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3 Ways to Make Work Urgent Instead of Exhausting

This Entrepreneur contributor's company implemented a five-hour workday. An uptick in efficiency resulted. Could this work for you?
3 Ways to Make Work Urgent Instead of Exhausting
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Can you imagine working 130 hours in a week? Former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer can. She even considers such a workload to be the key to startup success.

Related: 10 Habits You Should Ditch Now to Bring Productivity to an All-Time High

Mayer also considers this work overload to be viable if you simply schedule sleeping, showering and bathroom breaks strategically. According to Mayer, startups that don’t pull regular all-nighters are unlikely to succeed.

While that notion aligns with the traditional work ethic we all subscribe to, that assumed link between all-nighters and success is not always the case. I once ran a poker chip business in which I worked the typical 40-hour week we all strive for. Then, through some tweaking, I drastically cut that weekly commitment down to 12 hours, a 70 percent reduction that still didn’t mess with my bottom line.

Some people may not be on board with my claim. Since at least the 20th century, showing up early and staying late has virtually defined the ambitious professional. But, are logged hours really the best indicator of productivity and effectiveness?

We now live in a world that runs on efficiency and maximizes dollar-per-hour accumulation. Smart, forward-thinking businesspeople and companies currently adhere to this philosophy. If they can apply it and thrive from it, anybody can.

Related: 4 Methods to Increase Employee Productivity

Reinvent the (production) wheel.

On average, research shows that most entrepreneurs put in about 60 hours a week, which makes a lot of sense when you’re just starting out. In a business' infancy, it seems rational to spend as much time as possible developing opportunities.

But take a closer look at those long days. Productivity starts to drop at the 50-hour-a-week mark and plummets after 55 hours. Rationally, that makes sense. Do you think Mayer was getting a lot done beyond that 100-hour plateau?

Overwork is shown to lead directly to health problems, absenteeism, turnover and productivity losses. It's as detrimental to employers as it is to employees, so why do we continue to push ourselves to work harder rather than smarter?

The reality is that all of us, you included, find ways to do more in less time. We use technology, collaboration and life hacks to accomplish a day’s worth of work in just a few hours. The rest of the time gets spent on Facebook, fantasy football and whatever else.

The disparity between expectation and reality is at such a point that we need to embrace a radical new way of thinking about work. Because, if today’s economy is a game of efficiency, why don’t we prioritize working as efficiently as possible?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that while productivity has gone up ninefold since 1947, the number of hours worked has only doubled. Obviously, we are already doing a lot more with less, but imagine what would happened if everyone's organizations used that concept to its advantage.

Related: 5 Ways to Make Your Employees Happier and More Productive

Make the most out of not a lot.

Instead of just talking about the need for a productivity shakeup, I decided to install one of my own. My company implemented a five-hour workday in every department, leading to an efficiency uptick rather than a huge decline. Not only is everyone more productive, but they are also spending less time at work and more time on friends, family and leisure activities.

What is essential to understand is that simply cutting back hours is not enough to reap the rewards of a shorter workday. You also need to evolve the culture of work to be less obsessed with the time clock and more so with the real output of work. Here are three strategies that have worked for our team:

1. Mark the minutes (and seconds). 

The Pareto Principle says that 80 percent of your productive output is created in 20 percent of the time you spend creating it. The inverse of this principle reveals that 80 percent of your time is basically wasted. We encourage our team members to track their time and efforts carefully. Have your respective departments identify the 20 percent of their time when they’re hyperproductive, and tell them to cut out everything else.

2. Take advantage of technology. 

A study by the Boston Consulting Group revealed that an estimated 1.2 million robots will work manufacturing floors in the United States by 2025. Technology’s effect on productivity can’t be understated and needs to be embraced.

Our entire staff works a five-hour day, warehouse workers included. They accomplish more now than they did before because they have been forced to embrace new technologies. Necessity has required them to try new things and find better ways of approaching every task. Now, our warehouse, like our other departments, is a finely tuned machine.

3. Make it worth their while. 

Sweetening the pot for employees never hurt anything. In fact, Genesis Associates, a U.K.-based recruiting firm, found that 85 percent of surveyed employees gained extra motivation when incentives were introduced.

At the same time that we rolled out our five-hour workday, we introduced a profit-sharing program. The model sets aside 5 percent of profits and distributes them to all employees based on merit. The average employee now earns an extra $8,000 annually, while some top producers earn much more.

Paul Downs, CEO of Paul Downs Cabinetmakers, also introduced profit-sharing to his employees, which didn't spark much fanfare at first mention. It did, however, inspire a shift in company culture and increase profits during its first quarter. Once Downs was able to show employees the fruit of their labor, they took that excitement and urgency back to work.

So, do something similar: Directly tie income to performance and remove earning ceilings. That action can serve as a powerful motivator to help people find the very best ways of working.

Imagine the sea change the American workforce would undergo if we all adopted a production mindset. Everyone would strive toward and be rewarded for achieving their best, and we would feel comfortable leaving the office for home knowing success isn’t fueled by midnight oil.

Related: How to Use Technology to Increase Productivity, Not Distract You

Start thinking about quality over quantity when it comes to work. It’ll put your enterprise in a position where optimization -- not overexertion -- is the only option.

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