Taming the Work Week is a short e-book by M. R. Nelson, aka Wandering Scientist aka Cloud. In it, she makes the argument that everyone has a work limit, and that working beyond that work limit not only leads to diminishing marginal return (she doesn’t use that language), it can also lead to costly mistakes that actually create more work.
She notes that although research is clear that for early 20th century factory workers, 40 hours/week is the limit, we have no idea what the work limit is for knowledge workers. And we really don’t. It probably depends on a lot of factors (task mix, personal ability, etc.). However, she provides steps for individuals to figure out whether they are working efficiently, and if not, how to work more efficiently.
It’s a short book with a lot of good tips.
Some may work better for some people than for others. For example, if you get more of your socialization at work than at home or after work, you may need that daily down-time with your colleagues interspersed with work, rather than waiting until you get home. You won’t be as efficient or productive per-hour at work, but you’re also filling that socialization need on a regular basis. On the other hand, if your home and social life provide a lot of social interaction already, cutting down on interruptions could greatly increase your productivity, allowing you to get out of work earlier without guilt.
Similarly, just going home when you’re not being productive doesn’t work for me because suddenly I become less productive earlier and earlier in the day as the days go on because I’m rewarding bad behavior and I have no self-control. Instead, I need to task-switch from doing thinky research work to doing unrelated scut work like teaching prep or service. That way I’m still being productive on stuff that has to get done eventually and I’m not training myself to leave before it’s time to pick up the kids (which is my hard deadline at the end of the day).
Nelson acknowledges these different kinds of different work styles. Probably my favorite part of the book is where she provides some of the standard “how to be efficient” advice and points out when it doesn’t work for her and why. (Just going home doesn’t work for her either, but for different reasons.) This added discussion of “why” really illustrates how you can think critically about the advice that’s out there to craft your own methods to improve your efficiency.
The biggest downside to this e-book is that the writing is uneven– it starts out stilted (carefully avoiding using contractions, for example), then shifts to a more conversational tone that is much easier to read. Keep reading past the opening section or two– it’s worth it.