All of us spend a certain number of hours per week at work. Some of us work only the required number of hours because those are the office hours for which they get paid. Some of us work extra hours because they care about what they do and want to do more of it. Some of us remain in the office for the required number of hours but work much less because the work does not interest them. Whatever the reason, work forms a big chunk of our lives and whether we like it or not it affects us in many ways.
Of the many things that work affects in our lives, the one thing it affects the most is our state of mind. If you have a good day at work, you come home satisfied and in a happy state of mind. You relish the dinner, spend quality time with your family (or housemates), enjoy that hobby and go to sleep in a happy mood. Exactly the opposite happens when you have a bad day at work. You eat what you can, you have a fight with someone, you skip the gym and you go to sleep in a frustrated state.
One such thing about work that I care a lot about and something that ends up affecting my mood at the end of the day is my productivity at work. At the end of the day I mentally review what did I end up doing in the day. I also compare how much time should a certain activity have taken (or how much time did I assign for it) to how much did it actually take. More often than not the activity takes more time and puts me in a slightly bad mood. Before you jump to conclusions, let me tell you that I am well aware that the reason could be optimism bias. But it could also be because of something that I realised while ironing clothes today. Let me explain.
The process of ironing clothes involves much more than you actually putting down the hot iron on the piece of cloth and moving it up and down. First you need to set up the ironing board, you plug the iron in, you get your pile of clothes and then, most importantly, you spend time removing the creases on the piece of the cloth laid out on the board. You run your hand over the surface to make sure that you don’t end up ironing on a crease. Some times you even sprinkle a few drops of water so that the cloth softens enough to give you a crisp result. And finally, you put down the hot iron down the cloth and do the ‘real work’.
Even if we take into consideration that we have to do so many things to iron clothes, we often forget to take into account the time spent in removing the creases. It’s that activity which we need to do just before the ‘real work’ that we so easily forget. But without smoothening those creases we cannot effectively iron clothes.
Similarly, in our daily lives at work, even if we take into account the time we need to spend to ready other things for doing the ‘real work’, we often miss out on taking into account the time spent in preparing our mind to do a certain work. If we are not in the right mental state to do something we won’t be able to do it. Often we need to clear our thoughts and focus on the task at hand or we need to stop thinking about what we just finished and then start the new activity. Sometimes we start doing the work without being in the right mental state but very soon we realise that we aren’t really doing the work properly and then spend the time bringing ourselves in the right state to do the job.
You need to remove those creases from your own thoughts to be able to do the work properly. And as it happens we disregard that it is important to do so and in the process never take in to account the real time that it will take to do the work.
I would go to the extent of saying that even those mini-breaks you take on facebook or twitter or when you go for that cup of tea is time you spend preparing (or emptying or refreshing) your mind to do the next job after the break. Of course, the mini-breaks can easily be termed as distraction but only if you don’t care enough about productivity. :)
Image from here.