Friday, January 17, 2014

The most productive day

You will never find time for anything. If you want time you must make it. ~Charles Buxton

A company that provides temp help has done a survey, presumably to keep the unhired temps busy, that shows that Tuesday is the most productive day of the work week. Strangely enough, Monday was the second most productive day. After Tuesday, it's all downhill, which is why Monday is so productive, because Monday is spent doing all the stuff you should have done on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

In fact, the survey gets very specific. If you follow the link in the article, you're led to an –ugh-- infographic which proudly announces that the most productive time and day is on a Tuesday after a vacation from 10 AM to noon. The graphic also includes a graph that pretty much shows no days over the years have been productive except Tuesday (although Monday has had a couple of good runs). Oh, and it includes the brilliant observation that no meeting should be scheduled for after 4 PM.

Oh, where to begin? Well, the first day back after any time off (vacation, holiday, sick day—real or imagined) is generally useless, unless productivity is defined as plowing through all of the e-mails, voice mails, and snail mails sitting on the desk. That doesn't take into account the superior who told you as you walked in that he/she needs to see you or the co-worker or subordinate who wants to tell you why the superior is so anxious to see you. And getting to that stuff assumes that there is nothing figuratively (or literally) on fire as you got to your desk.

Of course, the survey claims Monday is second most productive because you finally do the stuff you should have done from Wednesday on. Which is nice except that Monday is, well, Monday, when no one really feels like doing anything beyond complaining about how it's Monday. The ultimate conclusion one draws from this survey is everyone works two days a week. Lord knows what they do the rest of the time.

Fact is, productivity is dependent on one thing: how much you're left alone to actually do your job. It's remarkable how much you can accomplish if the phone doesn't ring, co-workers don't stop by to talk about the playoffs, and there are no meetings. Especially if there are no meetings. One reason I managed to be productive during my many careers was that I established myself as a guy people did not want at meetings.

Now, this isn't easy to do while staying employed. I mean, just being an obnoxious ass can keep you out of meetings, but it can also get you an introduction to the nice person at the unemployment office. But I managed it, and here's how:

  • Be damn good at what you do. That sounds hard, and it can be, but if you're the expert in your area with a track record for knowing what you're doing, you can ask the kind of pointed questions that people don't like in meetings.

  • Ask those pointed questions. For example, “Why are we having this meeting when no one has done the prep work?” Or, “When you laid out this project and assigned everyone to work on it 40 hours a week, did you think about how regular work would get done?” Or, the ever popular, “Who's paying for this?”

  • Bring a laptop and do something useful while the meeting drags on. There's nothing more disconcerting to a meeting organizer than someone actually getting work done.

Of course, one key to productivity is to stay off the Internet. If you're lucky, you've got administrators who have limited access to the junk on the 'Net and monitor usage. That helps, but there's still tons of dross out there that keep people terribly amused and essentially useless to the organization for much of the day. When we blocked streaming media, we actually had people complaining to us that they “worked hard” and “deserved to relax”. Our suggestion was that if they got their work done instead of watching TV shows on company time, they could leave on time and relax at home.

I worked at one company that figured out a way to get us a solidly productive half day each week. The company went to a four and a half day work week. We worked 9 hours a day for four days and four hours on Friday. The nine hours was no problem because most of us were already working the extra hour anyway. The half-day Friday had numerous benefits. First, if you needed to schedule a dentist's appointment or something, you could do it on Friday afternoon and not lose any work time. Second, if the plant needed to work overtime for a given week, we just worked a full day on Friday and still got Saturday and Sunday off.

But there was a benefit we hadn't counted on. Our headquarters people used to call us all the time. It seemed every time you started to get something going, the phone would ring and a voice from the main plant would take up the next hour of your precious time. But a funny thing happened when we went on the four and a half day schedule. For some reason, headquarters stayed on a five day week, and they apparently decided we were just goofing off on our half day, so they didn't call. After a while, vendors stopped calling on Fridays. Before we knew it, we were getting a half-day of uninterrupted work time.

Oh, and no one ever called a meeting on Fridays. After all, it was only a half day.

The upshot of it was we had four or five sweetly uninterrupted hours to get stuff done every Friday. And believe me, we got tons of stuff done. Best of all, since we got so much done, when headquarters began bugging us on Monday, we had the time to deal with them. It was the best work schedule I had in 45+ years of working.

A couple of years after I left the company, I heard, sadly, that they had abandoned the beautiful schedule because headquarters didn't like it. Mostly, they didn't like their employees asking why they couldn't be on that schedule. So, as is often the case, rather than do the smart thing, the wheels decided that everyone should do what headquarters did.

I wonder what Tuesdays were like after that.

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