It’s energy that matters, not the hours you put in.

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Image CC BY darkpatator @ Flickr

I was delighted to welcome my mother home from her three-and-a-half week visit to the UAE at the weekend. We got talking about what she’d been up to and she mentioned that she’d spent a lot of time reading books. In fact, she said, it was refreshing not to be constantly bombarded with information from the UK media. What followed was an interesting conversation between us in which I advocated carefully selecting a range of (conflicting) media perspectives from which to draw information and form opinions. The answer is not necessarily to cull the number of news sources but to make sure they’re not all telling you the same thing… 😉

To that end I was looking for more places from which to get my information instead of the same-old, same-old, when I came across The Twitter Times. This takes not only stories linked to by those you follow on Twitter, but those of ‘friends of friends’. You may argue that everyone in my Twitter network is likely to be related to education in some way. That’s correct, but some are tangentially connected to that topic and have networks that span many other disciplines and interests. You can see my Twitter Times and judge for yourself here.

Cover of "Ideas: A History of Thought and...

Cover via Amazon

One blog post that was linked to many times earlier this week was What problems does Google Wave solve? I noticed that it was originally written in Portuguese; ever since I started reading Ideas: a History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud I’ve realised that my monolinguism affects my conception of the world (and self). I investigated further.

The Google Wave post is a reasonable one but I found another post by the author (Daniel Tenner) more interesting. Entitled Counting hours doesn’t make sense it included this gem:

When we measure results instead of hours, something interesting happens: the distinction between work and not-work blurs away and vanishes, for two reasons. First, clever ideas can make a huge difference to results, and ideas occur anywhere, at any time. In fact, they’re least likely to occur while sitting at a desk working. Secondly, it soon becomes obvious that our actual output of things done is correlated far more to how we feel on the day than to how many hours we spend “working”. The real measure of work is not hours – it’s energy.

We all have a certain amount of energy each day, that can fluctuate depending the day, on our general level of fitness, nutrition, health, state of mind, etc. Some activities (such as going to the gym) increase our daily pool of energy. Others (such as staying up all night or getting drunk every evening) decrease our daily pool of energy.

‘Productivity’ by the hours one works is implicit in our culture. It’s the reason that, despite increased efficiencies and an ever-increasing population, we work longer hours now than ever before.

My wife thinks that I work all of the time. And she’s right, I do. But then it depends what you mean by ‘work’. I’m just as I’m likely to think of something related to elearning in the shower at home as I am about football when I’m in the office. It would make as much sense to say that there’s a synergy between my work and my leisure interests. Consequently, it makes no sense to demarcate and delineate ideas and energy to physical spaces, especially when we live in such a connected world.

It’s always struck me as strange that despite what we know about physiological and psychological ebbs and flows in human beings we remain tied to straightjacketed corporate routines. And none more so than in education. Take, for example, the (current) Autumn term. Each half-term is usually around 7 weeks long – just at the time when the nights are closing in and energy is likely to be lowest. Which is the shortest term? Spring! We start off the year at an naturally energy-sapping time. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

What’s important in any organization is that the core purpose of that organization is delivered upon. In education that’s the education of young people so they can operate effectively in the adult world. Their minds should have been opened in the process, their horizons raised, and their imaginations fired. That’s unlikely to occur when the adults who surround them are tired and clock-watching.

So when you’re feeling ‘unproductive’ just remember that you’re being human. It’s not about the hours you put in but about the energy you devote and the results you achieve.

Get the energy right and the results – whatever you or your organization decide they should be – will follow. 🙂

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