A few Saturdays ago I worked what amounted to a 15 hour day. I taught a few classes in the morning followed by a trumpet lesson. Then I drove across town to play 3rd trumpet in a theatre orchestra for both a matinee and the evening show. Left my house at 7:30am and didn’t come back until around midnight. By most measures you could say I was working hard.
But I disagree.
I worked long hours, but it wasn’t “hard”. I’ve had many software programming sessions that lasted only a few hours that left me much more exhausted than my long days. I’ve had thirty minute gigs that were stressful enough that my whole day was wrecked.
You don’t have look very far to find difficult tasks that don’t take very long. How about calling a client and telling them you messed up. How about starting a new program? Making changes to your work routine. Learning something brand new. Selling something to a new prospect. Hiring someone. Firing someone. These all require the task of analyzing, deciding, and following through. There are stakes involved in getting it right or wrong. And there’s no guarantee that they’ll work out.
There’s been a long-standing myth that productivity = hours worked. But hours worked is an awful measuring stick. It makes it way too tempting to work too many hours, get very little done, and pretend we are heroes. If this is the game you’re playing, you’ll always lose to the guy pulling double shifts at the stone yard moving rocks. And if that’s what the winner looks like I’d suggest playing a different game.
This is not meant to blame employers for measuring productivity by the hour. They don’t have much choice. While it’s a poor measuring stick, its the best one they’ve got. But when you measure your own productivity you get to choose your metrics.
So if you know exactly what you’ll do during the day, how you’re going to do it, and whether it will work or not, you may be working long hours. But you might not be working hard.