How to Be Productive: Stop Working

By Margaret Heffernan

Ed. Note: We all need to be reminded about the values of focus, concentration and mindfulness. Heffernan does that from her background for 13 years as a producer for BBC Radio and Television before running her first company. She has since been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom, and has been named one of the Internet’s Top 100 by Silicon Alley Reporter.

“Shouldn’t we all be working as hard as we can? Who has the luxury of time? What do you mean weekends aren’t for working?

Well, for the last 100 years, every productivity study in every industry has come to the same conclusion: after about 40 hours in a week, the quality of your work starts to degrade. You make mistakes. That’s why working 60 hours may not save you time or money: you’ll spend too much of that time fixing the mistakes you shouldn’t have made in the meantime. That’s why software companies that limit work to 35 hours a week need to employ fewer QA engineers: there isn’t as much mess to clean up.

In a knowledge economy, where thinking and creativity are the raw materials from which products and profit flow, brains are assets. They need to be cherished, nurtured and protected, not abused. Leaders need to take seriously a century’s evidence that 1) overwork doesn’t make us productive, it makes us stupid, 2) looking away from a problem is often the best way to solve it, and 3) burnout is what happens when people are asked to work in ways that obliterate all other parts of their lives.

Also: we need to hammer the last nail into the coffin of multi-tasking. No, you can’t safely drive and hold conference calls, nor can you text while driving. And checking emails while in meetings means you may as well not be there. What modern businesses need isn’t distracted Blackberry addicts but [instead, modern businesses need] human beings who haven’t forgotten the gifts of focus, concentration and mindfulness.”

[Heffernan's comment was originally posted on August 10, 2010 on B/Net.]