The Secret To Improving Work Life Balance
Our extrordinary client Bob Muscat is Marketing Eye's featured guest blogger of the week. He is a strategy and operations expert with 30 years experience helping companies dramatically improve the profit in their business. His background is unusual because it is extraordinarily varied. He specializes in results – and nothing else! Take a look at his secret to improving the desired balence between work and life.
The Secret To Improving Work Life Balance
Why do people work insane hours?
Adults employed full time in the US report working an average of 47 hours per week. That’s a full workday longer than the standard five-day, 9-to-5 schedule.
Nearly one in five work a grueling 60 hours per week. That’s 12 hours per day. Or lost weekends.
Very few organizations know what they are getting for all of this extra time. But the trend is clear. Overall employee productivity is declining.
Why Work Fewer Hours
Getting your work under control makes you happier, healthier and more productive.
Yes. More productive.
Think about it. The amount of useful work actually produced seldom equals the number of hours spent working.
That’s because of a concept called work limit. Everyone has one. It’s the point at which the quality of your work begins to diminish.
This is not new. It’s been studied for over 100 years. And the work limit for most individuals is about 25 hours per week.
Moreover, once you work past your work limit, you begin to make small errors. And usually, small errors are absorbed by the team, silently adding to the workload. Silently putting everyone under more stress.
Managers and the Work Limit
As managers, we tend to think of how many employees we have. That’s the traditional view of managers.
A better way to think about it is, how much time do we have?
If you supervise ten people, you have 400 hours of time at your disposal. Given the workload, it’s critical that managers think about how to allocate time.
Time after all, can’t be stored. Once lost, it is lost forever.
Managers can significantly improve work output by asking just two questions: What are the most critical priorities? and 2) How am I allocating my team’s time?
3 Ways to Get Your Time Under Control
There’s no magic set of instructions to organizing one’s work. The nature of work is too varied and we all have different styles.
But having worked in engineering, sales, marketing, finance, and operations, there are certain themes that seem to make sense. Here are a few that might help:
1. Figure Out Where Your Hours are Going
Most people have no idea of where their time goes. They receive assignments, they do the best they can, but they just can’t get the work done.
The solution is simple. Track your time.
The results are often amazing.
I almost always use time tracking for improving sales organizations. It is not uncommon to find that actually selling time is less than 8 hours per week. In many cases it is less than four.
Why? Because we overload them with meetings. We “cut costs” by eliminating expense admin clerks and have sales people do their own. Or we “empower” them by letting them book their own travel.
The result is a consistent leak of time.
So, make a spreadsheet with categories across the top. Divide the day into 15 minute increments and put a “1” in the correct box. That’s when you spent time on that particular topic. At the end of the day, simply sum it up.
If you do that for all your team members, you’ll quickly see how aligned or misaligned your team is. Compare it the results you are delivering.
Prepare to be amazed.
2. Know Your Work Style
I like to work early. I’m usually in the office by 6:30 every day. It’s been that way for over the thirty years.
My best work is done in the morning. Anything that involves detailed analysis, conceptual thinking, or writing … I do all of these in the morning.
I’m less efficient as the day passes. So, I’ll typically do administrative items in the afternoon. Or maybe I’ll return calls.
Meetings are best later in the days. Group input tends to be a great complement to getting things done as your energy drains away.
The important thing is to know what it is for you. How does your personal work limit function? And what are you going to do about it?
Most importantly, set limits. Many years ago, I left work at 3pm to beat the traffic across the only bridge in town. Once home, I could do email or read reports with ease. In fact, it actually saved me an hour and a half each day.
Can you do this? Maybe or maybe not. It depends on your work circumstances. But having data (time tracking) and circumstances (work style) makes for a very meaningful discussion with supervisors.
Why should leadership care? Doing it the “traditional way” in a factory once required 150 employees. By making a few changes, we reduced it to 35.
Are you a slave to tradition or are you working to improve?
3. Get More Efficient
Distractions come from multiple sources. Email. Unplanned meetings. Visitors.
Plan to do email at select times. For me, I check email at three times a day. I’ve found that without the constant interruptions, I can get more done.
And speaking of email, be mindful of it. I once analyzed a month of email. Forty percent was pure junk. Of the total, only about ten percent was of any quality at all.
If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend The Hamster Revolution by Mike Song. It’s a quick read with some really good suggestions to control email creep.
And set your own schedule. Once you’ve done time tracking, you know how much time you need to get things done. Simply set aside time each week and train your team to respect the schedule.
If that doesn’t work, bring up the idea of having a team calendar. If you can gain agreement on shared activities, you’ll definitely improve productivity. And probably enjoy your work more.
Once you get into a rhythm, it’s amazing what you can get done.
Work Fewer Hours Now
I doubt that any of the ideas presented in this post are surprising. But part of creating an enduring great company is that it respects both work (what gets done) and the employee (how it gets done). Burnout is not a recipe for success.
In the 1980’s, before smartphones, work pretty much stopped at 5pm each day. That’s because the company was responsible for what it produced. Inefficiencies were a management problem.
But all that changed when communication improved. Smartphones allowed companies to tether employees to their work 24/7. What we’ve done is simply let employees own the inefficiency. The result is declining productivity and employee burnout.
The secret to a better work life balance is simple. Understand the priorities and allocate time to meet them. Set limits. And be efficient within those limits.