This year marks the 80th anniversary of the legal establishment of the 40-hour workweek under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the game-changing New Deal legislation signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938. Led by members of the United Auto Workers union, the rationale of the “campaign for 40” was a five workday week, based on the 19th-century post-industrial revolution standard of eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, and eight hours for leisure. But while this ideal has now long been enshrined into labor law, for many American workers, reality isn’t living up to the promise.
TIME IS MONEY – EXCEPT WHEN IT ISN’T
According to a recent Gallup poll, half of the American adults regularly work over the 40-hour threshold and for the vast majority of those working in offices, these extra hours are uncompensated. While the argument is that white-collar workers are firstly paid well above the minimum wage, and secondly have more control over their own workflow, how many extra hours should an office worker expect to put in in order to get their work done or – perhaps more importantly – to impress higher-ups that they’re going above and beyond?
The latter question should prompt both business owners and employees to consider the value that extra hours provide, either to the company or to the worker. From the worker’s point of view, if putting in a few extra hours means being able to get ahead of a deadline and thus avoid last-minute stress, it could be argued that they are worth the temporary sacrifice of one’s leisure time. But even from the employer’s perspective, when unpaid overtime is a regular occurrence, this doesn’t necessarily result in greater productivity; conversely, it could be a sign of poor time management.
Time management isn’t just an individual issue, as recently covered in 10 Ways To Boost Productivity In The Office. Poor use of time resources can also be structural, meaning that time is being wasted across the company, resulting in longer hours, heightened stress levels, and time spent at work that is unfocused and has little benefit. Let’s look at a strategy to change this that can be implemented on a company-wide level.
ADAPT THE EISENHOWER BOX
Five-star General and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously observed, “What is important is seldom urgent. And what is urgent is seldom important.” To clearly delineate between possible combinations of the two, he devised a simple strategic device we now refer to as the Eisenhower Box. While it can be a powerful tool for prioritizing individual tasks – doing important and urgent tasks immediately, for instance – adapting his four-boxed grid exercise can also help a company to focus.
Let’s say that instead of axis lines for “important” and “urgent” tasks, we create one that categorizes projects according to “impact” and “resources.” The impact is a measure of profit, deepening customer loyalty, strengthening the brand, etc. Resources is a measure of time, effort, money, and so on. Something that ranks high on the impact scale and lows on the resources scale is obviously something that your company wants to do much more of, whereas activity low on the impact scale and high on the resources scale should be immediately eliminated. Think of this strategy like buying a luxury watch that’s been gently used instead of new. It’s about maximizing quality without the huge financial outlay.
Filling out an adapted Eisenhower Box as a senior management team or even as a project team can be a great way of engaging and focusing thinking, which means that when company resources are allocated to a certain endeavor, it’s going to be one that’s high on the impact scale. Furthermore, you won’t need to convince everyone else that that’s the case, which means the project has a built-in motivation factor.
If your company consistently prioritizes high-impact projects, even ones that require more resources, chances are good that time management will improve across the board. Employees will be more focused and have a better understanding of the purpose of their efforts. And changing corporate culture so that time spent at work is both effective and meaningful also makes room for more hours outside of work.
Also published on Medium.