Less (work) is more

Just been reading this interesting article about the amount of work we should do to be as effective as possible.

If you can’t be arsed to read it it says there’s a lot of research to suggest that the optimum amount of effort for ‘elite’ workers is no more than three 90-minute bursts a day with frequent breaks. We should also have naps and get more sleep overall (sleep deprivation cost the US over $63bn last year).

We’ve probably all read similar studies over the years and reacted in similar ways: I wish I could do that, but the way my job is set up, there’s no chance of it happening. Ad agencies seem to have been moving to the quantity over quality model in recent years, leaving many of us producing a volume of ideas during late nights and weekends only to have the vast majority hit the waste paper bin (clearly, the client is only going to make one ad/campaign). But quantity can be measured by anyone with eyes and an IQ over 70: just look at the number of pieces of paper with ‘ideas’ on them. Quality, however can only be measured by a few, and here’s the kicker: those people are not always right. That leaves us unsure and insecure. We can’t have one idea; it might be the wrong one or it might come out at the wrong time. Let’s have tonnes, and in the process of killing some we’ll feel better about the others that live, for they will have ‘superiority’ over the dead.

Is that a good way to go about the production of work? Possibly. It’s clear that in producing more you are never going to make your best ad worse, and the further exploration will often result in reaching areas you would not have discovered on the first go. But then there has to be a point where an idea is chosen and developed and the more time you spend looking for the initial idea the less time you can spend working on the all-important execution of that idea. I could say that an ad with horsey waves would be brilliant for Guinness, but that’s a million miles from what ended up on our screens.

So can you maximise your working day and still have a life? Of course you can. I think the idea of working in shorter bursts makes a lot of sense. The 20 minutes where the ideas just flow with ridiculous ease should be familiar to most of us, as should the hour and half where it’s like trying to squeeze Dr Pepper from a pigeon. So I’m very much of the school of thought where you should find the method that works best for you and do that, and that’s what I tell my department. After all, I just want the best work and I don’t care how it happens: arrive late, arrive early, work on your own, work with your sister… If the end result is good that’s all that matters, and staying all night to do it can often do more harm than good.

Having said that, it only applies to concepting. Sometimes the demands of execution (creating edits/storyboards/layouts etc.) require longer attendance and that’s just an unfortunate fact of how long it takes to actually make something really good. It’s a shame about the hours, but I find the energy of practical ‘doing’ pretty invigorating.

What are your methods? Is there a giant shadow of presenteeism hanging over your department? Do you stop at your first thought or explore until your eyes bleed? Feel free to comment and educate the rest of us…