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3 tips for getting more done in fewer hours

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With the ability to work whenever we wish, web workers face ever-increasing work hours. We slip in “just one email” after dinner or fail to resist the pull of our smartphone before our morning workout. But one blogger is arguing that longer hours actually usually mean less productivity.

Writing on Freelance Folder, Lexi Rodrigo cites Parkinson’s Law as the underlying rationale for her argument. The principle, first recognized in regard to the ever-expanding British civil service in the 1950s, declares that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

For web workers, the principle means that however many hours we allot ourselves to work, we will find activities to fill them. And the opposite, Rodrigo contends, is equally true. Limit your hours, and the time it takes you to complete tasks will shrink to accommodate the new boundaries. Set yourself a deadline and you’ll feel more urgency, more adrenaline and less perfectionism.

Rodrigo backs up her ideas with arguments that would be true for a baker or cobbler, but there’s evidence that quantity does not necessarily translate to quality, especially for knowledge workers. Happiness-at-work expert Alexander Kjerulf, for instance, has rounded up research that shows that knowledge workers “are the most productive when they work 35 hours a week” and “productivity decreased by half after the eighth hour of work.”

So how can we shorten our workdays? Rodrigo offers several suggestions, many of which are classic time-management techniques that we’ve covered before. But three of her ideas are particularly pertinent.

  • Keep your deadlines challenging but realistic. A too-generous deadline won’t make you more productive. On the other hand, a deadline that’s impossible to meet is counterproductive as well. When you feel you’re too late for something, it can de-motivate you from working faster and more efficiently. So you want a deadline that puts pressure on you but that is still humanly manageable.
  • Reward yourself for meeting deadlines. Imagine all the other things you could do if you had a shorter workday. You could go to the gym, hang out with friends, play video games, work on your novel. What would you do if you didn’t have to work? Plan to do some of that after your work is completed every day. And I mean put it in your schedule … Type it into your Google (s goog) calendar. That’s the only way it will get done.
  • Stick to your deadlines — but remain flexible. Of course, deadlines only work if you actually stick to them. Yet at the same time, you need to have some flexibility. Unexpected things come up, often through no fault of yours. If it’s necessary, adjust your deadline.

These tips merge well with some that we’ve talked about before:

How do you manage your work schedule?

Image courtesy of Flickr user matsuyuki

15 Responses to “3 tips for getting more done in fewer hours”

  1. Marie Haggberg

    Add as a productivity booster: minimizing interruptions. It typically takes us about 15 minutes to get back to full concentration from an interruption. Schedule specific times for email and social media. You’ll get more done and feel less stressed.

    Thanks for a good read.

  2. This is the most lame article I’ve every read. How about corporate American stop running their businesses like slave shops? Ever think about that? We have to continually adjust to their slavery? That’s bogus. We don’t even get adequate vacation and when we do take vacation we pathetically feel for some reason guilty about it. Screw that, companies need to start being ethical. Employees need to start suing.

  3. Reward yourself for meeting deadlines – this is quite important for me.
    Sometimes i have to force myself to take sometime off. As soon as i finish something, sometimes i think i can produce more if i keep going, sooner or later i’ll burn out, resulting in less quality result. I guess one just has to learn to know his/her limit and when to stop.

  4. Thanks – as Leo said, a wake up call. Instead of wishing I had time to relax and do fun things, I’m going to make the time. If a client has to wait until tomorrow, it’s not that big of a deal unless I over-promise. So, I’ll base my time estimates for completion on an 8 hour day instead of an 11 hour day. I’m probably the only one making myself work so hard! :-)

  5. Matt Visser

    After spending an entire weekend working (again), we’re closing in on ‘done’ and this post made me remember a time when we strived for the 4 day work week and still got projects out. Great post and excellent reminder that we set not only our goals, but the rate at which we achieve them. Thanks.

      • Manish

        I thought these were the other 4 –

        -Select work hours that are the most efficient for you.
        -Schedule breaks and time off.
        -Avoid going online before breakfast.
        -Mark the end of the day and finish on time.