Need to be More Productive? Take a Break.

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We all need a break sometimes.

IT professionals are no strangers to long workdays. Particularly when deadlines are looming or systems are crashing, they often have to burn the midnight oil to troubleshoot and fix last minute problems. While such days can be stressful and even occasionally aggravating, they are hopefully few and far between. Right?

Unfortunately, that statement is not really accurate any longer, especially when companies are trying to squeeze more work out of fewer people for less money. People also often view the accumulation of too many working hours as a badge of honor. Someone who works a normal 40 hour week is viewed as comparably less hardworking than someone who is able to cram 50, 60, or 70 hours of work into a week.

The question is, though, is that view necessarily true and accurate? When was the last time you really evaluated your work habits and took note of your daily activities? If you take the time to do this now, you may be surprised at what you find.

In particular, think about how you used to be when you first started your job, before some amount of complacency and apathy set in. Eager to impress your new boss, you worked diligently to exceed expectations and meet rigorous deadlines. You may have worked some additional hours here and there, but the hours you did work were usually productive.

Now, fast forward to today. How much time do you spend on menial tasks, or going to have a cigarette, or stopping to talk in the hallway, or browsing social media sites, because you know that you will be working late anyways, so you may as well enjoy some of the time you have to spend at work? What would you be able to accomplish in just one hour if you turned off Facebook and Pinterest, picked a particular project you’ve been procrastinating on for months, and focused entirely on that?

To answer this question, you also should consider what happens when you are confronted with a hard and fast deadline. How much do you suddenly find yourself able to accomplish in a short amount of time? If you had to accomplish the same amount of work but you had twice as much time to do it, spend just as many hours at work, or would you spend even more time at work because you know you have the time to spend? To put this in practical terms, suppose you were tasked with implementing a new SAP system. How long does that usually take? A month? Several months? A year? Now, suppose you were told you had to get it done in three weeks. Or even two weeks. Could you do it?

There is something to be said for limiting your work hours. When you have the pressure of needing to accomplish a lot in a short period of time, you use that time much more effectively.

But on top of that, you will also find that the more time you spend at work, the less productive your time spent will become. As fatigue sets in from too many long hours spent sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen, it starts to take longer and longer to accomplish even the most basic job functions. Therefore, taking time off is an important part of working. If it’s difficult to take a day off or get a vacation, the next best option is to increase your productivity. If you want to go home early, how can you turn eight hours spent at the office into the most productive eight hours you have ever spent? Can you replicate that feat each day?

If you truly manage to maximize the value of your time, soon you will find yourself listening to the boasting conversations of your peers with a different perspective. Are they bragging about suffering through 60 grueling hours at a desk and computer last week? You might be tempted to ask them what they managed to accomplish in that time. As for yourself, you may be able to trim your hours down to a standard 40 hour week once more, but the list of things you managed to achieve with that time would be enough to convince anyone that you spent much, much more time than that.

*Image courtesy of John Morgan via Creative Commons


About the Author:

Pete has been working with SAP technologies for over 10 years. He started out as an ABAP consultant and then moved on to BW where he has worked many different clients covering a wide variety of industries. "I love introducing SAP technology (especially BI) to new clients and showing them how they can go from zero to hero within their business in super fast time". Contact me on twitter @PeterMoxon