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Working in a Long Hours Culture (Part 2)

There Are Three Elements to Any Job: Only One Gets the Real Work Done

Bronnie Ware worked as a palliative care nurse in Australia. She compiled a memoir about the most common regrets she heard from the deathbeds of people she cared for. In the top five was ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.’

What makes up a job?

Working hard isn’t the same as working long hours but we often confuse the two, so look at the nature of the jobs we do. In a normal working day we are either:

  1. Consuming something;

  2. Maintaining something; or

  3. Producing something.

You may think the distinction in your job somewhat artificial, and we could easily get sidetracked by semantics, but bear with me.

Firstly take a broad view of producing.

Producing, creating, making is a key part of many jobs and it’s not necessarily about a physical product.

  • A teacher, prepping and delivering a great lesson that engages students is an amazingly creative act.

  • A receptionist offering a positive experience for a first time visitor counts.

  • So does writing a new policy or developing a process that smooths a patient’s journey through their care, or counselling a student with financial or emotional difficulties.

  • A librarian curates a space and resources to promote learning.

  • A coach creates an environment where the person being coached discovers something significant.

Some jobs are more routine than others but with the right mindset there is always scope to produce, create and innovate. I’ve worked with several finance teams who, believe or not, got very excited when developing and improving processes that got things done better or quicker to help the people they served.

In the workplace we are all consumers; we read reports, proposals, papers, professional journals, policy documents, and of course, emails. If we attend a conference or a training session we spend most of the time consuming. Next time you are in a meeting, look around. The predominant activity will be consumption. The real ‘producing’ happens elsewhere.

There is a maintenance aspect to any job: 1:1s; completing a time sheet; authorising staff expenses; managing absence or performance; or running the weekly progress meeting. It also includes clearing email. Even the annual appraisal becomes a maintenance task if done badly!

I am guessing that the maintaining and consuming aspects of the job are not what get you out of bed in the morning, but I am not saying that they are unimportant; ignoring maintenance tasks for too long can be very damaging. Likewise if you fail to stay on top of new policy initiatives, legislation or professional developments. But here’s the rub. Your performance is not judged on how many hours you spend in meetings or how many papers you read or emails you clear out of your inbox.

So, where and how do we focus?

The question is how do we focus on those aspects of our job that create the greatest value (I am not just talking £s here, although that might be relevant), and how do we create the headroom to allow us to do that?

And the question behind this is what habits and rituals, systems and processes do we put in place to deal efficiently and effectively with everything else so that we can concentrate on the type of work which made us want to take the job in the first place?

How does this relate to long hours working? Focusing on doing great work is hard. That’s why it’s called work. The maintaining and consuming parts of the job tend to be the easy bits so they are perfect activities for procrastinators and they tend to eat into time that could be used more productively. The maintenance aspects particularly tend to develop an urgency of their own, out of proportion to their importance.

Here’s something to think about before next time:

What proportion of your working week is allocated to these three areas?

If it helps, use the template below to track your time for a week, even a couple of days might provide some insights. Try to fit all your tasks into one of the three categories. Use the columns to add some detail.

And the benefit?

It may start to give you some perspective about where your time is going and possibly identify things that you should not be doing, or you should be delegating, and when you talk to your boss about workload and priority, it may give you a bargaining tool.

Time Tracking Template
Download DOCX • 17KB

Next time:

The one question we have to ask ourselves if we want to use our time at work effectively.

Science corner:

A study at the University of Maryland School, reported that demanding work schedules can contribute to obesity.

A Stanford research paper suggested that longer hours decreased productivity. If the longer hours are accompanied by stress, the extra cortisol racing through our bodies can increase the risk of stroke, coronary artery disease, diabetes and cancer.

(More next time)

Thoughts, comments, questions?

Does looking at your job this way help? We would love to start a conversation. Please feel free to leave a comment in the box below.

John publishes a monthly blog which you can find by following this link

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