3 tips for getting more done in fewer hours

With the ability to work whenever we wish, web workers face ever-increasing work hours. We slip in “just one email” after dinner or fail to resist the pull of our smartphone before our morning workout. But one blogger is arguing that longer hours actually usually mean less productivity.

Writing on Freelance Folder, Lexi Rodrigo cites Parkinson’s Law as the underlying rationale for her argument. The principle, first recognized in regard to the ever-expanding British civil service in the 1950s, declares that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

For web workers, the principle means that however many hours we allot ourselves to work, we will find activities to fill them. And the opposite, Rodrigo contends, is equally true. Limit your hours, and the time it takes you to complete tasks will shrink to accommodate the new boundaries. Set yourself a deadline and you’ll feel more urgency, more adrenaline and less perfectionism.

Rodrigo backs up her ideas with arguments that would be true for a baker or cobbler, but there’s evidence that quantity does not necessarily translate to quality, especially for knowledge workers. Happiness-at-work expert Alexander Kjerulf, for instance, has rounded up research that shows that knowledge workers “are the most productive when they work 35 hours a week” and “productivity decreased by half after the eighth hour of work.”

So how can we shorten our workdays? Rodrigo offers several suggestions, many of which are classic time-management techniques that we’ve covered before. But three of her ideas are particularly pertinent.

  • Keep your deadlines challenging but realistic. A too-generous deadline won’t make you more productive. On the other hand, a deadline that’s impossible to meet is counterproductive as well. When you feel you’re too late for something, it can de-motivate you from working faster and more efficiently. So you want a deadline that puts pressure on you but that is still humanly manageable.
  • Reward yourself for meeting deadlines. Imagine all the other things you could do if you had a shorter workday. You could go to the gym, hang out with friends, play video games, work on your novel. What would you do if you didn’t have to work? Plan to do some of that after your work is completed every day. And I mean put it in your schedule … Type it into your Google (s goog) calendar. That’s the only way it will get done.
  • Stick to your deadlines — but remain flexible. Of course, deadlines only work if you actually stick to them. Yet at the same time, you need to have some flexibility. Unexpected things come up, often through no fault of yours. If it’s necessary, adjust your deadline.

These tips merge well with some that we’ve talked about before:

How do you manage your work schedule?

Image courtesy of Flickr user matsuyuki