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Effectiveness vs time spent.

Effectiveness vs time spent.

If you have read any of my work on this blog, you will realise that whatever I do, I want to seek out the most efficient way to do it.

I find it absurd to work hard, without finding out if you can achieve more by looking at the problem you are working on and doing it more efficiently.

As homo sapiens, one of the greatest tools we have is our imagination and our ability to think creatively. Yet in this modern world, the vast majority of people have buried this and ability in favour of rationality. As a result, the idea of creatively thinking about a problem and coming up with a novel solution to things, rather than hammer at the way it has always been done, is not done by as many people as it should.

Furthermore, working hard has become a virtue, a badge of honour. “I was working on this until 1.30 in the morning”, is a story of heroic sacrifice in the name of your employer. These sorts of sacrifices do have a payoff of course. In the eyes of bosses always looking to squeeze more out of workers without paying them any more, these people become favourite employees.

Strangely enough if a worker comes to work drunk, they are a bad employee. However working while so fatigued that your decision making is as impaired as if you were drunk, you are an exemplary employee.

This perception is mired in industrial revolution thinking – more is better, nose to the grindstone and so on.

The thing is, that as a species we have advanced due to cleverness, not hard work. If we had not looked at problems throughout the history of mankind and seen if their were smarter ways to solve them, we would still be hunting with spears.

However, it can be hard to convince people that working smarter for a shorter time is more effective than working harder for a long time, due to the ingrained nose to the grindstone mindset.

A few examples where this is the case, and where this is being resisted due to the prevailing culture (in my case being part of the Anglosphere, which I consider the worst for this kind of thinking).

The prime one is education. This is the best example. What we are looking for is results, not time expended. If you can measure results it can become clear what approach is best.

As it happens, when the results are measured, the Finnish education system is the best in the world. The children there don’t start school until 7 and go to school for only 4 hours a day (including lunch breaks).

This is not open to debate by the way. It’s a fact that Finnish education system is one of the best in the world.

Another thing about education is the idea that the best way to learn something is by actually having a short nap after the lesson. This is in direct contrast to the idea that you must cram and cram. That is the classic heroic ideal of students burning the midnight oil.

Having a nap after a class? slacker! It doesn’t matter that this is the best way to learn; culturally it’s unacceptable.

There are many observations you can make of how learning in the Anglo culture is made hard because of prevailing nose to the grindstone/virtue of hard work/martyrdom culture.

It gets ridiculous when you go to a university and do one of the standard courses that they put in about stuff like human communication early in the degree. They teach you all this stuff about presenting ideas in bullet points with plenty of white space with no more than 5-7 points per subject. They also teach you that people learn best in blocks of 30 to 40 minutes.

Then, for the rest of the degree, you get text book after text book with dense slabs of text in direct contrast to this and book in 2 hour lectures. What is the purpose of this? Is it to impart knowledge, or is it to make it so hard to get the knowledge that only the most dedicated succeed?

Moving from education to work, I have already written about the 52:17 method of working – which is working solidly for 52 minutes, then taking a 17 minute break. This is actually been found to be the most productive way of working.

Of course, once again this doesn’t sit well with the nose to the grindstone crowd. And that is a huge problem. There are so many people in management positions who simply don’t have the flexibility of thought to accept that by working smarter you actually get MORE done, rather than less. They can’t see past their own prejudices.

Similarly, I recall reading of a company in England that moved to a 4 day work week and suffered no drop in productivity. Apparently productivity was so low on Fridays that dropping it as a work day simply didn’t register.

The latest idea I have heard of and adopted is the 5 hour work day. I now work in 5 blocks of 52:17, giving me a work day of 5 hours and 45 minutes. It’s a simple concept really. The idea is that if I stick to the traditional 8 hour day, do I get more done or do I just fill in the time for 8 hours? Time will tell.

Parkinson’s law says that “work expands to fill the time available for it’s completion”.  If you are given 5 hours to complete your allocated work, there is a pretty good chance that you will get as much done in that 5 hours as in the 8 hours you previously used. Why not give it a try?

I realise that many people are still tied to the 8 hour day by default. I hope that if you are reading this and you are one of those people, this article may be the catalyst that starts the process whereby you assess your life and make the changes you need to make to be the one in control of your working life.

About The Author


A guy obsessed with stripping down whatever field he studies to get the optimum return from effort expended. Sort of like Tim Ferriss, except with zero fame.

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