NYT: They Work Long Hours, but What About Results?

Our summary: generally spending time is mistaken for efficiency.  Cut down on meetings, focus on metrics, expectations, and outcomes.  You shouldn’t need to stay late or work on weekends to be efficient.  The last part of the article has a significant overlap with setting up expectations on when using the FairSetup model.


They Work Long Hours, but What About Results?
Published: October 6, 2012

IT’S 5 p.m. at the office. Working fast, you’ve finished your tasks for the day and want to go home. But none of your colleagues have left yet, so you stay another hour or two, surfing the Web and reading your e-mails again, so you don’t come off as a slacker.

It’s an unfortunate reality that efficiency often goes unrewarded in the workplace. I had that feeling a lot when I was a partner in a Washington law firm. Because of my expertise, I could often answer a client’s questions quickly, saving both of us time. But because my firm billed by the hour, as most law firms do, my efficiency worked against me.

One manager said: “So this one guy, he’s in the room at every meeting. Lots of times he doesn’t say anything, but he’s there on time and people notice that. He definitely is seen as a hard-working and dependable guy.” Another said: “Working on the weekends makes a very good impression. It sends a signal that you’re contributing to your team and that you’re putting in that extra commitment to get the work done.”

The reactions of these managers are understandable remnants of the industrial age, harking back to the standardized nature of work on an assembly line. But a measurement system based on hours makes no sense for knowledge workers. Their contribution should be measured by the value they create through applying their ideas and skills.

LIMIT MEETINGS Internal meetings can be a huge waste of time. A short meeting can be useful for discussing a controversial issue, but long meetings.

REDUCE READING You don’t need to read the full text of everything you come across in the course of your work, even if it comes directly from the boss.

WRITE FASTER Even if you need to create A-plus work for a project, it needn’t be perfect right off the bat.

But it’s not enough to think and observe. You need to communicate — often. Every week, write down a list of your assigned tasks — short-term assignments and long-term goals — and rank them by importance, from your perspective. Then ask your boss to weigh in on the list.

You and your boss should come to a consensus about the metrics for every project. If your boss doesn’t establish any, suggest them yourself. Metrics can include both qualitative and quantitative results. They provide objective measures for judging final results — and move your boss away from the crutch of face time. And the process of establishing these metrics can help you and your boss clarify how best to accomplish a project.

By emphasizing results rather than hours, I’m able to get home at 7 p.m. for dinner with my family nearly every night — except when there are true emergencies. This has greatly enhanced my family life, and has given me a secondary benefit: a fruitful mental break. I’ve solved some of the thorniest problems in my home office at 10 p.m. — after a refreshing few hours chatting with my wife and children.

Focusing on results rather than hours will help you accomplish more at work and leave more time for the rest of your life. And don’t be afraid to talk to your boss about these issues. To paraphrase the management guru Peter Drucker, although you don’t have to like your boss, you have to manage him or her so you can have a successful career.

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