How Many Hours Do You Actually Work?

Why work doesn't happen at work.

How Many Hours Do You Actually Work?

By: Karin Eldor


Raise your hand if you need to head to the office at 7am to get any work done, or bring your projects home with you every night in order to be really productive. Guilty!


This is something I faced every day while in the corporate world and even today, as an independent writer managing my own schedule: because how much time throughout the day is actually spent “working”? It seems the term “workday” is now nothing more than an impossible feat, as a result of all the distractions we face throughout the day. The struggle is real.


For the love of all things wellness and work-life balance, this shouldn’t be the case!  Work should be done at work, during actual “office hours”. So how do we reverse this unproductive trend?


Workdays vs. Work Moments


Our days are constantly disrupted by two of the biggest offenders (what Jason Fried refers to as the “M&Ms”): meetings and managers. Fried explains this theory further in his October 2010 TEDx Talk: “Why work doesn't happen at work.”


Fried explains that our days are currently filled with “work moments” (a.k.a. sporadic work), without getting the chance to sit down for a few hours of uninterrupted creative time to think, problem solve, analyze, and develop strategies. In other words: be productive.


After all, this is what happens when faced with meetings cluttering our calendars and managers whose jobs entail managing your day instead of theirs.


What to do then?


Time Management Tips


1- Consider Managers vs. Makers:


Further to Fried’s theory of “managers and meetings” as the obstacles to productivity, wait until you hear how programmer and co-founder of the Y Combinator seed capital firm, Paul Graham, explains the differences between the “manager’s schedule” and “the maker’s schedule.”


Managers fill their days with meetings. Their entire day is made up of one-hour blocks of meetings, to approve projects, discuss budgets, etc.

Makers, on the other hand, crave long, uninterrupted stretches of time in order to create and work.

Graham’s favourite solution: have separate days for each. So on some days, allow yourself to have meetings. On your “maker” days, avoid meetings or calls. Newsflash: We all need “maker” days in order to be productive!


2- Block off your calendar:


Make planning for the week ahead part of your Sunday routine. This means sitting down on Sunday evening and listing all your priorities and deadlines, as well as blocking off the time in your calendar as “busy.” These are personal meetings with you, in order to sit and work.


Graham recommends blocking out your calendar every day until 10am, so that you always have a few hours of peace before meetings begin. (When you block off your calendar, others will see that you’re unavailable and will avoid inviting you to meetings. They will also start to see that this is how you roll; sometimes you have to teach others how you work best!)


Keep this time sacred and “protected.” You are in control during this time. So, no meetings or conference calls -- consider your blocked calendar a virtual “do not disturb sign.”


This leads us to:


3- Say no to meetings & conference calls:


If a meeting time isn’t convenient for you or you’re on a deadline, reply with “maybe” and then ask for clarification. Ask the person sending the meeting request about the agenda and whether your presence is required. You might even find that you’re only needed for the first 10 minutes, for example, or that a teammate can go in your place and loop you in later.


If you’re a manager, an efficient approach is to schedule a 10-minute meeting every morning with your team (in some industries this is referred to as a “Scrum”), to ensure everyone reviews their priorities for the day. This is the perfect time to also discuss any potential challenges, roadblocks and next steps. Once this 10-minute touch base is done, the day kicks off and everyone can go about their workday.



4- Set an auto-response on your email:


Email is also a huge deterrent in the quest to productivity.


Productivity guru Tim Ferriss of The 4-Hour Workweek recommends setting up an auto-response in your email, to signal to others that you’re checking your email during specific windows of time, and when to expect a response. This will prevent you from checking your inbox every five minutes, or worse -- keeping your email open and being alerted by incoming mail every five seconds.


According to Ferriss, the template of your auto-response can look something like this (this is excerpted from The 4-Hour Workweek).


Greetings, Friends [or Esteemed Colleagues],

Due to a high workload, I am currently checking and responding to e-mail twice daily at 12: 00 P.M. ET [or your time zone] and 4: 00 P.M. ET.

If you require urgent assistance (please ensure it is urgent) that cannot wait until either 12: 00 P.M. or 4: 00 P.M., please contact me via phone at 555-555-5555.

Thank you for understanding this move to more efficiency and effectiveness. It helps me accomplish more to serve you better.


[Your name]


Are you nervous about implementing this type of technique? According to Ferriss, bosses respond better than you think. Not getting your work done in a timely manner is worse!


5- Don’t fall into the procrastination trap:


Procrastinators, take note: if you’ve been putting off an important task that you’re either not interested in, or that feels too overwhelming to dive into, you might be more inclined to keep pushing it off and say “yes” to meetings as a result. If you’re the type to procrastinate and seek any distraction (i.e. meetings, calls, email replies, etc…) rather than be productive, try these two easy techniques:


A: Eat The Frog: Do the task that you’re looking forward to the least or that’s most daunting, first. (This can be done during your blocked off mornings.) It will make the rest of your day feel so much better.


B: The Pomodoro Technique: Set a 30-minute timer and do one task at a time, in 30-minute intervals. This means nothing else during this time -- no emails, no phone calls, and especially no checking social media.


Let’s bring back the workday


As managers and fellow teammates, it helps to be aware of the “work moment” problem. If it helps us think twice about scheduling a meeting when a quick morning touch base can do the trick, or encourages us to be mindful of our “blocked off time” and of others’ precious time, we’ll all be more efficient -- and happier! -- as a result.