Early in my career as a newly minted engineer, I worked for an aerospace company. I was assigned work on a digital control for a military fighter jet, and it seemed as though there was no end to the deadlines. At one point, we were asked to work Saturdays after putting in a full 40 hour plus week Monday through Friday. It seemed that this was to be temporary, but the customer grew to like that apparent sense of urgency, so the Saturday work went on for many, many months.
At first, we did get more done. Since our project was the only one on “forced overtime,” it was initially kind of fun to come in to a quiet office on Saturday. No phones were ringing and the normal bustle of the engineering floor was much subdued. But in short order, I found myself putting things off until Saturday, “when it will be quiet and I can think.” And then, because I knew I’d be working Saturday, I started feeling sorry for myself during the week and taking it a bit easy. Nothing at all like the longshoreman slow down we’ve just experienced. But still, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t as effective during the week as I had once been. I was experiencing a bit of burnout. So were my colleagues, and we soon began to grumble about losing our weekends (with no additional compensation.)
Fast forward to today. I just read where Germans work approximately 1,400 hours a year while the Greeks work about 2,000 hours a year. Yet, the Germans are about 70% more effective. The article cited multiple studies that show that scheduled down time actually makes you more productive. Apparently, being relaxed and refreshed allows one to be more productive.
I know of a company where the CEO insists that a sense of urgency be on display at all times. He always wants fast results. If people aren’t running around with their hair on fire, achieving obviously impossible goals and/or discovering problems to “run up the flagpole,” then he figures his people aren’t working. There is no room for a slow, thoughtful, planning person. Yet one of the methods for being effective is just that – to take the time to investigate, analyze and plan actions before taking them. Just hurry up and do it is most often not effective.
In my own case, I am finding it necessary to work on weekends. It’s a scheduling issue. During the week days, I meet with people in groups, one to one, in person and remotely. It’s the normal work week thing. When I get home either late afternoon or early evening, I am frequently too tired to do the creative work – such as this blog posting. But I have learned my lesson from those early days. So even though I save the creative work and time consuming marketing work for the weekend, I make sure to take some down time during the week. I purposely get up early to have quiet time for myself before my wife wakes up to start her day. And I also plan the first week of each month to have no meetings – or worst case, only a few that couldn’t be avoided. This schedule has served me pretty well.
How about you? As a leader, have you created an environment where people are expected to be effective, not simply busy? Do you provide tools to improve their effectiveness? Do you enforce paid time off? How about your own schedule? Data show that down time, family time, replenishment time and fun time will make you and your employees much more effective during work time.