Want to Be More Productive? Work Less
A premise of agile software development is sustainable pace, but even agile teams can feel pressure to put in overtime. Although some organizations reward working long hours, that practice is actually counterproductive.
After a certain point, more work does not mean more productivity. In fact, due to distractions and fatigue, eventually the more you work, the less productive you become. Research indicates that productivity often declines after fifty hours per week of work.
Washington Post columnist Jena McGregor laments the ethos that praises excessive work:
The idea that being well-rested could be a black mark against a leader is preposterous. And even if a super early wake-up time works for some people—and they're sensitive about sending out email before dawn—if you're having to get up at 4 a.m. to avoid distractions in your day, there's probably something wrong with how we're working.
There is hope. Aetna workers who track twenty nights of at least seven hours of sleep in a row on their Fitbits can get paid up to five hundred dollars a year. And Boston Consulting Group has teams designate "predictable time off" so that employees can cover for each other and all enjoy planned, uninterrupted periods off work.
Making a move to acknowledge the downside of working long hours can be tricky. You have to overcome cultural inertia: It’s difficult to be the first one to decide to work less in order to be more efficient. To ease this transition, managers should set an example that demonstrates work-life balance.
As in all things, there are exceptions. McGregor acknowledges that, while most people will benefit from moderated, predictable hours, long, nonstandard hours will work better for some. “Entrepreneurs who can kick off at 3 p.m. if they start at 4 a.m. and aren't expected to show their face until rush hour starts may love their early morning routines,” she writes. “But they should be mindful that while oddball hours or absurdly long slogs at the desk may work for them, they also set an unattainable standard for many others.” Recognizing these differences and setting reasonable expectations for everyone leads to a more productive team.
“Working smarter, not harder” actually makes a lot of sense. While there are times that working harder helps you or your team accomplish a critical goal, doing so should be a rare occurrence. Working at a sustainable pace is often the best thing for you, for the team, and for the organization.