Work - Life Balance: Boosting Efficiency?

Boosting Efficiency?

Author: Silvia Buonpadre Post date: 02-01-2018

Does mastering efficiency really free up your time, make you more relaxed at work and improve employees’ productivity?

Are you sure you are using your time wisely? Do you know how to improve efficiency to boost productivity? Are you struggling to manage everything you need to do? Do you want to track down how much time is spending on each task?

How many times have seen books’ titles, seminars, work-life balance consultants and apps asking these questions and, in doing so, promote the culture of efficiency? The notion of ‘boosting efficiency’  is jotted in so often and so casually that we all assume to know what it means and that it is a positive goal to achieve.

Of course, being organized and having clear goals can be helpful, but, the way it is nowadays interpreted (do more work in less time), is efficiency really a good thing?

For that, we have to go back to its origin, in the early 20th century, in the US, where engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor first started the Efficiency Movement. Regarded as the first management consultant, Taylor’s method – scientifically breaking down tasks, constantly overseeing employees’ work and development, and surgically eliminating waste in all areas (economical and personal) – has dictated the work life of capitalist and even non capitalist countries ever since.

Fast forward to today and it is easy to see how the same approach to life is adopted and promoted by productivity gurus and companies’ managers. Taylor’s method is not only, I dare say, classist but it carries the danger of alienating and burning out workers.

What we are seeing, in fact, is that the overwhelming  rise of apps and work practices to teach us to constantly keep time under control, get more things done and be more productive have trapped us in yet another obsessive and more stressful loop. After all, if you now have all the tools to manage your time and be more efficient, you should have no excuses for falling behind your workload. Right?  Wrong.

Those are some of the ‘wrong attitudes’ about being more efficient:

  1. It’s not just technology’s fault. In his book, The End of Absence, journalist Michael Harris reclaims the importance of disconnection and of having time to think, which have been lost due to new technologies. He makes a compelling case about how smartphones, YouTube, social media and so on are dictating how we spend our time and how we organize our work. However, it is not just technology’s fault: it is us. We are the ones that are constantly searching for new apps to manage our schedule, it is us that never switch off our work smartphones and it is us that do not really value our leisure time. 
  2. If you slack off, slack off! I have briefly mentioned this in my previous post. Instead of jumping from one YouTube video to another while your colleagues/managers cannot see you, or keep checking your Facebook feed or your incoming messages, just take a proper break. It is way more relaxing and creative to go for a quick walk around the office building or leaving the desk to grab a coffee than just pretending to work and getting distracted. 
  3. Be prepared to go off schedule. Emergencies or a last minute changes in project are inevitable. Don’t fight them, work around them. This often means that your carefully planned day can go off schedule. That is OK. Stressing over it or taking the remaining tasks home will not do you any good and, in most cases, it will hinder the quality of your work. 
  4. Don’t bring the ‘efficiency attitude’ into your leisure time. We all have different preferences on how to spend our free time  but, whatever you do, do not try to make it productive and organized at all costs – in short, do not treat it like work. It is perfectly acceptable to go for a run even if you are not training for a marathon, or to read a book even if it is not related to your career.

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