Use Your Time Wisely

by | Oct 19, 2015

Do you remember being told as a child to “Use your time wisely?” followed by “Time is money”, and when all else failed, “Stop wasting your time!”  By themselves none of those statements had the long-term intended effect because as children we had “all the time in the world”.  Furthermore, being told to STOP anything failed to instruct us on what to START doing and how to do it.

Truthfully, productivity problems never really surprise me, but the evidence about failing personal productivity always does.  My fellow consultant, Brian Lassiter, laid out a compelling description of the problem in his August newsletter which he titled “Why More Hours Lead to Less Productivity.”   He cited evidence and reputable sources like:

“According to a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article by Sarah Green Carmichael, there is a large body of research suggesting that – regardless of our reasons for working long hours – overwork does NOT help us.”  

What could possibly get in the way of more productivity with more hours?  A LOT!  Brian notes:

  • Numerous studies by Marianna Virtanen of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health indicate that overwork and the resulting stress can lead to all sorts of health problems, including impaired sleep, depression, heavy drinking, diabetes, impaired memory, and heart disease.  As the HBR article indicates, not only are these bad on individuals’ health, they negatively impact organizational outcomes as well, such as absenteeism, health insurance costs, productivity, and turnover.
  • According to a separate Dec. 2014 HBR article, if you’re in management or any other number of white-collar, office-type jobs that require judgment, interpersonal communication, or managing your own emotional intelligence, overworking causes additional stress, exhaustion, and reduces your effectiveness even more.
  • Finally, even if you enjoy your work and the long hours are self-induced, a 2006 study shows that the fatigue still takes its toll: only 1-3% of the population can sleep 5-6 hours a night without any impact on performance.  For the 97-99% of the rest of us, that impact manifests itself in more errors, mistakes, work accidents, along with the less measurable but definite negative impact on judgment and decision making.

As consultants we can’t simply state problems without seeking solutions.  But the process starts to go wrong when we change our question from “What’s the problem?” to “Why is it happening?”  With this “What to Why” shift we become trapped in a psychoanalyst’s mind.  Worse yet, if that mind were educated in classical psychology, it was taught that the profound question was:  “Is the problem due to heredity or to environment?”  While quite a question to ponder, the answers usually led nowhere because at that time we had no model for genetic heritability, and so we defaulted to the only imaginable choice, environment, as the main answer.

Today, however, Psychology knows that environment by itself doesn’t cause things to happen nor does it change things that are happening.  We now understand more clearly that human behavior is a wonderfully complex mixture of an INTERNAL ENVIRONMENT with thoughts, feelings, dreams, expectations, attitudes and more, and an EXTERNAL ENVIRONMENT rich with conditioned stimuli, probabilistic events, reward hierarchies, controlled external variables and inevitable measurable consequences such as rate of response, latency, duration, return on investment and so on.

Even as the field of psychology devoted most of the 20th century to the pursuit of truth about environment and its control of learned behavior, a nagging awareness and an inescapable reality took hold:  Internal mental, physiological and biochemical factors predict and control  behavior as well as if not better than external environment manipulations could do.  The implication:

Simply creating a controlled environment of behavioral rules, dos and don’ts will not work to improve productivity because productivity is an internal state of thought, emotion, goal expectations and other qualities yet to be imagined.

While the problem of diminishing productivity might seem self-evident the solutions are far from it.  Suggestions of what not to do and what actions to do instead are all external situational changes.  But effective productivity is driven by internal disposition, not external situations.  To improve productivity for the long run managers have to change employees’ immediate internal dispositions.

In Stephen Covey’s book, First Things First, he mentions the subject of “clock or compass.”

  • The clock is our EVER-PRESENT SITUATION.  It represents our commitments, opportunities, schedules, goals, activities, what we do with and how we manage our time.
  • The compass represents our CHOICES FOR DISPOSING OF OUR ENERGY, our “DISPOSITION”. It’s made up from our vision, our values, our principles, our mission, our conscience, our direction, what we feel is important and how we lead our lives. Which do you put first?  Are your long-range dispositions in line with your daily situations?

What is your #1 most important goal right now? Are your action steps, your activities, taking you in the right direction? I want my life to be full and fulfilled. I hope that’s true for you too.

By Allen M. “Dr. Al” Raffetto, Ph.D.

Allen M. Raffetto, Ph.D., the group’s founder, brings together psychology and business for clients throughout North America. He has worked extensively with companies in the Midwest since 1983.

Dr. Raffetto holds degrees in psychology from Stanford University (B.A.), San Francisco State University (M.A.) and the University of North Dakota, (Ph.D.). His specialized area, cognitive psychology, includes studies of human learning, memory, perception and information processing.

He was a member of the faculty and Chairman of the Psychology Department at Beloit College from 1969 to 1984. During those years Dr. Raffetto also held research appointments at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied the reading process, and at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, where he participated in an on-going study of how medical education transforms bright students into practicing physicians.

Follow Dr. Raffetto on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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