Work less, make more

Maybe this doesn’t apply when you’re trying to juggle a 9-5 job and writing or you’re a writer with a baby on your arm half the day, but there is an argument that the number of hours you work does not equal the amount you get done.

A properly dry academic research paper by John Pencavel looked into it and 25 pages later concluded:

This re-examination of the recommendations relating to hours of work of the HMWC finds them
broadly consistent with our analysis: at the levels of working hours in 1915 and 1916 during the War, hours reductions would have had small or no damaging effects on output; those weeks without a day of rest from work had about ten percent lower output than weeks when there was no work on Sunday holding weekly hours constant; night work was not less productive than day work and, indeed, may have been slightly more productive.

The Productivity of Working Hours – discussion paper no. 8129 – John Pencavel, Stanford University and IZA (April 2014)

That link is to the full PDF of the research paper so only click it if you’re really interested in this stuff to academic detail.

If you’re not, it boils down to how working 55 hours can achieve the same results as working 70 and I think we knew that. We ignore it and press on into the night, but the quality of our work and the speed drops stone-like after a while.

So don’t do that, okay?

Via LinkedIn and

Know your limits by setting them

Today I started around 7am, I’m going to write until about 4pm, then I’ve various errands I need to do and I’ll cook at maybe 6:30pm. That’s nice.


This is new. It’s new for me or at least it’s fairly new since I lost my biggest single client as a freelance writer. Wait – I’ve just looked that up: it was three years ago next month. Unbelievable. Is that really right? Only three? Feels like a decade. It seemed like such a bad day at the time but, wow, I wish it had happened sooner.

Anyway, having a big regular client gives you structure in two ways, doesn’t it? There is the time you have agreed or are contracted to work with them. That stops you doing anything else, gloriously it also removes the churning as you think constantly about what is the best thing you could be doing right now. What can you do this minute that will help you? Nothing. You’re committed, you’re contracted. Stop churning, get working.

This type of contract also defines the rest of your time: it is the bits when you’re not working for them and so therefore must get all your other work done. What is the best thing to do at this minute? Work.

When that contract goes and you’re suddenly doing much more irregular and many, many, many more jobs all at once, the structure of your working life changes. I’d say for the better: I have come to adore jumping from one job to another, switching tasks a dozen times a day. Do note that I say switching: I will always and forever do one thing and then do the other, I will not attempt multitasking. I’ve learnt that much at least.

However, switching and jumping plus irregular and many, many, many more jobs does rather mean that you can be always working. I like this. I like this a lot.

But I have felt overwhelmed this year and when I’m being close to nasty about how good or bad my work is, I can’t help but note that longer days do not get better results.

So yesterday I tried laying out one hour on this, one hour on that, plus not checking emails until the top of the hour. This is all stuff I advocated in my book The Blank Screen and it is all stuff that I have learnt to do, that I have regularly done. But somehow doing it again in the midst of feeling under water, it helped even more.

I’m trying it again today. It means I know what I’m doing for the next several hours and I know when I’m stopping. Which means that for once I can tell you I will be having a very good time tonight relaxing with a copy of Pride and Prejudice.

I’m actually looking forward to that. The evening is now a thing to look forward to instead of just a different set of numbers on the clock.

Happy for me, isn’t it? But I hope you can do this too. Right up to re-reading P&P, though get your own copy. Obviously.

Turn your To Do tasks into an art project

There are principles here that I like very much but it’s also heavily paper- and sticker-based and I just can’t handle Post-It Notes and colouring in. So I won’t be following Kelly Maguire’s exact advice but it’s terribly interesting how she turned her life around with a felt-tip pen:

For the past few months I’ve been waking up in a cold sweat freaking out about things I forgot to take care of. A lot of it is little — like forgetting to schedule a hair appointment until after they’ve closed for the day. Some of it is bigger — like the Kickstarter I did a few years ago that fizzled out. And a few things are huge — like the fact that I completely bungled my corporate tax filings for the last three years.

With some nudging from my therapist and support from my husband, I finally managed to get on top of things. My to-do list has gone from “deal with three years of back taxes” to more mundane stuff like “clean up the dried paint in the bathroom.” I used a handful of different strategies to gain control, which I’ll detail in a sec, but the biggest key to staying motivated has been to turn it into something like an art project.

Time management as an art project – Kelly Maguire, Offbeat Home (1 January 2015)

One thing she uses is called a Chronodex and you’ll see why she likes it plus she tells you where to get them for yourself, but that’s not a Chronodex…

…that’s Moonbase Alpha.

Read the full piece.

To work better, work less

I feel busted. I am guilty of every single thing in this article about our attitudes to working long hours. And I am going to do something about it, even if I have to work all the hours god sends me.

It has long been known that working too much leads to life-shortening stress. It also leads to disengagement at work, as focus simply cannot be sustained for much more than 50 hours a week. Even Henry Ford knew the problem with overwork when he cut his employees’ schedules from 48-hour weeks to 40-hour weeks. He believed that working more than 40 hours a week had been causing his employees to make many errors, as he recounted in his autobiography, My Life and Work.

…It seems silly that many work long hours simply for the sake of having worked long hours. Perhaps the reason people overwork even when it is not for “reward, punishment, or obligation” is because it holds great social cachet. Busyness implies hard work, which implies good character, a strong education, and either present or future affluence. The phrase, “I can’t; I’m busy,” sends a signal that you’re not just an homme sérieux, but an important one at that.

There is also a belief in many countries, the United States especially, that work is an inherently noble pursuit. Many feel existentially lost without the driving structure of work in their life—even if that structure is neither proportionally profitable nor healthy in a physical or psychological sense.

To Work Better, Work Less – Cody C Delistraty, The Atlantic (8 August 2014)