Do you work like the Tortoise or the Hare?

Growing up I remember learning the story about the race between the Tortoise and the Hare. Of course the talented fast Hare was expected to beat the slow Tortoise. However, after sprinting off the Hare decided there was time to take a nap and still be able to beat the Tortoise. Unfortunately for the Hare after sleeping for too long this enabled the slow Tortoise to cross the finish line in 1st place.

When it comes to how we work I don’t believe there is a 1 size fits all because as people we are all quite unique and it’s therefore a matter of finding a Working Rhythm that best works for our individual style, role, ambition, capability, stage in life etc

However, I often think about the story of the Tortoise and the Hare when observing different approaches to how people process their work. These can range from slow and slow (that wasn’t a typo nor was it intended to sound condescending), slow and steady, through to fast and dynamic. Now I have seen reasons how all of these approaches have either made sense for a particular situation or absolutely made no sense whatsoever at all for other situations. 

As humans productivity isn’t about working 24/7 because in the long run that’s generally not sustainable or healthy. Despite the best intentions from individuals saying that won’t happen to me, there’s just too many examples of hitting the wall of burnout where this has proven true. The negative impact on job performance and satisfaction, family and friends can be quite significant.

On the other hand there are people who work flat out to complete specific tasks and then just like the Hare they take a rest. While this approach may seem to make sense, it’s questionable whether it’s the most effective way to achieve sustainable results.

Which brings me to pose the question of can we use our idle time during working hours better to continue to make progress? If so where are the gaps we might have in our day? 

This isn’t about working harder, instead it’s about working somewhat smarter. Unlike the Hare we'll assume  no one is sleeping at work but if we think about it we often have space in our day / week where we could use  our time better to perform tasks like checking emails, reading, thinking, strategizing etc Examples are:

  • Customer reception waiting for a meeting – if your job is to visit customers then I’m sure you are often waiting for the person at reception. The longest I’ve been kept waiting for an important meeting is 1 hour!!! If you’re processing emails on your smartphone at a reception area for instance then stick to the “light” emails only as you need to be careful difficult emails don’t defocus you and negatively impact your meeting
  • Public transport – catching public transport to/from work can be a good time to catch-up
  • Travelling via a plane – for those who travel either domestically or internationally for work, instead of just watching a movie or as funny as they are reruns of Modern Family, a plane provides a fantastic strategizing time opportunity (I actually got the inspiration and wrote this piece while flying at an altitude of 10,000 metres) 
  • Walking between meetings – often provides an opportunity for thinking time, checking voicemails etc. It’s amazing where moments of clarity sometimes come from

I’m sure you will be able to come up with additional options appropriate to you. If you’ve read this far you might be thinking all I’ve done is to describe how to work harder. I don’t believe that’s the case as I think it’s quite the opposite because if we’re not performing these tasks during regular working hours then we’re either not doing them or doing them after hours.

Yes by using the gaps in our day better then maybe we can reduce the amount of work we have to do after hours while achieving more during our regular work time. And maybe you’ll find your working style is like the Tortoise, the Hare or a combination of the approaches used by the Tortoise and the Hare.