I just read an interesting historical fiction called New York, by Edward Rutherford. It follows the story of this great city from the 1600’s to the present day, interweaving real historical events with the lives of fictional characters. The book had many memorable moments, which I will not describe here, except for one in particular. It was less of a moment and more of a statement in a conversation at a dinner party near the end of the book. The characters were overworked and all spent hours each day at the office. One person brought forward the idea of uninterrupted work and getting more done in less time.
I will quote directly from the book as the author quite eloquently discussed the subject:
“’I was reading Virginia Woolf the other day, and she remarked that at one period in her life, she was able to get so much done because she had three uninterrupted hours to work in every day. And I thought, what on earth is she talking about? Only three hours a day? And then I looked around the office at all the people working their fourteen-hour days, and I thought, how many of you actually spend three hours in a real, creative, intellectual activity in a day? And I reckoned, probably not one.’ She smiled. ‘And there’s Virginia Woolf achieving more than they ever will in their lives, on three hours a day. It makes you think. They might do better if they worked less.’”
When I read this, it made me put the book down and think. For years I worked long days, spending hours at the office and often I continued my work at home late into the night. But how often did I have a true uninterrupted stretch to work each day? When I was at the office there were so many distractions around me. The office phone would ring, a colleague would stop by to ask a question or a group would congregate nearby and I would join the conversation. Add in the meetings and conference calls and I wonder now how I ever got anything done.
Once in a while, when I wanted to concentrate and really focus on my work, I left the office and worked instead at home. If the house was quiet and empty I could accomplish a whole day’s work in just a few hours. The distractions of the office weren’t there (yes, I know the house provides other distractions but I am able to usually avoid them!), and with few to no interruptions I used my time efficiently.
I believe I am not unique and that most of us would accomplish much more if we worked three uninterrupted hours each day. Now that I am a sole proprietor of a business and answer to myself each day I need a lot of self-discipline to get work done. I need to find time each day to focus my thoughts and energy and avoid distractions. When I do that I am always amazed how much I can accomplish.
I believe that it’s less about how many hours you work each day and more about how you use the hours you work. It is not about physically being at the office for 8, 10 or 12 hours in a given day but rather efficiently using those hours and completing your tasks. I think this is a philosophy that is slowly being embraced by many Canadian businesses and workplaces and something I strongly support and encourage. It is an approach I hope to follow as I go out on my own and work as independent professional. Just imagine how much I could accomplish every day if I gave myself three uninterrupted hours to work. My time is valuable and I hope to use it wisely.