Going to Work Versus Getting Work Done
So much of the modern approach to work is based on an antiquated model that is very narrow in scope. You show up in the morning, you work for eight to ten hours, and you go home. Five days a week. The problem with this model is that very few people can actually be productive for that long of a stretch and be consistent for several days in a row. We end up with many people finding ways around this challenge. They break up their days into chunks of time when they are more or less productive, creative, and social. Then they schedule their days accordingly, so that they are not just doing the same thing (or failing to do the same thing) for the whole day. Of course, some people don’t have that luxury and have to do the best they can and try to muscle their way through the day. It’s not ideal.
But what if we considered a different approach? One that takes advantage of the ebbs and flows of individuals’ energy. One that isn’t tied to specific times during the day. One that focuses on the work instead of on the time spent working.
The effect of the pandemic on the workday
The fact that so many people have worked from home during the pandemic has really changed many people’s ideas of what their jobs can look like. Given that many have had to homeschool their kids or take on other responsibilities for their families, many companies have given employees flexibility and the latitude to shift their work time to when they are most available (and most productive). Most studies have found that working remotely has improved productivity. The idea that employees have to be grouped in an office to be productive is being disproved in this groundbreaking, if tragic, social experiment. The pandemic is also leading workers to find ways to be productive when they need to. They grab bits of time when they can and work on what is most important.
The student model of work
This approach is very similar to how students work. Students are able to work mostly on their own schedules. They have tasks and deliverables, and they plan their work to ensure that they are ready for exams and get their work in on time. They also have a tried and true way to make sure they’re working effectively—grading. Professional workers don’t get (or want) grades, but their performance evaluations fill a similar role and could be adapted to a different work structure. Students may work first thing in the morning, at various times throughout the day, or even in the middle of the night. They do their school work when it makes the most sense for them. They don’t measure their productivity by the amount of time they spend working—in fact. the less time they take, the better.
Most workers work 40- to 60-hour weeks. If they could think about their work weeks not in terms of the amount of time they put in, but rather in terms of what they accomplished, it’s likely that they would accomplish more and work less. They would spend less time on low priority tasks and more time on what is important to them and to their bosses/companies.
Not all jobs are flexible
Of course, not all jobs can be done when it’s convenient or when the worker has the energy. “Going to work” is part of the deal with many jobs. However, this approach shouldn’t be the default for all jobs, and if there’s any possible flexibility to empower employees to find the best approach for their work, those options should be explored. Not all jobs are flexible, but all jobs should be as flexible as they can be.
When you think about your job, think about the things you do rather than being at your job. And (if possible) when you’ve completed what you’ve planned to do, stop being at your job. Go do something else that is fulfilling for you. It will make your life more meaningful and ultimately make you a better worker.
More time spent not working is (should be) a big benefit to your productivity when you are working.
 Remote-first work is taking over the rich world: A growing body of research hints at why. 2021. The Economist. URL: https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2021/10/30/remote-first-work-is-taking-over-the-rich-world. Accessed October 29, 2021.
Illustration by Benjavisa