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The True Myth of the 8-Hour Work Day

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Clock, Just before deadline

Everybody spends at least some of the work day hanging out online, right? Zappos’ and Hootsuite’s many temptations have become the modern equivalent of gossiping about last night’s sitcoms in front of the water cooler. Wasting time online gives us a little break, and we all know breaks are healthy and help us think more creatively. After all, even our bosses waste at least a few minutes of every work day.

But what happens when updating Facebook and catching up on Memorandum in the office consumes as much time and energy as, well, work? This Social Cast infographic details just how much time many professionals waste online during the official eight-hour work day.

According to the findings, people spend an hour and 14 minutes each work week on social networks, 34 minutes on games and another 27 minutes on personal email. Survey respondents offered different reasons for not working in the office. Almost half (46 percent) said they were unsatisfied at work; 34 percent felt underpaid; and 24 percent cited lack of deadlines or worthwhile incentives.

We waste time at work, because we are bored and aren’t fully engaged in our professions. Frankly, it also feels good to connect with each other, learn new and interesting things and play games.

Sometimes, it might also hold us back. The most successful people I know use office downtime to plan, think, connect and conquer in ways that help them professionally and engage them even more than playing a few levels Angry Birds.

Just Do Something

During my first month of graduate school, my strategic communications professor, Ed Grefe, told us that the next time we’re bored at work or don’t feel challenged, we should “just do something.” Research what competitors are up to; connect with clients; look for important trends in the media; or offer to help someone else. Don’t just sit there Googling pictures of cats. Do something.

I recently talked to Grefe, who had a tremendous career as a journalist, grassroots community organizer and fundraiser, about that class. I asked him to discuss the habits and practices he developed as a young professional to stay engaged in the workplace. Grefe’s intellectual curiosity, particular about different perspectives and ways of doing things, helped him turn just another day at the office into a lifetime of learning about people, ideas, systems and entire political movements.

“I tend to try and learn as much from the other people as possible,” he said. “It’s been my impression that people have a lot of good ideas and ways of doing things — even when I don’t always agree with the way they think.”

This habit impacted the way Grefe interacted with us as our professor (all of our classes were highly interactive and discussion-based) and how he taught us to think strategically. He did this by connecting patterns in a diverse array of areas — from a Sunday New York Times article to a friend’s Facebook comment to a conversation in a grocery store line — to teach us to be better issue advocates and grassroots organizers.

Bored at the office? Take the initiative and become more engaged in learning — about your clients, colleagues, competitors and the issues that affect them most.

Developing this kind of curiosity can be extremely worthwhile.

“If you cant have some element of joy in what you’re doing, then you’re killing yourself,” Grefe said. “I’ve found that my experiences made me grateful for what I am doing and have given me a positive outlook. Even negative experiences can lead to positive things.”

Be Fully Engaged in Your Profession or Change Career Paths

Passion for your profession is a tremendous driver for success. Leadership expert and coach Kathleen Schafer believes that being passionate and fully engaged in the workplace starts with understanding what you like to do and using your talents and skills to create a career you really love.

“If you’ve got time on your hands, figure out who you are and what you should be doing,” she said. “Do you want to spend your career being bored or do something you find engaging?”

Schafer coaches professionals of all ages to discover their purposes and recognize their strengths and interests. The process begins by accessing resources online, some of which are available on Schafer’s Leadership Connection website, and using leadership assessment tools to help professionals determine what they should be doing.

“If you’re going to be in a place that doesn’t engage you, the best thing you can focus on is figuring out what you should be doing. If its just for the money, you’re never going to be happy doing it,” said Schafer.

Connect, Solve Problems and Innovate

New York Times columnist David Brooks took a tougher approach in his column to recent graduates last month.

“Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life,” he wrote. “They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life.”

I get what Brooks is saying. Sometimes young professionals can’t just rely on happiness and joy to get ahead. Being excellent isn’t a part-time commitment; it requires perseverance and diligence, even when a project or work environment doesn’t sprout rainbows and unicorns.

And, I will add, sometimes laziness and disengagement actually is your fault. Sometimes you do need to dig in and work.

Peter Corbett is the founder of iStrategy Labs, a community and social marketing company that delivers some of the most innovative digital campaigns in the Washington, D.C., area and nationally.

Corbett is one of Washingtonian magazine’s “Tech Titans.” He spends a considerable amount of time organizing community events like Digital Capital Week and the D.C. Tech Meetup — activities that drive collaboration in the digital space and have positioned him as a leader in his field.

For Corbett, his passion is his work and his work day never ends.

“I don’t count hours, and I sometime don’t know that it’s the weekend,” he said. “I operate on a 24/7 cycle, where I do all the things that I love to do and have the fortune of having a company that supports my ability to live this way. I’m able spend about 50 percent of my time working on community focused efforts, because I don’t have to fit it in. It’s baked into my model – one that doesn’t work without that commitment.”

Another young connector, Bryce Cullinane, moved to D.C. three years ago to work as my research assistant while in graduate school. I noticed after our first informational interview that Cullinane knew how to connect with people and invested a lot of time and energy in cultivating relationships. He launched a network for young political professionals, Politics Under 30, and ran the 2009 Politics Online Conference while managing his day job.

Today, Cullinane works in business development for online attitudinal targeting firm Resonate Networks. Instead of just focusing on traditional sales, he also engages in areas that help him build relationships and establish trust with current and potential clients.

