For years mentors and speakers have crowed about work/life balance. But are they missing the point?
Work life pretty much defines every professional and the traditional work/life balance argument broadly says you have to do less work and more life. Is this correct?
It creates a tension as we all (mostly) want to succeed in the workplace, so why would we spend less time there, or do less work? Confusingly, the answer is probably simpler than you think and revolves around 2 principles.
The 80:20 rule
This (Paretos Principle) states that 80% of your value is delivered in just 20% of your working time – but which 20%, and where is that carried out, and how can you measure it? If you ask most folks “where do you go to really get something done” or “when are you at your most productive” then most won’t say “at the office”.
So are you really wasting a large part of your time behind your desk? Probably, if you believe that work expands to fill available time. At the office, all you have is available time so we elect to spend it doing “stuff”.
Scarier then when you breakdown your working week. You might attend the office for, say, 40 hours a week so Pareto suggests that just 8 of those hours are really useful and a staggering 32 are not.
So is it possible to work for just 8hrs a week? Tim Ferris thinks so in his seminal book, the 4 hour work week. I suspect there is a lot of exaggeration going on here, yet it does make a valid point (albeit stretched somewhat).
Five years ago we embarked on a project to measure efficiency versus working hours – the results were staggering and we’re still refining our working practices today. We found that despite folks attending the office for 40+ hours a week the highest ever productivity week only just broke 20hrs.
As we continue to refine the model further we’ve found that about 15 flexible hrs a week is really all you need to work to achieve the same as an time/location-bound office-jockey. Furthermore, dropping the need to commute saved an additional 10 hrs a week – reducing by about 35hrs per week per person the time required at, or commuting to and from, the coal-face.
What would you do with those extra hours?
Work is what we do, not where and when we do it
You very best and creative work is probably carried out at home, on the beach, in the garden, in the pub or anywhere but your desk. That’s quite sad as we spend so much time travelling to and sitting behind our desk.
And here is the rub, of sorts, to get 15 really productive hours into a week they need to be integrated into your life and not exist as a separate thing. That integration needs a whole suite of tools, applications, access and devices – plus the will of management to make it happen and transition into a results oriented workplace.
The results oriented workplace must reflect that results are usually achieved in far less (recorded) time than a conventional clocking-in/out workplace and this is thorny as management could see it as an opportunity to cut staff or costs – that is not how to do it.
Example: a WordPress Developer who earns £30k a year has a cost of about £20ph. This effective rate would climb to about £45ph if he worked just 15hrs and maintained the same salary. (based on 44 week working year and a 35hr working week). Not all senior managers and business owners are comfortable with that level of pay and increase.
Interestingly, we reckon the sweet spot for the most productively creative people is actually less than 15 hrs, maybe closer to 10. Integrating 10 working hours across your whole week is far easier to manage, gives greater freedom and higher levels of work satisfaction.
We do have some staffers who work more than 15hrs in a week, but it is occasional, well-rewarded and explicitly discouraged. No-one reflects in later life that they should have worked more – harder or more creatively or more efficiently maybe but never more hours. Mostly it’s the other way round, if you’re at the office for 40+hrs a week then life can just pass you by.