Work smarter, not necessarily harder

CNN Money has published an article by Fortune journalist, Anne Fisher, that suggests working long hours is not necessarily the key to success.  What may better, rather, is taking the time to work smarter.

“Remember the story of Archimedes lolling in his bathtub? To an observer, he’d have seemed to be wasting time. While ostensibly doing nothing, however, he discovered the principle of displacement, a cornerstone of physics. Would he have reached the same insight in a quick shower?

Unlikely. And while you might say that’s ancient history, don’t be too sure.”

It also goes a little beyond not working long hours.  Another important factor is how that time is used.  Rather than working to accomplish a large number of small things, aim to break your working time up into larger chunks of time:

“The late Peter Drucker agreed. He wrote in The Effective Executive (an eerily prescient 40 years ago), “All one can think and do in a short time is to think what one already knows and to do as one has always done.” Gulp.

Moreover, in Drucker’s view, simply working longer and longer hours won’t help. “To be effective, every knowledge worker, and especially every executive…needs to dispose of time in fairly large chunks,” he wrote. “To have small dribs and drabs of time at his disposal will not be sufficient even if the total is an impressive number of hours.”

Hmm, small dribs and drabs of time…and, just think, the BlackBerry hadn’t been invented yet.”

Going further, you may be better served by taking time away from your work more often.  It is during these breaks that we often have creative breakthroughs:

“What scientists have only recently begun to realize is that people may do their best thinking when they are not concentrating on work at all. If you’ve ever had a great idea pop into your head while you were washing your car, walking your dog, or even napping, you already know what a team of Dutch psychologists revealed last month in the journal Science: The unconscious mind is a terrific solver of complex problems when the conscious mind is busy elsewhere or, perhaps better yet, not overtaxed at all.

This brings us back to Archimedes, whose “Eureka!” moment in the bath — or, to cite another example, Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity while loafing around under an apple tree — was a classic example of a kind of creativity known as remote association, or associative thinking. As the name implies, it’s a knack for seeing connections among things that appear on the surface to be unrelated to each other.”

At the end of the day, isn’t it more about results than how many hours a day you spend at your desk?  Google has really bought into this, not just with their practice of setting aside roughly a day a week for personal projects, but also in the way they have structured working days:

“‘We want to take as much hurry and worry out of people’s lives as we can, because a relaxed state of mind unleashes creativity,’ says Stacy Sullivan, the company’s HR director. ‘And everybody’s on flextime here, so we don’t reward face time or working super-long hours. We just measure results.’”

The full article can be found here.


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