Did you know: the eight-hour workday that governs our lives today has its roots in the Industrial Revolution? In response to 16-hour factory work days in the early 1800s, Welsh labour activist Robert Owen coined the slogan, “Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.” It was 100+ years before the movement caught on in the U.S., when Henry Ford made waves by cutting work hours from 16 to eight—while simultaneously doubling wages.
The result? Greater productivity. Yet it’s important to note that the nature of the “work” being done at that time was dramatically different than the work white-collar workers typically do today. As a business leader and leadership keynote speaker, what I do is cerebral, not physical. And it seems as if the work day is due for some more disruption. A recent U.K. study found that of the 8.8 hours workers logged every day, they were productive for only three hours.
How they spent their “leisure” time won’t surprise you; from social media to online news and chatting with co-workers, they’re all activities you’re likely engaging in as well. But FIVE HOURS? It’s astounding, and just knowing that number has inspired me to put more focus on…well, focus! Here are five habits I’m working to avoid that can throw you off your game.
1. Mobile Mania
Do you keep your phone on your nightstand, and reach for it the moment you wake up in the morning? I had got into this habit, under the premise that it was more productive to start “working” the minute I was conscious. But according to experts, including Google Design Ethicist Tristan Harris, our phones have become benevolent dictators in our lives.
“When we wake up in the morning and turn our phone over to see to list of notifications,” says Harris, “it frames the experience of waking up in the morning around a menu of all the things I’ve missed since yesterday.” This experience instantly hijacks our mornings—and our minds—jacking up our stress response and throwing us into major catch-up mode.
According to Psychology Today, smartphone addiction is a very real issue; for some of us, simply noticing our own tendencies is enough to help us cut back. If it’s not, you might try imposing some boundaries around phone use. Temporal boundaries, like restricting social media to a certain hour every day, can be helpful; physical boundaries, like deleting your news apps from your phone, will remove the temptation entirely.
2. Media Overload
I’m not against entertainment; during my leadership keynote speaker travels, I’ll often take breaks from working on my presentation to catch up on a Netflix show and give my brain a quick break. It’s also a great way to decompress at the end of the night.
But let’s be clear about something: on weeknights, “taking a break” or “winding down” doesn’t mean bingeing five hours of your favorite show. About 70% of Americans are admitted binge-watchers, and recent studies have linked regular binge sessions (watching more than two hours of TV on daily basis) to insomnia, poor sleep quality and fatigue.
3. Wet Weeknights
Social drinking is deeply ingrained in business culture, both in the U.S. and the U.K., and I’m not against it, in principle; work get-togethers are an easy way to blow off steam and forge deeper bonds with your team. But whether I’m traveling on the leadership keynote speaker circuit or leading my team on home turf, I don’t make a habit of drinking on weeknights.
Productivity expert Chris Bailey puts it this way: drinking alcohol borrows energy from tomorrow. Like television, alcohol is known to compromise sleep quality; it can impact your moods as well. Even if you’re not consuming enough alcohol to experience a real hangover, you’re likely to feel tired and sluggish—which means you’re starting your day with a deficit.
4. Meeting Max-Out
The average professional spends an 15 days a year in meetings—that’s more than 30 hours per month, if you’re counting. Another study found that the average meeting costs an organization $338 in staff salary time; that’s a lot for something many feel is an unproductive chore! Meetings are such an important topic, I’ve given them an entire post.
One of the first things that my mentor, Frank, did when he joined the company years ago was to limit ALL meetings to an hour. “If we can take care of business in 30 minutes,” he added, “so much the better.” Giving your meetings a solid agenda, clear objectives and an enforceable time limit will ensure topics don’t veer away from the issues at hand.
5. Business Burnout
Now that you’re in beast mode, I’m going to ask you to add the most important of ALL tasks, self-care, to your daily to-do list—and, as with the other items on this list, I ask that you treat it with focused attention. As a busy corporate leader and leadership keynote speaker, it’s easy to put self-care on the back-burner; here’s how I keep it front-of-mind.
I start my day with 20 minutes of meditation, 10 minutes of yoga or stretching and an hour of educational reading or work on an important project, followed by breakfast. Only then do I turn on my phone or laptop, check my emails or return phone calls. By making self-care priority one, I find that I’m happier and more productive on most days, and as a result—more successful.