by Katie Demain
Work-as-unusual has not been bad for most of you. In fact, it’s been somewhat better. So we set out to ask you more about it. In particular your time on task when working from home. And you’ve told us how you’ve come up with five clear ways to increase your focus when working from home.
Two thirds of you who answered iOpener’s quick time on task survey this week say that you are able to be on-task the same amount of time or more of the time when working from home as compared to working at work premises, even if your kids are at home too.
That leaves one third of you who say that your time on task has diminished when working from home during Coronavirus times.
Over the past 10 years, people have been 61% on-task during their work day. Now it’s 72%.
At iOpener, we decided to do a deep-dive into time on task this past week since the iPPQ data has been showing a sharp rise in reported time on task during Coronavirus times*.
Over the past four months (April 2020 – July 2020), respondents to iOpener’s iPPQ – our performance-happiness questionnaire – have been consistently reporting an average time on task of 72% of their workday, compared to just 61% of their workday pre-Coronavirus times.
Given that some of you have been working remotely during Coronavirus, we decided to ask you more questions about this higher-than-normal time on task; in particular to find out the effect of working from home on your time on task. And to ask you how you’re managing to be more focused.
What is time on task?
Time on task (otherwise referred to as focus on task) is a term coined by Edmund S. Phelps, Nobel Prize Winner and Professor of Economics at Columbia University, USA. It means the time people are properly focused on their task. Or, in simple terms, the time they’re doing what they’re paid to do, instead of succumbing to distractions; whether self-induced distractions or distractions imposed by others.
At iOpener, we measure employee time on task by asking what percentage of your work day you’re on-task.
Happier employees are more on-task than their less happy colleagues
Measuring time on task is one of the key iPPQ metrics that demonstrates the strong relationship between happiness at work and performance/productivity. And is especially important to measure for knowledge workers, where we cannot gauge productivity in terms of a tangible output (e.g. the number of widgets manufactured in a day).
In ‘normal’ work times (read non-Coronavirus times), our data shows that those of you who are happiest at work are on-task 80% of your day compared to those who are the least happy at work, who are only on-task 40% of their day.
Remote working is clearly here to stay
As employees like you have quickly adjusted to remote working routines, more of you than not have been pleased with your ability to be on-task at least as much as normal. 25% of you say that you have been about on-task as usual. 41% of you say that you have been more on-task than usual. Not surprisingly then, lots of you are asking to increase your time working from home on a permanent basis, even as ‘normal’ work resumes.
Interestingly, those of you who are more on-task are more likely to have mentioned that you have children at home than those of you who are less on-task. Women are five times more likely to mention household chores taking them off-task than men.
July’s time on task survey findings and your success strategies
We asked you five quick questions about your time on task during Coronavirus times. The open-answer information that 71 of you have given us about your time on task during these times falls neatly into five categories that influence your ability to be on-task or not. They are perhaps not surprising, but do give us a better understanding of the repertoire of feel-think-do motivators and inhibitors of getting work done.
Five boosters for focus
The ways in which you increase your time on task are to proactively manage the following five areas of influence: –
- Integration – consciously managing your work-life balance
Establishing quiet work time and space, being flexible, enjoying having more time due to reduced or no commute, as well as fewer business trips, focusing on your wellbeing and managing your energy levels by getting a good night’s sleep, more fresh air and exercise, enjoying being in the comfort of your home surroundings, being grateful for quality family time, having the ability to dedicate more time to hobbies, including outdoor activities, managing different generations’ expectations and demands on your time.
2. Psychological capital – deliberately tending to your resourceful mindset
Taking time for self-development, reflecting on your professional ambition, organising coaching sessions, being kind to yourself, being realistic, being deliberate about media exposure at certain times of the day (especially news-watching), being more conscious of needing and getting inspiration from various sources, finding ways to self-motivate, facing adversity with hope in order to build more personal resilience, drawing on positive mental models e.g. reframing techniques.
3. Autonomy – seeking a sense of empowerment and following interest
Job-crafting, leveraging your strengths, creating value-add within areas of interest, flexing your work time into areas of most need, having more choice over your approach to work tasks.
4. Camaraderie – reaching out to colleagues
Seeking human connection, linking up with colleagues for social times as well as work-related conversations, reaching out for support with work tasks, being compassionate to others, randomly checking in with colleagues, expressing empathy, taking time to acknowledge effort and accomplishments.
5. Efficacy – looking for ways to increase your efficiency and effectiveness
Creating routines, being disciplined around goals and timelines, planning your day, task-prioritizing with colleagues, having reliable internet connection, using instant messaging communication and video conferencing technologies, holding and attending meetings only when useful, being able to work without travelling for work or commuting.
Five detractors of work discipline
But of course these five topics can become detractors too. Ways in which they can become negatives, robbing you of time on task, are:
- Integration gone awry
Not managing your family’s expectations of how much time you have for them, trying to work in their midst, feeling guilty for not giving others enough attention during your workday, getting short-tempered with family, not taking adequate breaks and not capping your work hours, not sharing household chores, not appreciating time at home and using the time positively.
2. Psychological capital all spent up
Battling with uncertainty and ambiguity, ruminating on negative thoughts, catastrophizing, being harsh on yourself for not managing dips in self-motivation, experiencing fatigue and ignoring it, being in survival mode, ‘shoulding’ (I should be … e.g. reaching my goals more easily / achieving more of my potential / finding more time for my family / thinner / fitter / calmer / kinder / more on-task!)
3. Autonomy unappreciated
Not being creative, not finding novel ways to approach tasks that may be preferable, micro-managing others and not giving them space to explore their way of doing tasks, not praising effort as well as results, being controlling and demanding, not trusting in others, not inspiring others.
4. Camaraderie catastrophe
Not making time for others, not offering support to others or asking for help yourself, being overly task-focused and forgetting about the importance of human connection, being self-absorbed, creating panic, playing politics, causing unhealthy conflict, being negative in your conversations with others.
5. Efficacy evasion
Tolerating too many work-related distractions, creating and attending waste-of-time meetings, being ill-disciplined with task prioritization, getting taken off-task by more energizing tasks.
Talking about experiences of working from home
34% of you have not enjoyed your time working from home. Your lower rate of happiness at work and lower time spent on-task has meant that you are eager to get back to work-as-usual. You cite various reasons for being less on-task, only 15% of which allude to your children being at home. More than work-life issues, if this is you, you are more likely to have felt lonely and isolated, disconnected and disorientated during the Coronavirus months so far.
Create language and time to openly discuss these five topics. If it helps, remember the acronym iPACE.
- Psychological capital
by Katie Demain, Director of Leadership Development Programs at iOpener
*These figures are the mean figures for the months of April, May and June 2020 from 850 iPPQ respondents across the world, 75% of whom are employees in organizations, 15% of whom are business owners and 10% are self-employed.