Enterprise-Rent-A-Car several years ago surveyed 1000 Americans and found that 70% worked at least one weekend a month, with 63% saying that their employer expected them to put in time on Saturday or Sunday. And if they were not physically present in the office, 74% of the respondents said they could not stop thinking about work on the weekends. A more recent study in 2020, sponsored by RescueTime, found that 92% of knowledge workers say they constantly work in the evenings and on weekends.
Why the need for so much overtime? Well, it is not a case of too much work or too little time, even though 25% of the people responding to the survey claimed it is. It is wasted time through the improper use of technology. For instance, 34% of people check their email as soon as they wake up, while another 47% do so within the first 30 minutes of work. And although it has been shown that “context switching” (quickly switching back and forth from your task to e-mail, instant messages, telephone, and so on) can kill up to 80% of your productive time each day, 92% of people say they keep their communication apps open all day. (RescueTime survey) Only 5% of people say they finish their daily tasks every day.
25% of people say their biggest challenge is too much work, and the researchers believe we have an overly optimistic view of what we can complete in a day, which causes us to overcommit. I can see how they would believe that, if they do not realize how much time is lost when you interrupt yourself continuously throughout the day to check email or respond to instant messages or accept a call on your smartphone. Add to that the amount of time we spend on social media, accepting any interruptions that come our way, and by allowing ourselves to be distracted by other things as well.
I am convinced that we can get back to a normal life if we go back to the basics, regain control of our use of time, use a little self-control, and apply the principle of “undertime.” Yes, there is such a word as undertime. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is defined as “a time less than the time allotted for the performance of some task or the completion of a program or speech.”
To do this we allot less time, not more time, to complete tasks. We need more time now because we are allowing for all the interruptions that invariably occur. And Parkinson’s Law kicks in and the time it takes to complete the task expands to fill the time allowed. This gives us time to interrupt ourselves every 8 minutes or so, and once we get in the habit of doing so, it is natural to extend that time as the interruptions increase. And they will increase – because people soon learn you are available at any time and that you will respond immediately. We train people how to treat us. (Ever notice at home that if you answer the phone at dinner time, you will get more calls at dinnertime?)
Less time will still allow plenty of time to complete the tasks – without all the interruptions. Put deadlines on all tasks, estimating the time needed plus a little extra to allow for real emergencies. Block off these times in your planning calendar in 90-minute increments of time with breaks in between. If a task will take less than 90 minutes, batch it with one or more other tasks requiring similar resources and mindset. Then silence your smartphone, engage voicemail on your landline, close your office door if you have one, and eliminate any other distractions that might steal your attention. That is where a little self-discipline comes in handy.
Trust me, few “emergencies” cannot wait 90 minutes. And you will have time for those. Work smarter and harder, just not longer. But do not schedule any tasks that are unimportant and do nothing to further your goals. Put those on a “To Do” list. You know the usual fate of items on a “To Do” list. They die a natural death. Better them than you.