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!



It seems delegation is one of the things we find most difficult to master as we climb the corporate ladder. During our early careers much of our success is measured by our outputs, the things we actually produce ourselves, whether they be projects completed, academic papers published, lectures prepared and delivered or, in manufacturing, widgets produced. As we progress into management and leadership, our success is measured by the success of the group of people we manage. So why is it often so difficult to delegate responsibilities to others in our team?

One reason may be perfectionism. When we believe that no-one but we ourselves can can be trusted to do a job properly, we may be unwilling to delegate, in case things go wrong. But how will anyone else ever learn if we don’t trust them to try? That doesn’t mean we breathe down their necks and micro-manage them either. When you delegate responsibility, you must also delegate authority, but if you are to do so effectively, you must set clear guidelines and put in place clear and well understood reporting and feedback mechanisms.

Another may reason may be fear of not being seen as achieving things ourselves. However, the more strategic our role, the less we should actually be doing and the more we should be thinking ahead, planning, and supporting others in carrying out the the tasks our work group needs to complete.

Sharing power is a means of developing and motivating people. By analysing the qualities needed to bring a particular task or project to successful completion you should be able to choose an employee with the skills, strengths and interests needed to succeed. You are literally setting that person up for success, with all the benefits to their self-esteem that brings. Delegation can be a key development tool.

When you delegate, make sure that both you and the person to whom you are delegating have:

  • mutual clarity about what the project involves
  • mutual clarity about what is expected in the form of outcomes or deliverables
  • mutual clarity about the level of autonomy you are giving
  • mutual clarity about time scales and reporting mechanisms
  • mutual clarity about priorities

Bill Gates said “Develop your people to do their jobs better than you can. Transfer your skills to them. This is exciting, but it can be threatening to a manager who worries that he is training his replacement. Smart managers like to see their employees increase their responsibilities because it frees the managers to tackle new or undone tasks”

I hope you’re a smart manager. You have the future in your hands.

The Behaviors that Define A-Players

This research reported by Jack Zenger in the Harvard Business Review reinforces what we all know deep down are the traits that separate the competent from the exceptional individual performer.

The leadership skills identified are as follows.

Exceptional individuals :

Set ‘stretch’ goals and adopt high standards for themselves
Work collaboratively
Volunteer to represent their group
Embrace change rather than resisting it
Take the initiative
Walk the talk
Use good judgement
Display personal resilience
Give honest feedback.

It’s not a long read: The Behaviors that Define A-Players –

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?

Get a life – get a hobby!

Have you returned from the Easter vacation refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to make a fresh start? I know I have. This has been a long hard semester, and I imagine that the number of people who enjoy the short hours of daylight are few and far between.
In common with many others, I used part of the holiday to pick up on hobbies because I believe that having a hobby not only gives pleasure but has positive impact on one’s effectiveness at work. We hear a lot about work/life balance and clearly thinking about work every waking hour leads to unhealthy stress and potential burnout. Most hobbies require similar skills to those used daily at work, such as planning, working systematically and making decisions which influence outcomes, but because we’re practicing them in an environment we’ve chosen and control, they come naturally and free us up to think more creatively.
Whether you make patchwork or model railways, whether you play tennis or go snowboarding, the pursuit of your hobby absorbs your attention and stops you from thinking about work in any detail, which gives your mind room to ruminate on the bigger picture, whether you’re doing it consciously or not. I’ve spoken with many people over the years who have to me about sudden strikes of clarity about troublesome issues hitting them while they’ve been concentrating on something else entirely, so why not otherwise give it a try? Dust off your paintbrush or your golf clubs and give your brain some genuinely healthy exercise.

A slightly different angle on delegation

In this Harvard Business Review article Stephen Bungay describes the tendency of managers to do their staff’s jobs for them, a practice which can be very tempting and which is often dressed up as being helpful, or getting someone started. But think before you interfere – by doing so you risk your employee’s growth through solving their own problems and by concentrating too much on details where others have experience and expertise, you risk impairing your own top level thinking.


