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The 48 Hour Day
(February 2011)It can sometimes feel as if there’s more and more work to do each day, with less and less time in which to do it. Often it seems that the work environment requires better productivity, streamlining, time-management efficiencies and so on, and the only way to cope is to get into work earlier, skip lunch, and leave work later.
All of which, of course, means less time for the worker at home with their families, a potential increase in stress related problems and related health issues, and an increased likelihood that affected workers will either ‘burn out’ and have to leave the workforce, or will become less and less effective at doing their jobs.
Some work practices are set up in such a way that when someone is unexpectedly ill, or goes on holiday, or work significantly increases or changes, there is no-one to take up the slack. At this point businesses can run into problems, with management under considerable pressure to 'perform' for the benefit of owners or shareholders, and so in turn putting unreasonable pressures on their staff.
So, what can be done to help the situation?
Well, if you can’t control the inflow of work (or red tape, or whatever the pressure is) you can do something to help manage the flow of the work during the day. It used to be said that effective management of time was the answer, so that everything you did during the working day was done in the most efficient way, as quickly and cost-effectively as could be whilst maintaining the quality of output.
Some managers still adhere to this philosophy but that is not always a practical approach, simply because sometimes there is more work to do than can be dealt with in a working day.
So instead of time management, try looking at work management. This involves six key stages – note, not all of these will apply to every situation, but most will:
- Try to formulate a plan for the work that needs to be done over the next week, or month, or three months, or whatever is appropriate in your work situation. This will allow you to concentrate on those tasks, by excluding from your considerations the other tasks that are not so time-critical, but be realistic about what you can achieve during that period.
- The next step is to identify the key stages that you have to go through to succeed with your plan, thereby creating mini stages within the overall plan, which will allow you to focus on what is really needed for the plan to work.
- Having made your plan, you can now implement it, but you must stick to it rigorously to give it a chance to work. If necessary, you should involve other staff in the plan and arrange matters so that they can do some of your routines, or allow you ‘blocked’ time (i.e., time without interruption). In particular, you should ensure that enough time is allocated to the main elements of the plan, and that you are not side-tracked by other issues.
- Try to create a record, for the first few days, of exactly how your time is spent. You will probably be very surprised to find that much of the day is spent in dealing with administration or other non-productive work, or even social banter within the office! Whilst we all need occasional distraction from continued concentration on our work, this information will enable you to manage or schedule the non-productive element much better.
- Don’t be afraid to change the plan if circumstances change. The plan is not intended to be a straightjacket, but rather a tool to allow you to function better. At first, you may find that your plan was somewhat ambitious, so that a longer timescale is required. This doesn’t matter – new ideas need to be tailored to suit you – but once a new plan is made, again you must adhere firmly to it, so that you give it a fair chance to work.
- Finally, if you find that that the above suggestions are helpful to you, then they may be just as helpful to others within your team. Indeed, if you and your team all try these ideas together, then each will have a better understanding of the needs of each member, and each will feel that they are ‘all in the same boat’ and so more likely to co-operate. It is also useful as a tool to monitor junior staff, by agreeing goals and timescales with them. You then have a specific plan against which their success or failure can be measured.