Good news! I’ve finally figured out why your career has been declared an official disaster area. You’re working too hard.
Well, maybe you’re not working too hard. That would be a stretch. But even if you are not working too hard, you definitely are working too long. Pulling all-nighters; coming in on weekends; staying in the office until 6:00 or 7:00 or 11:00. You might think this kind of behavior shows your commitment, but you’re wrong. All it shows is that you’re a big sap.
Or so I read in a recent article in The New York Times by Robert C. Pozen, the hard-working author of “Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours.” To Mr. Pozen, managers who evaluate employees based on the number of hours they work are “understandable remnants of the industrial age, harking back to the standardized nature of work on an assembly line.” This insight is one you might want to share with your manager, or you might not. Not all managers like to be called remnants, especially when they are. Instead, point out that in this post-industrial era, when your job isn’t like being on an assembly line, even though it feels like it, your contribution to the company should be measured by the value you create by applying your ideas and skills.
If your boss doesn’t believe that you think you have ideas and skills, remind her of the time you fixed the coffee machine by hitting it with your shoe. I’m sure she’ll agree that after that impressive application of ideas and skills, you should have been allowed to go home, a good day’s work done, even though it was only 9:15 a.m.
Before you exchange the old 9-to-5 for the new 10-to-2, you might want to confirm that your vision of a workplace where no one watches the clock is shared by your boss. This may not be easy.
According to research coming out of the University of California at Davis, a group of 39 managers “viewed employees who were seen at the office during business hours as highly ‘dependable’ and ‘reliable.’ Employees who came in over the weekend or stayed late in the evening were seen as ‘committed’ and ‘dedicated’ to their work.”
The Davis researchers apparently didn’t ask about workers who left at lunch and never came back, but you can guess the managers’ reactions. These workers would be viewed as “fired.”
Fortunately, there are ways to become so darn productive your boss will throw away his stopwatch. Start by reducing your reading. “You don’t need to read the full text of everything you come across in the course of your work,” Pozen writes. “Even if it comes from your boss.” This makes sense, but do be careful to scan the parts of the communication that you plan to skip. The good news in the first sentence — “exceptional promotion opportunities are available” — could be somewhat less exciting if you read on to find — “for any employee willing to sign a 3-year contract to supervise the IT needs of the sled dogs in our Yakutsk, Russia office.”
By the way, skipping parts of this column is a bad idea. I’m fairly sure Pozen is talking about my writing when he says “some materials call for you to be totally immersed in the details.”
“Write fast” is another Pozen idea for increasing productivity. “In general, don’t waste your time creating A-plus work when B-plus is good enough.” This makes perfect sense, but why stop there? If B-plus is sufficient, you could probably get away with a C, or even a C-minus. And what’s so wrong with a D? It shows you’re not hung up on unproductive time-wasters like good grammar, or making sense. If D work doesn’t work, just do what you did in school. Tell your boss the goldfish ate your memo.
A critical part of this new way of not-working is to get your boss to agree to metrics for every project. Pozen says, “metrics provide objective measures for judging final results — and move your boss away from the crutch of face time.” I agree. I suggest a good metric might be, “I didn’t totally screw up the project,” or, if you did screw up the project, “see how many excuses I can invent while at the same time, blaming someone else.”
Based on these metrics, you’re sure to become a star performer in your workplace, especially during those times when you’re not there.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at email@example.com.