In September, our Operations team was authorized for a limited amount of overtime during the fiscal year crunch. The team needed the extra hours, but like many others in America, it always feels like we need 50 hours a week to get everything done. Once we were in the fiscal new year, we decided to determine how accurate our perception of not having enough time to get everything done truly was. So the team did something interesting.

Our Director of Operations told the team “I only want you to work eight hours a day, five days a week, for the next two weeks, and I want to know how that changes the way you work. No peeking at phones or Slack or e-mail in off hours.”

We worked out that the best way to report this was for the team, as the last act of the day, to file to a private Slack channel the answers to four questions:

  1. What didn’t you do today because you stopped working on time?
  2. What will the impact be on tomorrow because of it?
  3. How much more time would you have needed to get everything done today?
  4. What will you do with those hours tonight instead?

We called it the Dark Standup (a play off the team’s regular daily standup meeting).

We learned quite a lot about how we worked, especially once we started prioritizing our time by what truly needed to get done in those 40 hours a week. Most of what we learned was pretty specific to individuals, but we can generalize from some:

  • The costs of context switching are much higher than we realized.
  • We were spending a lot of time doing things that were urgent but not important, or that didn’t need to have been urgent at all.
  • We needed to be a lot more ruthless about saying “No.”
  • Some Operations roles are legitimately shorthanded, some of us just needed to impose a little order.
  • FOMO WIP (unnecessary work one takes on because one fears missing something) is a real problem, especially as regards to Slack and meetings.
  • We worked better in the time we had to work, knowing it was finite.
  • Work-life balance improves both work and life. People literally slept better when limiting after-hours exposure to Slack and email. (We all got to the gym more, too, allegedly. Said we did, anyway.)
  • Nothing — repeat, no things — crashed and burned in the two weeks the Operations team was limited to eight hours a day, five days a week.

So by limiting ourselves to 40 hours a week of working time, we gained a greater understanding of the work we were doing, plus improved our efficiency, quality of service, and quality of life, while letting nothing fall. Thought that was well worth sharing.