Work Smarter, Not 24/7

Here's how you work smarter so you can go home already.

September 9, 2008, 6:15 PM

Feb. 26, 2010 — -- Prediction: At the end of 2010, when workplace writers publish their lists of the most maddening catchphrases of the year, "do more with less" will rank first.

But why wait till December to cold-cock the motto? Instead of continuing to equate working in a layoff-ravaged office with toiling around the clock, I say we start telling those last employees standing how to work smarter so they can get home for dinner at a reasonable hour.

For tips on how to avoid drowning in today's hyper productivity-minded workplace, I consulted with a handful of employees, managers, entrepreneurs and workplace experts. Here's what they had to say.

Contrary to popular belief, the road to job security isn't necessarily paved with 14-hour workdays and 1 a.m. BlackBerry replies.

"I see people focusing on the industrial ethic of working longer," said management psychologist Karissa Thacker. "But how good are your ideas if you're working 24/7, and how useful are you if you show up to work bug-eyed? Nobody's rewarding that anymore."

While Thacker doesn't advocate "slacking off," she says there's a far more effective way to get noticed than taking up permanent residence in your cubicle: opening your mouth.

"In this climate of fear, I have observed people in a meeting or on a call who had the information and didn't speak up," Thacker said. "But if you're going from meeting to meeting and you can't point out what you did that made a difference, nobody else can either."

As the new reality TV series "Undercover Boss" has shown, management doesn't always have as clear a grasp as their staff does on customer needs and workflow inefficiencies. If you're the person closest to a client or project and you're sitting on a game-changing detail, you're missing a prime opportunity to prove yourself invaluable, Thacker said.

"Find ways to make what you know about the front line of the business or the execution of the operation heard," she advised. "That's high impact."

Head Off Meetings at the Pass

Of course, no one's suggesting you cram more meetings into your jam-packed workweek. If you're like most employees, you're already attending far too many of them.

Take "Max," an employee at an insurance company "rife with acronyms and drunk on meetings."

To stop the conference room insanity, he's had to get a little sneaky these past six months.

"At the start of every week, I book as much project time on my calendar as I can, using various abbreviations like TPS Proj Time, ICP Strategy or TQT Ideation," said the Madison, Wisc. resident, who didn't want his real name mentioned for obvious reasons.

"We have such a corporate culture of acronyms that nobody has questioned it," Max said. In fact, he said, "I'm still able to have as much influence as I've ever had in my role."

Only now, instead of being "mindlessly booked into 7 to 10 meetings a day," most of which he calls "pointless," he's freed up 40 percent of his time to work on the projects and research he was hired to do.

Another plight of today's fatigued employee: death by 1,000 weekly e-mails.

Danny Wong, marketing guru for Blank Label, a custom men's dress shirt company, has found an innovative way to cut down on the thicket of superfluous communication crowding his inbox: if he wants to talk to another member of his virtual team, he picks up the phone.

"E-mail trails have slow turnaround," said the Wellesley, Mass. resident. Besides, he said, "There are always more questions" -- something that can quickly be remedied by having an actual conversation.

Florian Becker, a director at a large software company in Ft. Lauderdale, concurs.

"Most of the e-mails that go around are not that important," said Becker, who, since losing part of his team to layoffs last year, has been looking for ways to streamline his workload.

"I tell people, 'If you really need my response, pick up the phone and call me,'" Becker said. "This is working remarkably well."

By shunning his inbox for big chunks of the workday, he's able to get more concrete work done.

Otherwise, he said, "You're really reactive and you go home and don't even know what you did all day."

Give Yourself an Endorphin Rush

For Kindra Hall, a sales executive at a marketing company in Phoenix, adjusting her personal routine was the key to squeezing more juice out of the workday.

On top of her demanding day job, Hall has been trying to get a side business off the ground while still making time for her husband and friends. A year ago she would have described herself as "stressed beyond my capacity" and "desperate for more time."

Then, despite not being an early riser, she started hitting the gym at 5:30 a.m. instead of kidding herself that she would go after work ("It rarely happened," she said).

Now, Hall said, "I have noticeably more energy." As a result, she's able to devote two extra "alert, productive" hours a day to her storytelling business.

As a bonus, Hall arrives at her day job each morning feeling "much more pleasant."

"I have a much better attitude," she said.

Those who dispense career advice are fond of telling disgruntled workers to take on a gratifying side project or two, be it volunteering, enrolling in a class or cultivating a new hobby (guilty as charged).

But as psychologist Susan Fletcher points out, sometimes what we mangled minions need most is to pull back from our commitments outside work.

"Be selfish with your yeses," said Fletcher, the author of "Working in the Smart Zone: Smart Strategies to Be a Top Performer at Work and at Home."

"You may love volunteering, coaching your kids' sports and being a Boy Scout leader," she explained, "but when you are stressed at work you need to simplify other aspects of your life."

Suffice it to say this year deserves a better motto than "do more with less." I nominate "just do less."

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist and former cubicle dweller. She is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube". For more information, see

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