busy vs productive

An annoying fact of some workplaces is that managers expect employees to look busy all the time—even if they’re not really busy. 

So when we’re working in the same space as our bosses, we type away on our computers and hope the supervisor doesn’t notice we’re sending e-vites for our virtual happy hour [[I clarified the sentence; this is meant to refer to working in an office before]]or we file and refile and straighten and re-straighten our cubicles just in case the boss walks by. 

But when we’re working from home, that’s not necessary. The problem is: We’re so used to doing it that we can’t stop. 

Maybe we should. Consider how much time you would have for non-work projects around the house, or for relaxing after you wrap up a report, or for spending time helping your children with their math homework if you could simply walk away from your computer once you’ve finished your work. 

Workplace culture says that we have to work eight hours a day. But work-at-home culture has made it possible for us to work for longer stretches without the interruption of as many meetings, a daily commute, co-workers who want to gossip and leisurely group lunches. 

According to outsourcing firm Airtasker, people who work from home actually work 1.4 more days per month than those who work in formal offices. 

Claim your time 

Claim that “found” time as your own. If you’re able to breeze through tasks that used to take you twice as long to do, you might be able to negotiate with your supervisor for more time off. 

For example, if you can finish a project in 20 minutes that would have taken you an hour to complete in the office, maybe it’s OK if you spend that extra 40 minutes teaching your youngster how to do quadratic equations. 

Or maybe you can spend that time resting up for the next project, running a quick errand or doing your laundry. 

The point is: When you work more efficiently, you create more time for yourself. Don’t spend it pretending to be busy. Nobody’s watching. 

Sell it to the boss 

Lots of managers who supervise remote workers are getting a clue: It’s productivity that counts, not hours worked. As long as you get your work finished, do it well, meet your deadlines and make yourself available for scheduled meetings, who cares if you work for exactly eight hours a day with a one-hour lunch break? 

If your boss cares, have a talk with her. 

For one week, keep careful track of the work you did, how long it took you to do it, and what you did when you ran out of work. Present that to your boss. 

Sure, she might give you extra work to fill in the time, and maybe that’s OK with you. But she might also realize that the intensity of working quicker and more efficiently makes longer breaks more important. 

Plus, the impossibility of separating your work from your home and family when you’re telecommuting is something that all managers simply are going to have to acknowledge sooner or later. 

Sell your boss on a shorter workday, longer breaks or flexible hours by explaining the difference—for you—between a face-to-face, in-the-office workday and the one you’re working now, at home. Let her know what she gets in return: The same work—only better—from a well-rested, balanced employee who doesn’t have to waste precious time looking busy once her work is finished. 

Ask for what you want 

Don’t wait for your boss to offer that to you; she’s not ever going to. It’s up to you to ask for what you want and deserve. And you do deserve to have more R&R between projects if you’re working at warp speed and wrapping things up before the deadline. 

Plan what you will say; wait until you have the boss’s undivided attention; show her how both of you can benefit from what you’re suggesting; and then come right out and ask for what you want. 

If she says “yes,” show her your gratitude by continuing to do excellent work and handing it in early. If she says “no,” at least you stood up and asked for what you deserved. 

Not every boss embraces the fact that the work world is changing from one that punches a timeclock to one that simply gets things done. Pay attention to how efficiently you use your time, and convince your manager that productivity—and not simply being busy for eight hours—is better for both for you and for the business. 

Dr. Cindy McGovern, known as the “First Lady of Sales,” speaks and consults internationally on sales, interpersonal communication and leadership. She is the author of Every Job Is a Sales Job: How to Use the Art of Selling to Win at Work. Dr. Cindy is the CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting, a sales management and consulting firm. For more information, please visit, www.drcindy.com and connect with her on Twitter @1stladyofsales and on LinkedIn