“My goal each day is to figure out what value I can offer to the people in my network, what value my network can provide and how I can grow it,” he said.

Cullinane doesn’t define success by meeting the kinds of traditional goals that can be accomplished in a 9-to-5 work day. For Cullinane, investing in people after-hours and before work is a full-time calling.

“When I saw how many successful people in my life took serious time to go to happy hours and other non-traditional work events, I realized it wasn’t coincidence,” he said. “I learned it was about developing real and meaningful relationships with co-workers, clients and those in your industry.”

What is the true myth of the eight-hour work day?

In 2011, successful professionals know that the work day never ends. As Corbett put it:

“I never thought success was about clocking in. I’ve been fortune to have worked hard since as far back as I can remember regardless of the clock or compensation. The work is the reward in and of itself.”
Passionate people drive themselves, invest in those around them and achieve a level of excellence that impacts their clients, colleagues and professional community.

It’s not just a career decision; it’s a lifestyle choice.

Julie Barko Germany is the vice president of digital strategy at DCI Group, a global grassroots public affairs firm in Washington, D.C. The opinions expressed here are her own and do not reflect her organization or its clients.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Elizabeth Francken

    Great and goes with a common trend in corporate of internal social networks. We spend time online giving each other useful ideas that drive productivity, collaboration, and knowledge thirst that all drive business positives and personal content. Learning how to use the network is a challenge but there wasn’t a widely known Facebook manual so it again stretches your problem solving and collaboration. I’ll be sharing your post with our network shortly. Kudos

  • Anonymous

    Another solution? Work for an exciting company still in some phase of “start up mode.” Never a dull moment and social interaction is often integral to the mission.

  • http://kristencreager.com Kristen

    These are pretty surprising statistics! Great post.

  • http://entryleveldilemma.blogspot.com Edward – Entry Level Dilemma

    “We waste time at work, because we are bored and aren’t fully engaged in our professions.”

    Or do we do it because we want to avoid burnout by focusing too much on a single goal/task. In my experience, most time is wasted in the beginning and end of the day. At both times, the mind just isn’t in work mode yet. Working more hours doesn’t make you more productive. After I hit the 12 hour mark, my productivity goes way down because it’s just harder to motivate myself to do the job.

  • http://twitter.com/peopledothat Jeff Lovingood

    Nice post. My favorite points were about being engaged or changing paths, and the quote at the end about a job not just being a “career decision; it’s a lifestyle choice.” I think that these are the two biggest hurdles in people creating careers they love.

    Too many times, people think that a “career” is too big for the average person to attempt, so they get the first job that they can survive – only to change jobs and career fields throughout their work life. If people would spend some real time in high school (and college) to work out a real plan of action, they would not only achieve something special in their careers, they would be able to attain it faster than those who are trying their second and third careers on for size.

  • Anthea98

    Beautiful post..Keep it up..

  • Marioli 1601

    Agree with this articule, nowadays find motivation in things que do has to do more with the internal engine every one happens to have.

    Thanks Brazen!

  • http://www.melindamckee.com Melinda McKee

    Interesting article. I’ve long resisted making my career a full-on lifestyle, because I’ve felt like that could detract from the personal relationships (ie. friends and family) that are actually my priority ahead of my career.

    Certainly, as I progress in my career I’m experiencing the need to let go of the 8 hour workday model *at times*….but I’ve also intentionally let career development opportunities go because they negatively impacted my ability to strengthen my relationships with the people I love. Perhaps I can do that because I’ve chosen an industry/field that is NOT cutthroat, I don’t know….to each their own, I suppose!

    • http://www.melindamckee.com Melinda McKee

      (PS I tried to not make that sound judgemental….don’t know if I succeeded, but I’ve just been trying to understand the opposite perspective for a while now! :)

  • http://twitter.com/TwistedByKnaves Will Ross

    Wow: only 1% of your life spent off track at work? You Americans are DRIVEN!

    There is another reason people goof off at work: exhaustion. It’s a vicious circle:
    – you spend too long at work
    – you stay up late working on your chores/family/home
    – you don’t have the energy to stay focused and get your work done in the 8 hours God gave you for the purpose, so you take breaks to relax
    – you work longer to make up for it
    – rinse and repeat

    And as a bonus, if you you goof off to internet games, these can actually be very tiring in themselves.

    So one strategy is to spend LESS time at work, set yourself a hard deadline at the end of the day and race to meet it.

  • http://twitter.com/dcjams Jamie Nolan

    I was totally with you for the first half of the article, but you lost me when you started advocating that people work 24/7 and see work as a “lifestyle choice.” What happened to work/life balance? What about family and friends who don’t work in your industry? This disregard for healthy lifestyle choices (which don’t involve working 80 hours a week or around the clock) really rubbed me the wrong way…

    • http://twitter.com/JeffersonFaudan Jefferson Faudan ✔

      you can’t apply “balance” not up until you’re at the top of the pyramid… that also depends on what’s the your top limit… entrepreneurs work more hours than the average 8 hours…

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_YILLVPNYJ3TNT4C7FPXDPOYBRI Free PC Guides

    Great article. However, when your job is online it’s kind of hard to make the distinction between doing your job online or just hanging out online.

    “Passionate people drive themselves” – spot on !

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