Summer Hours: Why Working Fewer Hours Increases Productivity

Summer Hours

Every summer when I worked in corporate America we always had some sort of “Summer Hours.”

These would come in the form of closing all offices at lunch on Friday, giving half days every week, giving one day off every two weeks, or simply giving a set number of days off for the summer.

Each parent company had its own system, and some changed year to year. We were just along for the ride!

Sometimes it was wild trying to figure out who would be coming into the office and who was using their summer hours.

Some days the office was completely empty and this was pre-COVID when that was not the norm.

But in the end, it didn’t matter…no matter how many days were given or how they were given…productivity went up!

Why Working Fewer Hours Increases Productivity

Yep, that is right…productivity went up:

  • Our engineers produced the same amount of code in less time
  • Our writers produced the same amount of content in less time
  • Our management was able to get the same amount done in less time

It didn’t matter what an employee did, they adapted to the hours available!

We were a walking testament to Parkinson’s Law:

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion

Call it an observation, an uncomfortable truth, or whatever you want, Parkinson got it right.

And while it was originally intended as a humorous critique of bureaucratic organizations, Parkinson’s Law has truth to it, and has since become a concept harnessed by the productivity movement:

Of course, you still need time to complete tasks, but you never needed as much time as you thought!

The fact is that most knowledge workers waste large portions of their day on non-meaningful activities.

And when all of a sudden our workers worked fewer hours, because of summer hours, life events, or otherwise…the limited time in and of itself helped them to focus better and ultimately get more done.

You don’t need a rarified job; instead you need a rarified approach to your work.

Cal Newport – Deep Work

Ironically one of the best things you can do (and a rarity these days) is to put time constraints on your work.

When you work fewer hours, you harness Parkinson’s Law and this rarified approach actually helps you to get more done.

But It’s Not Just For Summer!

While summer hours helped to bake in time constraints that inadvertently increase productivity, you too can bake this into your everyday life.

I know it because I’ve never worked more than 40 hours a week in my life, yet I managed to grow a multi-million dollar company.

Productivity is never about the number of hours that you work.

It’s always been about working on the right things at the right time.

1. Doing something unimportant well does not make it important.

2. Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important.

Tim Ferriss – The 4-Hour Workweek

Tim Ferriss hit this one on the head for me when I first read his breakout book many years ago.

And he’s not even the OG….for that we can look to Peter Drucker, whose book The Effective Executive was published in 1966!

Efficiency is concerned with doing things right.

Effectiveness is doing the right things.

Peter Drucker – The Effective Executive

Getting the right things done is more important than just getting things done.

We’ve known this since 1966, and yet most knowledge workers struggle with this today more than ever.

There are simply too many distractions, too many emails, and too many ways to get in contact with you.

So if you want to shift from getting things done to getting the right things done, you’ve got to begin to work in unconventional ways.

Most of all, you have to accept that you can’t do it all!

You have to accept that there will always be too much to do; that you can’t avoid tough choices or make the world run at your preferred speed. 

Oliver Burkeman – Four Thousand Weeks

8 Productivity Tips to Accomplish More in Less Time

I could go on all day, but I’ve put a time constraint on this article, so it’s time to wrap it up!

Here are my best productivity tips to help you get more done in less time:

  1. Avoid Distractions: Deep, focused work is always better as interruptions cause you to lose your flow and severely disrupt your work and the time it takes you to get back to work.
  2. Use Time Constraints: Set constraints and stick to them. If you say you will stop working at 5:00 PM, STOP. By having an arbitrary constraint, you’ll be more focused and get more done.
  3. Prioritize High ROI (80/20) Activities: Focus on the important activities that actually move the needle. These are the 20% of your activities that produce 80% of the results. Cut out the rest.
  4. Work in Short Sprints: Your brain can only function optimally for 90 minutes at a time, so work in short sprints and build breaks into your day: walks, workouts, lunch, a podcast, etc.
  5. Do Challenging (High-Value) Tasks First: Harnessing the 80/20 rule, when you get a high-value task done first that makes everything easier. Ask yourself “What’s the ONE Thing I can do / such that by doing it / everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
  6. Work Around Your Energy Levels: Sometimes you just don’t feel like working on a specific task, so switch it up to something you are more engaged with. Of course, you can’t do this forever or you might be working on the 80% of sub-par activities, but I find it doesn’t hurt too much.
  7. Build in Buffer Time for Projects: Once you finish a project, celebrate it. Take time off, even just for a few hours. Plan vacations around big projects. Make sure you get your rest!
  8. Track Your Time -> Down to the Minute: “What gets measured gets managed” and your time is no different. I’ve been tracking my time for years and it helps me to error-correct and stay on track.

What else do you do to get more done in less time? Let me know in the comments below!

Note: If you want to do a deep dive into productivity, I recommend reading The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker, Deep Work by Cal Newport, Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman, The ONE Thing by Gary Keller, and of course The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss.

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