How many hours per week do you work?
We should promptly clarify the preceding question. Please observe that I didn’t ask how many hours per week you spend in the office, logged into your computer, staring at your desk, organizing your e-mail, surfing the internet, drinking coffee, shredding old files, talking about your weekend with coworkers, poaching snacks from the common fridge, looking out the window, joining meetings you weren’t invited to, applying for better jobs, heading out for lunch, contemplating the size of your cubicle, making personal calls, using the lavish executive potty, or otherwise pretending to be “busy”. I asked how many hours you work – you know, counting only those hours producing something of value directly related to your specified job function. (Hint: If your “honest” answer is substantially more than about 30 hours, you are, respectfully, full of crap, a thoroughly seasoned master of office politics who most certainly should not be reading anyone’s blog entry right now.)
Consider a few pertinent studies. At one point, a Microsoft office personal productivity survey hit 38,000 people in 200 countries. The U.S. data points, which loosely correlate with global findings, indicate that 16 of 45 hours each week were effectively wasted. A recent study of U.K. office workers puts daily productivity under 3 hours (2:53 of actual work, to be specific). Different labor studies demonstrate that workweeks materially in excess of 40 hours can be counterproductive (e.g., due to fatigue and subsequent errors requiring correction).
While some aspiring managers might cite hours beyond 60 to represent the pinnacle of employee dedication, I’m regularly thinking (if not outright saying) “what a bunch of idiots”. Anyone with a pulse can fill X hours, and the guy working 60 hours might well be 50% dumber than his colleague working 40 hours. Why don’t we focus instead on the work that is actually getting done, versus some superficial and largely irrelevant measure of attendance?
I would suggest considering the critical priorities that require completion, and thinking in terms of theoretical throughput. Basically, this entails asking the question: How long should this particular objective take, if a competent person wastes no time? If the answer for a given week’s task is 3 hours, then great; finish the job before lunch on Monday and go home. On that note, I think we’re done here.