"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Working Late Is Vastly Overrated–No Epitaph Ever Read “He Spent A Lot Of Time At The Office”

Brent Oakley had never been accused of working too hard.  His work was always a necessary vehicle for the real ride – the accomplished and fun life.  At the same time he was never indifferent, he took his responsibilities seriously, and always produced high quality work. 

One of the ways Brent was able to keep a work-life balance which was favorably tilted towards life was to be work with an intensity that crowded out intrusions and distractions; to get up in the very early hours of the morning, to work in total isolation, and to never, ever waste time.  At the office he never doodled, took coffee breaks, chatted with colleagues, or stared out at the window-washers squeegeeing the glass walls on the big boxes across K Street.  He shut his door, turned off the phone, put a Do Not Disturb sign on the door, and produced more work in fewer hours than anyone else in the office.

Every extra minute that he put in on a report or proposal was a minute lost to tennis, oysters, martinis, or cinq-a-septs.

Lovers' tryst

      Frederic Soulacroix www.christies.com

Brent not only had an ability to focus entirely on the work at hand, but to organize his thoughts quickly and to uncompromisingly mark off his perimeters. There was working time – either at the computer, at the office – and play time; and there was an unbreachable firewall between them.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of the combination of these two attributes – tunnel vision and a mind that could quickly understand a problem, solve it, and organize the argument needed to justify it – was his impressive output. While some people might have turned such productivity into advancement and profit, Brent used it as a way to carve out even more play time for himself. His colleagues and bosses thought he worked all the time, because he would send emails out at 4am, and then, after leaving the office early, would send a few more off before going to bed.  His colleagues never doubted his energy and diligence because the work just kept pouring in.  He worked no more than five hours per day, claimed ten, and performed the work of 20.

Which is why an article in the New York Times (Robert Pozen, 10.6.12, They Work Long Hours but What About the Results?) is particularly interesting.   According to the author, not only were lawyers and other professionals putting in more hours at the office, many of these hours were either unproductive or unnecessary.

IT’S 5 p.m. at the office. Working fast, you’ve finished your tasks for the day and want to go home. But none of your colleagues have left yet, so you stay another hour or two, surfing the Web and reading your e-mails again, so you don’t come off as a slacker.

Image result for image office worker working late


Brent Oakley never had this problem, but apparently many others did.

One manager said: “So this one guy, he’s in the room at every meeting. Lots of times he doesn’t say anything, but he’s there on time and people notice that. He definitely is seen as a hard-working and dependable guy.” Another said: “Working on the weekends makes a very good impression. It sends a signal that you’re contributing to your team and that you’re putting in that extra commitment to get the work done.”

Image result for image playing golf beautiful course


Brent simply learned how to give the impression that he worked weekends and evenings while he did no such thing.  No one questioned his schedule nor work ethic because he always turned in the same amount of work as anyone else, often far more than required, and usually of higher quality. 

Slowly managers are realizing that they need to replace 19th century industrial labor policies and expectations with 21st century realities, Pozen goes on:

By applying an industrial-age mind-set to 21st-century professionals, many organizations are undermining incentives for workers to be efficient. If employees need to stay late in order to curry favor with the boss, what motivation do they have to get work done during normal business hours? After all, they can put in the requisite “face time” whether they are surfing the Internet or analyzing customer data. It’s no surprise, then, that so many professionals find it easy to procrastinate and hard to stay on a task.

The conclusion of many time-motion efficiency experts was this:

There is an obvious solution here: Instead of counting the hours you work, judge your success by the results you produce.

Brent Oakley smiled when he read this, although his idea of ‘quality’ was not that of the author.  He had little or no investment in the intrinsic quality of his work, only in its worth relative to others’.  That is, the more his work surpassed that of his office colleagues, the more latitude he would be given to produce it in his own way.  Which meant short hours, tunnel vision, absolute concentration, and impressive output. He readily admitted smoke and mirrors.

Few professionals entering the workforce come with Brent Oakley’s diamond-edged discipline. Most are scattered and undisciplined, have little idea of the nature of productivity, and have never been forced to produce terse, tightly worded, logical expositions of an argument.  Too often recruiters hire new workers on the basis of their academic record rather than on intelligence, quickness, and efficiency.

Much has been written these days about work-life balance, but Brent Oakley wrote the book. There was never a moment in his life when work was more important than play; and therefore his work routine was geared to one and only one result – producing the most amount of acceptable work in the least amount of time.  His strategy was on of ‘collateral benefits’.  Everyone benefitted from his efficiency.  Not only was he, within his carefully-constructed and artfully-presented work schedule, able to free himself quickly from the boring but necessary routines of the office, but his work was valued and, he was told, contributed significantly to achieving corporate goals.

Brent happened to work in a business which had a social purpose; but he was not attracted to the profession because of higher-order values, but because he could travel. Disciplined, organized, and efficient work was even easier in the developing world because standards there were so low.  He wowed his clients with his diligence, responsiveness, and productivity; but he also took three-hour lunches, long weekends, and civilized dinners.  The purpose of his ‘work’ was to enable his pleasure – hours on the beaches of Jacmel, drinks with Petit Pierre at the Olaffson, grilled lobster and Sancerre at the Grand, and romantic weekends in the Carpathians.

Image result for images grand hotel calcutta

           Oberoi Grand, Calcutta www.remotelands.com

It was naïve, Brent said, to assume that good work must be a result of conviction. He knew that commitment to value only got in the way.  Means often became more important than ends; and ends become distorted by purpose.  His work was valued because it was intelligent if not innovative; but most importantly it responded perfectly to client expectations.

Freed from moral mission, Brent was able to focus exclusively on contractual items; and within this practical and inerrantly efficient work ethic he finished his assignments well, early, and quickly.

No one would ever eulogize Brent by saying, “He spent a lot of time at the office.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.