60+ hours survival guide

Laura Stack — №16 with Les McKeown

We’ve all heard the admonition to “work smarter, not harder”… and 20 years ago, that might have made sense. But that particular cliché has been killed from overuse. Nowadays we all take working smarter as a given, and many professions sneer at the traditional 40-hour workweek as no better than part-time. Many professionals often work 50 or 60 hour weeks just to meet our minimum job requirements — the extreme workweek.

Time management on steroids

Even for a traditional workweek, productivity requires careful planning, persistence, and unremitting time management efforts. An extreme workweek is all that — on steroids. To win, you will need to formulate a logical battle plan, focus on your primary goals and attack your to-do list head on. You should schedule time to work on tasks that support your strategic priorities, and do your best to stick to your plan. But since you can’t account for everything in advance, remain somewhat flexible as you navigate your week. Drop or push aside the things that matter least as other priorities arise — and make sure you understand the difference between what truly matters and what doesn’t. Spend some time each week reviewing your schedule and progress, so you’ll know what to revamp for next time. Make changes in advance of a crisis.

Then hone your concentration, avoiding multitasking. Cut off excessive social interaction and distractions from texting, social media, and the Internet as a whole. Take brief breaks occasionally and make sure you get away from your desk for lunch — but don’t waste time!

Don’t let negative self-talk spoil your battle plan, either. Complaining, even to yourself, drains your energy and will drag you down. Focus on the now, telling yourself you can do it. If you resent your long workweeks, or if they cause you physical or psychological damage, do something about it when you can. Don’t obsess on it today; otherwise, you’ll shoot holes in your workplace productivity in the here-and-now.

Everything in its place

Tighten up your organizational skills and processes. Make your filing systems (both paper and electronic) easy to use and navigate, so you can relocate information within seconds — and make sure you immediately file everything you receive. Clean up workspace clutter, including your computer’s desktop, so it doesn’t distract you. Make it easy to find your office supplies; if you can’t grab something in a second or two, you’ve put a crimp in your productivity. Purge anything you don’t regularly need, and limit the number of plants and gizmos you must pay attention to.

A good personal organizational system makes structuring your work time easier. As long as it fits my “HUG criteria” — Handy, Usable, and Garbage-free — your system can be paper-based, electronic, or some hybrid of both. At the bare minimum, include all your personal, professional, and family schedules in your system, along with detailed contact information for everyone you interact with at work — co-workers, bosses, distributors, vendors, clients, etc.

Assert your electronic authority

Computers, handhelds, the Internet and email have made us so productive we work harder than ever simply because we can. However, the same technology also allows us to waste more time, even when we think we’re really working.

Do you stop to check your email whenever you hear your email alert ding? Big mistake. It may take just a few minutes to answer a message and return to work, but then you have to refocus. And just as you get back on track — ding!

Social media now offers even more opportunities for distraction. Too often, we excessively check and respond to Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn as soon as something changes, frittering away productive time. Even if you spend just ten extra minutes per workday tweeting, by the end of a year you’ll have wasted 40+ hours (if it’s not part of your job). Imagine what you might have accomplished instead.

Stop kowtowing to your electronic masters. They exist for one reason: to help you get your work done, not to take over your life and hinder your productivity. Handle email a few times a day and stick to your focus schedule.

Take care of yourself

High energy is the key to maintaining your productive edge. A number of health-related factors influence your personal energy supply. The most critical include adequate sleep, good nutrition, and regular exercise.

Insufficient sleep can cause a variety of negative effects, from exhaustion to obesity. Lack of sleep causes an overproduction of ghrelin, a natural appetite stimulant, while inhibiting the production of leptin, an appetite suppressant — so bad sleep habits make you hungrier! Most experts recommend 7—9 hours of sleep a night.

Diet has a huge effect on energy levels. First of all: don’t skip meals, especially breakfast, so you won’t suffer a blood sugar crash that kills your productivity. When you eat, limit portion sizes and avoid overindulging in starchy and sugary foods. Carrying around even a few extra pounds can harm your energy budget, and thus your productivity. As for liquids, stay hydrated; drink plenty of water, while limiting your intake of stimulants like cola and coffee.

Exercise also safeguards you against the stresses of the extreme workweek, helping you control your weight, work off frustrations, and otherwise keep the blood pumping and your energy levels high. It doesn’t take much: as little as 20—30 minutes per day can keep you on an even keel. I’m a big fan of “subversive exercise” — sneaking little bits of exercise into your day. Taking the stairs rather than the elevator, pacing the office while using a speakerphone or a headset, or doing leg lunges while reading a report can help you stay energetic. If you can spare the time, consider establishing a more formal workout routine, too.

The relative importance of each leg of this health triumvirate varies from person to person; no single prescription works for everyone. It’s up to you to juggle them to see which mix works best for you. Just remember: while you can get by for a while without an ideal balance, if you ignore any of them for too long, your productivity will eventually plummet.

The bottom line

The 40-hour workweek has become a rarity, even though working 60+ hours a week is generally counter-productive. At the moment, though, many of us just have to accept what our leaders hand us, on pain of unemployment.

If you find yourself in this situation, don’t despair. You can survive the extreme workweek with your productivity intact, as long as you take care of yourself and leverage your time management skills to the utmost. Follow the pointers outlined here, stay positive, and you’ll pull through.

Photo: Flickr / JD Hancock CC BY 2.0

Laura stack

Laura Stack

Laura Stack is America’s Premier Expert in Productivity. For over 20 years, her speeches have helped entrepreneurs, leaders, teams, and organizations improve output, lower stress, and save time at work and in life. Her company, The Productivity Pro®, Inc., provides time management workshops around the globe to help attendees achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®.

Laura's The Productivity Pro® Follow @LauraStack on Twitter Get Laura's book - What to do when there is too much to do?