There is a story of a locksmith who would take hours to work on a project during his apprenticeship. His customers would see him pouring his heart and soul into opening a lock, many would tip him for his hard work. The locksmith loved his job and became exceptional at it and eventually was able to master any lock in under one minute.
An interesting thing started to happen. As he got better, the tips stopped and customers got annoyed. Even though he got them back into their house in record time, they felt they were paying too much, given how little time it took him. The perception was that the locksmith was not working hard – but he had achieved mastery. In other words, don’t be fooled by the effort trap. It is not about the work done, it is about the productivity achieved.
Look at your workplace and rather than congratulating yourself about your workplace flexibility, ask yourself how late-night working or flexible/part-time working is perceived in the organisation.
Hard work can be irrelevant if it is the wrong work. As we get busier and busier, people can spend an inordinate amount of time doing a task exceptionally well that may not need to be done at all! Being productive means being able to work effectively on the right things and for the right amount of time. A 2014 study by Dr John Pencavel of Stanford University found that factory output at 70 hours of work differed little from output at 56 hours. That extra 14 hours was a waste of time.
Look at your employees who get things done, who are masters at what they do, who give great advice. Stop rewarding superfluous extra hours and stop accepting unnecessary late-night emails. Remember the economic value lies not in the work itself, but in the product of the work.