Memo to the Boss: Don’t Do My Job For Me!
by Stephen Bungay  |   1:00 PM February 18, 2013

In August 1942, General Montgomery arrived in North Africa to take command of the British 8th Army. Within a few days he began replacing the senior officers. One of his new corps commanders was Brian Horrocks, who had last seen action in France in 1940 as commander of an infantry battalion, after which he had been promoted quickly to leadership of a Division.

Montgomery put Horrocks in charge of stopping Rommel’s last offensive in what has become known as the Battle of Alam Halfa. The British defenses held and Rommel was forced to withdraw. Horrocks was understandably pleased with himself until a liaison officer from 8th Army headquarters brought a letter from Montgomery. It began:

“Well done — but you must remember that you are now a corps commander and not a divisional commander…”

It went on to list four or five mistakes Horrocks had made, mainly around interfering with the tasks of his subordinates. As Horrocks thought about it, he realized that Montgomery was right. So he rang him up and said, “Thank you very much.” Horrocks went on to become one of the most successful generals of the war.

Fast forward to 2012.

I was running a workshop with the executive team running the R&D function of a highly successful Danish company. They were talented and doing well, but wanted to raise their game.

We devoted one session to what they called ‘innovation briefs’. These documents define what R&D projects they want to carry out, assign responsibility for them, and give direction to the next level down: the project managers. The team had brought along a couple of real ones so that we could improve them.

The briefs had a lot of good features. They gave full reasons for embarking on the project, the user need, the value created, the fit with the portfolio, and a technical specification of the product, all on one page. The first thing that struck me though, was that the typeface was very small and there was a lot of technical detail about the end product, as if the product already existed in these executives’ minds and the job of the project team was simply to build it, rather than use their creativity to come up with an innovative design.

I kept those thoughts to myself. Instead, I kicked off by reminding everyone of Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke’s definition of a good directive: it should tell people only what they need to know in order to fulfill the intention. ‘Suppose you were the project manager,’ I said. ‘Which elements of this document would be the most and which the least helpful in allowing you to do a great job?’

Before long there was a consensus that a lot of the detail was not very helpful. It obscured what was really important and limited creativity. There were technical problems to be solved, but the brief specified a set of solutions. What if the project team were to come up with alternatives? Were they to be rejected?

I threw in another question from the project manager’s point of view. ‘What choices do you think you will face during the project?’ I made up an example: ‘According to this, the new product has to create superior user value and be ready in 18 months. Suppose the project team were to come to you in 15 months’ time and say that they could enhance the value by a further 20%, but it would take another 6 months. What would you want them to do: create a better product or hit the deadline?’

At first they were split down the middle. After 15 minutes of arguing, the matter was resolved: they would go for hitting the deadline. The timing was critical. Someone commented that they had not been clear about that themselves before having the discussion.

It was time for a break before dinner. I promised to continue this session the following morning. When we met at the bar an hour later, three of the group were missing. They were already working on a new version. They turned up for dessert with an air of exultation.

The following morning we compared their effort with the original. The new one was a fraction of the length. Everyone preferred it, but there were some questions about the content. So we set to work. An hour or so later, it had changed again and everyone was happy with it. Someone said it was the best one they had ever produced.

It was good for two reasons: it no longer specified details that the project team could decide on for themselves during the project; and it added some additional information on issues that had needed, but not hitherto received, resolution by the executives. Like Brian Horrocks 70 years before, they had been so busy doing their subordinates’ jobs that they had not properly done their own.

It’s a mistake that’s all too common. In some companies everyone is doing the jobs of the level below. As a result no-one actually does the top job. Once you see what’s going on, fixing the problem is not difficult, though it can take some work — work well worth doing.

Unsticking people

Six Sources of influence: Source: David Maxfield, Crucial Skills blog, August 21st 2012

People seeming to under-achieve or be ‘stuck in a rut’ is a fairly common issue that often comes to light as managers undertake staff performance reviews.

This well considered post by David Maxwell may be of help when you are trying to ‘unstick’ someone whom you feel is not achieving their true potential. On the other hand, don’t lose sight of the fact there are many people for whom work is only a part of an already satisfying and fulfilling life, and they may not be stuck at all, but just content to do their job and go home without aiming for progression!

