themselves, but it’s still tempting when you’re in ‘let’s make changes’ mode to attempt too much all at once.

Here’s one habit I’m breaking – a bit at a time. I have decided to avoid ‘trying’ at all costs. This may seem an odd thing to say, but I know from experience that you can waste all your effort in ‘trying’ without ever actually doing whatever it is that needs to be done. So here’s the challenge: expunge ‘trying’ from your vocabulary.

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The Eisenhower Matrix

Most of you will be familiar with this construct, also known as the Urgent/Important matrix, used by Stephen Covey and a myriad other management gurus. This week I’ve had the privilege of facilitating parts of an HE management ‘Awayday’ and the matrix was useful in illustrating the importance for leaders of remaining as much as possible in the upper right hand quadrant – Q2 –  which is where they make for themselves ‘headspace’  to work on strategy, develop people, strengthen systems, solve problems, set clear outcomes and develop themselves.

I’ve often used it both as a tool to manage my own tasks and priorities and as a way to help teams make informed choices about how they work, but I’ve rarely seen it so well illustrated as it is here, on Dr. Kristian Rother’s Academis blog,

The icons really say it all!

Rother Eisenhower matrix

Confucius he say…

Confucius said: “By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest”.

I’ve been reading a number of books recently which make use of quotations to set context at the beginning of chapters and since I’m writing a time management course at the moment, the appearance of this quotation as I turned a page this morning seemed quite apposite.

It occurred to me that one could actually choose a quotation to set the context for each day.

What quotation would you use to set the context for, say, a particularly productive day?

Three Mental Tricks to Deal with People Who Annoy You

I came across these three little tricks on Life Hacker this morning and thought they were worth sharing.

1) ‘Get Big’ – in other words, recognise your irritation for what it is – an irritation. It’s only a little thing in the big scheme of things. Change your perspective by growing taller and looking down on the problem

2) Float down the stream. imagine yourself somewhere calm and beautiful, floating weightlessly down a stream. The irritation is gently slowly soothed away…

3) Give them a mental hug. Not sure I can go this far, but the principle is that you empathise with the person who’s annoying you.
What mental tricks or tools do you use to smooth your path through the working day?

Three Mental Tricks to Deal with People Who Annoy You –