Many years ago, I worked in the UK office of an international charity. We used to work long hours – I was often in at 8am and leaving 10 hours later. This was regarded as child’s play by the US office, where they came in at 8am and often worked until midnight. We were often made to feel like lightweights, lacking commitment.
Then I went over to the States to work in the New York office for a week and I discovered something fascinating. My colleagues, with all due respect, didn't produce more work; they simply took longer to do it.
In part, it was because they ran out of energy and so were being less effective. It was also because, as they expected to be in the office until midnight, they took more and longer breaks. (In those days, they were cigarette breaks, taken in the lunchroom wreathed in a permanent smoky haze.) They were, in effect, adding two or three hours to their day. Don't get me wrong, I am a great believer in taking quick breaks to boost your energy. However, taking a 30 minute coffee break because you know you are probably going to be there late perhaps not the most sensible way to do things.
When I came back to London, I had a huge rethink of how I worked. I worked long hours because it was expected of me; it "showed my commitment", not only to others, but to myself. (This is a trap many people fall into when starting work as freelancers/business owners; how can you be taking it seriously if you aren’t working 70 hours a week?!) I started setting boundaries: I wouldn't be at my desk until 9am; I would take an hour for lunch (which have been previously eaten at my desk) and I would leave at 6pm.
By becoming more focused on the time I was working and letting people know the boundaries, I became far more effective. Instead of the work expanding to fix the open-ended time, I was more efficiently both in time management and quality because I was working with my best. And by getting my evenings back, I became more relaxed and more of myself.
The lesson from this is to be more conscious about how you use your time. Instead of saying, “I’ll stay here until it’s finished”, say “I’m going to leave at 6pm, so I better get as much done as possible”. Ring fence time to do specific jobs and work in a focused way and it will give you more time to kick back and relax, try something new, and just feel on top of your work.
So what time will you work to today?
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