Perpetual Guardian’s decision to try a shorter working week http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11990560 has created some interesting discussion. I congratulate Andrew Barnes for his bold experiment. From my 26 years of global experience on the topic of productivity, I believe they’re onto something really good.
Perhaps you’re wondering whether to follow their example? Or, maybe you’d keep a five-day week but would like to stop work earlier. The problem is, if you create a culture of working long hours, the work expands to fit the time available. It can seem insurmountable. The trick is to say ‘how can we do it?’ rather than ‘can we do it?’ With the right starting point the answer will appear.
SME example – less hours:
One of my clients changed the culture of his company from ‘we’ve got SO much to do that we have to work long hours’ to ‘we manage our load effectively and profitably within reasonable hours.’
He was the owner of a very busy printing business and until two years before our conversation had regularly worked to about 8pm, due to the work load. His staff of 10 also worked similar long hours.
Just before his first baby was due, he had an epiphany. It struck him that if he was ever to see his child he needed to change his ways. He was also a keen sailor but frustrated with how seldom he got out on the water. Instead, his boat languished on the marina, growing weed and barnacles. He then realised that if he, the owner, was feeling hard-done-by and frustrated, his staff were almost certainly feeling the same.
With considerable anxiety about a possible loss of income he decided to put a stop to the long hours.
‘From now on we all leave the premises by 6pm, me included,’ he announced to the team. ‘It doesn’t matter if we haven’t finished the task we’re working on. Unless it’s life-threatening, leave it until tomorrow.’
The result was startling. Not only did people get the same amount of work completed by 6pm that had previously taken up to two hours more per day, but the profitability of the firm increased. When they had less hours in which to get the work done, they were more focused and efficient instead of allowing the work to fill the time available. Also, because everyone had more free time they came into work rested and fresh.
Personal experience – less days:
For the last two years I’ve cut back my hours. I’m now only available to clients two or three days a week – usually Tuesday – Thursday. I often have three- or four-day weekends, when I sail, cycle, visit family or friends, or just relax. I’m more rested and effective, and the requests for work have not diminished. In fact, it’s the opposite; reduced availability creates more demand. I’ve eliminated much of the deadline-driven busy work that used to keep my nose to the grindstone and now focus on the core activities that make the most money. As a result, in the last twelve months it has been relatively easy to find the time to write my first historical novel, whilst still generating a satisfactory income.
The power of our words
There’s a further element to this discussion – what comes out of our mouth and how it influences our thinking and our behaviour. Think how many people, when you ask how work is going, say things like ‘I’m flat out’, ‘too much to do’, or ‘not enough time’. At first these ‘busy’ conversations sound positive. For many, an abundance of work equals job security and, in some businesses, more income. But what is the long-term impact of this kind of conversation?
Our language is powerful. When we tell these stories to ourselves and everyone around, that message becomes a loop between our subconscious and our results. The trusty subconscious says, ‘You reckon you’re constantly tired? Or, ‘You’ve got too much to do?’ Or, ‘You’ve barely got time to think? OK, I’ll organise that for you. Coming right up.’ And sure enough, we get the results we’ve spoken into existence. It sounds simplistic, but to change your results, change your language.
For example, the printing company people had said, ‘We have to work late. There’s so much to do that long hours are the only way to keep on top of it.’ The new language became, ‘We do our work within an eight-to-nine-hour work day, efficiently and profitably. We leave work by 6pm at the latest, knowing that we’ve done our best.’
James Allen in his classic little essay ‘As a man thinketh’, written in 1902 and still available in bookshops today, has devoted his whole essay to the topic. (It’s now in the public domain if you want a digital copy).
Here’s just one quote: ‘The outer world of circumstance shapes itself to the inner world of thought.’
Here’s to less work, better results, and using language that supports our desired results!