MFG 2.0

How To Work Less In Order To Produce More

Working the clock around is the normal order of business for many of us. We work at the office, in transit, at home, on vacation, from the first thing in the morning right up until we go to bed.

New research shows, however, that working all the time could be a camouflaged form of laziness. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Sue Shellenbarger, we could actually get more done by working less. She cites a major four-year study to be published in this month's edition of the Harvard Business Review that reveals a surprising find: when 12 groups of employees were forced to take time off (and some of them literally had to be forced), their productivity increased, primarily because they had to utilize the time they did have more efficiently. They ended up planning ahead more effectively, communicating better, developing closer relationships with their colleagues, and streamlining their projects. This increase in productivity was all wrapped up by better end client reviews.

Shellenbarger also cites examples of executives (such as the president of Bobrick Washroom Equipment) who have been requiring the employees of the 500-employee manufacturing company in North Hollywood CA to be home for dinner every working day. In Mr. Louchheim's view, employees who continually work late hours might be revealing poor work habits.

And what about staying abreast of that exploding galaxy of unstructured information out there? We need to be constantly info-surfing to stay ahead of the competition and be able to articulate the requisite level of expertise, right?

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review by Paul Hemp, maybe not. Hemp cites research that shows it takes about 25 minutes for a worker to resume a project after an email interruption, and expresses the obvious fact that this type of interruption is more costly than is credited, spelling bad bottom-line news for companies and individuals. Hemp writes that the information-undertow that so many of us feel compelled to engage day in, day out, "can adversely affect not only personal well-being but also decision making, innovation, and productivity".

A while back I wrote an article about how we are becoming a working nation of compulsive email checkers (Checking The Mail? F9? F9?). It turns out that this behavior might just be a part of a burgeoning culture of what can be described as "information addiction" in the modern workplace. For my part, I've found that staying abreast of RSS feeds, email messages and blogs are an indispensable way to stay on top of what's going on in the manufacturing world; I like to think that it gives me an informational edge in my day-to-day work. The idea that maybe it's actually decreasing my productivity is counterintuitive at first glance, but maybe I'll give this whole "less is more" idea a shot. How about you?

TAGS: Innovation
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