Overriding the overload of our work time

Best Practice December 07 2016

Overload of work

Before you read this, ask yourself….have you got the time? Are you reading it because you want to or because you have to? Or are you reading it because you’re trying to put off doing something you should be doing and this is just a welcome distraction. Is there something else you should be doing? Have you got the time?

In business, time is an important commodity, a valuable resource. A useful tool, it is both indispensable and irreplaceable. We aim to save it, because when its gone, we simply can’t get it back. Most importantly, we know that business is about productivity, and productivity is most often, and most worryingly impacted by time, and how we use it. Surely, we’re better equipped with technology to help in this. There’s an app for this, right? So why is it that so many people feel so pushed for time? So stressed about not having enough time, or about wanting more? How has it become so easy for us to mismanage our time? And have we even got the time to find out?

Modern life increasingly piles us high with extra demands on our time. The frenetic pace of life, in and out of the workplace, brings extra strains, extra stresses. Sometimes its all we can do just to keep up. Often, it feels like the harder we pedal ourselves up the hill, the slower we move. It can all be overwhelming. And it’s increasingly a common feeling. 

In the second of Cornerstone On Demand’s “The State Of Workplace Productivity Report”, some interesting figures came to light. The report looks at how the way we work, where we work, and the tools we use affect our productivity. More than two thirds of the respondents to the survey stated that they feel overloaded in work, and 84% stated that they didn’t feel the overloading would be over soon. In fact, they felt that it is worsening. So the need for better time management, and for us to constantly review how we handle our time has never been more evident.

A common problematic theme in the public sector, bad or ineffective management of time can have a hugely detrimental impact on the workforce. In days gone by, it wouldn’t be unheard of for local governments, for instance, to implement new systems, a new way of working right across the board, despite of the fact that it’s relevance only applied to a small proportion of the workforce. This led to an impossible situation. Hundreds upon hundreds of working hours were spent in conference centres, with uninterested, uninspired employees learning systems that they would never need to use, and that would never have an effect on their individual job, or the way they worked. Attending the training was an extra job responsibility, an extra time killer. These top-down management decisions had a hugely detrimental impact on engagement, and therefore productivity, not to mention the impact on cost in the short and long term.

While there are possibly more time management tips available on the web than there are seconds in the day, several issues repeatedly raise their badly timed head. We find page upon page of tips on how to avoid procrastination, distraction, timing out the working day into 15 or 30 minute blocks. We get advice on setting personal daily targets, self discipline, managing meetings more effectively, managing our telephone time better, organising our workspace, to do lists…..and on, and on. Endless solutions for an ageless problem. And all of them valid targets in the hunt for greater productivity. And just the fact that there are so many of them is proof of the importance we attach to our time, and how we use it. Maybe that is the key. Maybe the answer is for us to learn to use time, to make it work for us, rather than allowing it to enslave us. Either way, it is useful to understand how and why the 84% mentioned in the Cornerstone report find themselves overloaded in work.

There were three main areas in which the respondents felt overworked. Work, Information and Tech seem to be the predominant worrying factors here. When asked which of these factors was most damaging to their individual productivity, 61% responded saying work was the most damaging, highlighting the central point of overwork or overload. A worryingly high figure. However, balanced against that, only 16% stated that technology was harmful to their work. The obvious point to take from this is that there surely still exists an opportunity to further harness the power of technology to help employees with their workload. A chance to change not the work itself, but the way we carry it out. We’ll come back to that. Correspondingly, only 23% of workers said that they felt an overload of information was detrimental to their productivity, which would suggest that with more information, or more specifically targeted information, the harm to their workload would be reduced.

Our working environment, and how we interact with it is also a key factor in how we manage our time. While some people benefit from working and interacting with colleagues while they work, others prefer less distractions, a more solitary way of working. In the Cornerstone report, 37% of responders stated that a closed office situation actually improved their productivity, with only 19% saying that an open office plan was beneficial. Overwhelmingly, it was millenials who found the open office situation harmful to their productivity. Perhaps this is a demographic issue, with older generations more used to working on a single task at a time, heads down, no distraction, until the job is completed. 

In terms of where we work, technology can play a much bigger role. Remote working has many benefits, and while it doesn't necessarily work for everyone, some report that they find themselves more productive when working remotely. Certainly, technology helps here. 65% reported in this survey that they believed the flexibility that remote working brought helped their productivity. Trust is an issue here. While just under 50% replied saying they thought their employers would trust them to stay productive working remotely, in actual fact, less than one fifth of the workforce are actually doing so.

Again, this relies on workers’ time management skills being self driven, but maybe employers would want some how to see evidence of their productivity, a way, perhaps, of quantifying the employee.

Wearable technology. More and more we will see such technology in play in the workplace as the baby boomers retire, and the workplace world gets handed down to the touchscreen generation, those Millennials. The figures on this, highlighted in the Cornerstone report, are impressive.

Two thirds of responders say they would be prepared to use wearable tech, and of those already doing so, a staggering 71% think that it has eased their workload by helping with their productivity. And from companies’ perspective, a point of interest in terms of quantifying the employee, or measuring the productivity, more than three quarters said they would happily use tech that would track their performance, especially if incentivised by reward such as financial, extra holidays, shorter working hours, or a more flexible schedule. Food for thought, certainly.

Some fascinating insights in how to tackle the overload that colleagues feel in their working life. Again, not everything works for everyone, but in the quest for greater productivity, we must find a way to override the overload.