How to tame your work week

How to TameHere is an excerpt from article written by Laura Vanderkam for CBS MoneyWatch, the CBS Interactive Business Network. She shares portions of a conversation with M.R. Nelson. To read the complete article, check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the website’s newsletters, please click here

Photo Credit: Flickr User Roger4336

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(MoneyWatch) M.R. Nelson, a project manager at a biotech company, recalls being in the office kitchen once when she overheard a curious conversation. Two colleagues lamented their endless workloads. One reported working 60 hours a week for as long as he could remember. The other claimed he was there until 7 p.m. every night, even though he was working through lunch.

As Nelson writes in her new ebook, Taming the Work Week, “I was busy, too, but I couldn’t join them in their lament about long hours because I wasn’t working them. I have opted out of the craziness. I work a 40- to 45-hour work week most weeks. Interestingly, at the same company as these two overworked colleagues, with her career zipping along just fine. She supervises five direct reports and 10 contractors, manages five projects directly and 5 indirectly, controls a seven-figure budget, and gets home to her two young daughters at a reasonable time — and with enough energy left to maintain a popular blog called Wandering Scientist.

How does Nelson do it? I caught up with her to learn her secrets.

Vanderkam: As a project manager, you see keeping your team members’ work weeks at a reasonable level as a critical part of your job. Why is that? I suspect it’s not just because you’re a nice person.

Nelson: Originally, it actually was just because I’m a nice person! But then I got interested in the question of why some project teams can bring amazing projects in on time and on budget, and others struggle to do so. I looked more closely at the high performing teams around me, and I saw that they weren’t actually working super long hours.

That made me think about what long hours actually do to a team. I realized that consistently requiring long work hours creates more risk to the project timeline, because 1) overworked people make more mistakes and mistakes take time to fix; 2) overworked people get fed up and quit, and then the project has to absorb the time it takes to find and train a replacement; and 3) there is no room to increase intensity for short periods of time if something goes wrong.

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Laura Vanderkam, a Philadelphia area journalist, is the author of 168 Hours and All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending. To view all articles by Laura Vanderkam on CBS MoneyWatch, please click here.

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