Six Sources of Influence:

Personal ability
Social Motivation
Social Ability
Structural Motivation
Structural Ability.

Diagnose all six sources. When people are stuck, it’s usually because all Six Sources of Influence are working in combination to hold them fast. Their world is perfectly organized to create the behavior (or lack of behavior) you are currently seeing. Here are the questions we use to diagnose obstacles in all six sources:

Personal Motivation

Left in a room by themselves, would they want to take on greater responsibilities? Would they enjoy it, find it meaningful, and aspire to it as an important part of their identity? Would they take pride in it, or see it as a moral imperative? Ideas for action:

• Invite choice. As part of the performance-management process, ask each employee to prepare a two- to three-year plan. Ask them to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) your organization and your department face. Then have them anticipate how they see your department and their jobs changing in order to take advantage of these SWOTs. Finally, have them describe what they would like to be doing in two or three years and what they need to do now in order to prepare themselves.

• Try small steps. Identify the crucial moments when it would be most helpful for your employees to step up to greater responsibilities. Think of times, places, and circumstances when you could really use their help in a particular way for a short period of time. It will be most effective if you can include them in finding these crucial moments. People are more trusting when they discover crucial moments for themselves. Then ask for their help during these brief and occasional crucial moments.

Personal Ability

Left in a room by themselves would they have all the skills they need to feel confident taking on greater responsibilities? Do they already have the right knowledge, skill sets, experiences, training, and strength? Ideas for action:

• Training that focuses on critical dependencies. Ask your reluctant employees to identify skill sets that are new, are becoming more important, or are in short supply. These skills would make a person indispensable. If they aren’t quick to identify these skills, work with them to identify the people in your organization who could help and ask your employees to interview them.

• Training that fills in missing skills. Suppose your reluctant employees did accept a greater role, what parts of an expanded job would they find most difficult, tedious, or noxious? How could you skill them up so they’d be confident, efficient, and effective in these areas? We often say, “If it’s taking too much will, add some more skill!” Maybe an ounce of skill will yield another pound of motivation.

Social Motivation

Are the right people encouraging them to take on greater responsibilities? Do the peers they respect, the managers they look up to, and their family members encourage or discourage them from stepping up? Ideas for action:

• Get them some feedback. Do they know how others see them? Most of us want to believe we are doing our fair share. Motivate change by using a 360-degree feedback tool to get feedback from their peers and customers. Make it clear that the feedback is for development—not evaluation—purposes and make sure you have solutions for whatever negative feedback they receive. Otherwise, this kind of feedback can be more demoralizing than motivating.

• Connect them with a greater purpose. Get them involved in field trips where they meet with their internal or external customers. Make the connection as personal as possible. Have them report to your team on what they learned and on how your team can improve.

Social Ability

If your employees take on greater responsibilities, are the people around them ready to lend a hand? Do they have mentors, trainers, and peers who can give advice and step in to help? Ideas for action:

• Make them coaches. Sometimes people step up when they become responsible for someone else’s success. Consider assigning them to work with another person in your group.

Structural Motivation

Does your organization provide incentives such as performance reviews, pay, promotions, and perks that could motivate these employees to take on greater responsibilities? Your employees’ job descriptions don’t include management activities so it’s hard to use the formal reward system, but there may be other routes to explore. Ideas for action:

• Recognize incremental improvements. Try small assignments, projects that can be completed within a week, and then give your honest, heartfelt appreciation when they complete them. Then gradually increase the number, size, duration, and importance of these projects. Continue to show your appreciation as you deem appropriate.

Structural Ability

Is there a way to use the environment, data, tools, cues, or systems to make it easier and more convenient for these people to take on greater responsibilities? Ideas for action:

• Discover and remove obstacles. Ask yourself (or your reluctant employees), “If you wanted to take on a few additional responsibilities, what are the biggest obstacles you would face?” One good guess would be time. If nothing else about their jobs changed, they would have to work longer, harder days. How could you change that? What could you take off their plates so they would have more time for higher-value work? Showing your flexibility may encourage them to become more flexible as well.