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 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-34677949) , 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!

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, http://academis.sites.djangoeurope.com/blog/posts/prioritizing-covey-matrix/.

The icons really say it all!

Rother Eisenhower matrix

Power, presence and perceptions

A bit of pondering on an autumn afternoon off…
As we move up the ladder at work, whether we become lecturers or administrators or managers or other holders of senior positions, we change and grow and our knowledge increases and our experience broadens. Our skills and abilities stretch and our opinions become more robust. Our viewpoints change as we see the bigger picture. Maybe we have to become more focussed on strategy, perhaps appearing less caring about the smaller things – and I’d say that’s natural and is probably the only way those responsible for large organisations can function effectively. We may also dress differently – more formally perhaps – which changes the physical perception of our presence. Power always adds presence (I think because of the obligations that come with it), whether we recognise it or not.

But I’m willing to bet that inside, we feel the same as we always did. I was speaking to an elderly gentleman the other day and asked him if he felt any different having reached his eighty-fifth year. His response confirmed my own experience: he felt exactly the same as he had in his twenties – it was merely that his image reflected in the mirror in a morning was different.

The perceptions bit of this ramble though, is about how others perceive us. When you were promoted to a position of leadership amongst your colleagues, how did your attitude towards them change? And more to the point, how did their attitude to you alter? Like it or not, someone appointed to lead suddenly becomes ‘them’… ‘Management (TM)’. Suddenly we are no longer ‘us’ but have become ‘them’. No doubt you spent some time thinking about how you managed the transition and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Of one thing I’m certain – the effect we, in our new positions, have on those with whom we were once ‘us’ is something we need to consider and take very seriously. We appear different and have a different ‘presence’ whether we know it or not. I’ll give you an illustration…
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Break Bad Habits by Keeping Your Plan Simple

Break Bad Habits by Keeping Your Plan Simple – http://pulse.me/s/oTbdX
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.

Making productive use of ‘dead’ time.

I’ve always felt there was more one could do in the interstices between the essential ‘points of presence’ in a day and will expand more on that in the future, however this article from Lifehacker offers some sensible suggestions for ways in which we might use more productively our time on long journeys.

It contains useful links to online education sources, examples of which may be of interest to those of you considering providing some of your taught content online too.

How Can I Make a Long Plane or Car Ride Suck Less? – http://pulse.me/s/fv03o