Monday, March 31, 2008

Nine to Fivers

I don't work hourly. I work on projects. Some days I'm in the office during normal office hours and others I'm not. Due to a proclivity to work both very early and in the evening, it is a rare day when I only work eight hours. I don't deserve a medal for this because hours don't matter.

What matters is effectiveness.

If I can be more effective in four hours than I would be while staring at my desk for another four in order to get in the Magical Eight, then those highly productive four hours are fine.

Some of the most worthless executives, managers, and employees I've ever known were in early and left late. They spent sizable amounts of time on matters of minor importance and not enough on the big stuff. They genuflected to the clock.

And they never let you forget the amount of time they'd spent. For some odd reason, many of their reminders revolved around missed meals. "Did I mention that I worked through lunch?" "I skipped breakfast today in order to get that report to Thompson." [I can't hear you. Your stomach was gurgling.]

The weirdest were the supervisors who would get uptight if one of their top sales reps showed up 15 minutes late. A demented few even kept careful records of such infractions. When they revealed the detailed documentation of five minutes late here, seven minutes late there, and a shocking 14 minutes last week, it was apparent that the sales rep wasn't the one with the problem.

As a member of the firm of Emerson, Thoreau, and Trump once put it, it is not a question of whether we are busy but what we are busy about.

Now before I get deluged with e-mails from dissenters, let me note that in some jobs, you have to be there on time. If the receptionist shows up five minutes late, that is a problem. If the repair crew's truck pulls out of the yard at 8:00 and you appear at 8:01, no points will be awarded for being almost on time. That said, most of us labor in jobs where the results are far more important than the clock. The odd thing is that although we know that, some primal attachment to the clock remains, if only to induce guilt.

Scrap the stop-watches. Think projects. And, as David Allen has urged us, we should shoot past any listing of projects to instead give special attention to the "next actions" that will lead to the achievement of those projects. In the end, actions accomplished mean far than more minutes.

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pawnking said...

Amen to that!

I work an hour from my home, so I leave at 5 almost every day, while other stay until 5:30 or 6. I was told once in a review that it was "noticed and disapproved of" that I was leaving at 5 every day. I asked if there was any problem with my performance and I was assured that my performance was great (I always get above average reviews). But it was noticed that I left at 5 every day.

I wonder if I would be more successful if I started playing freecell from 5 to 5:30 every day.

Rowan Manahan said...

And amen again! I remember one boss who paid great lip service to this approach, but who just couldn't break out of the 9-5 mindset.

I interviewed with him and remember him telling the candidate that he didn't care if he worked 100 days a year or 360 days a year, as long as the key metrics were met. But in the end, despite the young man hitting all his numbers and more, the manager just couldn't get his head around the fact that this fellow came and went more or less as he pleased. And it became an irreparable rift between them.

A lifetime's habit and seemingly impossible to break for this gentleman ...

Wally Bock said...

Among the deadliest possible comments is "By the way, I noticed that you left early yesterday …"

Michael Wade said...

All of these comments are right on target. It is the continuing battle to determine what is truly important.