Page last updated at 09:49 GMT, Wednesday, 23 June 2010 10:49 UK

How to manage your workflow around the England game

Fans watch England play

By Claire Heald
BBC News

The timing of England's game in the middle of a working afternoon puts football fans in a quandary. How to make sure the daily grind is done yet still get to watch the match?

"Shouldn't you be at work?" was how TV host Des Lynam introduced coverage of England's World Cup game when it fell in the middle of the working day back in France '98.

Fans face the same question on Wednesday afternoon as England kick off their crucial group game against Slovenia at 1500 BST - a good two hours before most people can legitimately leave their workplace.

So for those who lack a sympathetic boss, wouldn't dream of throwing a sickie or even take time off, can you manage the working day and still be home in time for kick-off?

THE TRUTH IS IN THE MATRIX

For an England fan itching to leave work on Wednesday, to see the game that will decide if their team takes the next plane home or progresses to the knock out stage of football's greatest tournament, there is one word: prioritise.

Business psychologist Dr Mark Batey, of the Manchester Business School, advocates using a matrix (see below) to work out which tasks must be done, and which can fall a little by the wayside.

Important versus urgent Matrix

Using this tool, he says workers can simply plot how vital their work is along two axes. The first question is: "Is it important, or unimportant?" The second: "Is it urgent, or not urgent?"

If work falls in to the important and urgent box then obviously: "Do it right now and chances are you'll be able to enjoy the game without thinking about it."

WATCHING THE MATCH AT WORK?
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If it's important, but not urgent, for the ardent England supporter likely to head to the pub, it can be put off "as long as you can do it with a hangover", he says.

If it's urgent, but not important, depending on who is asking for it to be done, there should be no serious ramifications if it is left, and picked up during the following days.

Should the task fall into the unimportant and not urgent box, his ruthless verdict: "Delete it. Then someone will chase it if it becomes important enough."

Et voila, if you'll excuse the French... who've needed a lot of excusing this World Cup. The workload is reduced.

WORK LIKE AN ITALIAN

In the shadow of a frugal Budget and in trying economic times, most employers, in the capital at least, aren't making special arrangements to let staff watch the crucial match lest they risk a drop in productivity, a survey suggests.

England squad photo
Workers showing a drop in productivity risk irking the boss

Of the 140 firms interviewed by the London Chambers of Commerce, two thirds weren't planning to change their routine to indulge fans.

But this emphasis on keeping noses to grindstones is misplaced, argues Dr Batey.

The latest productivity figures, from the Office for National Statistics in 2008, show UK workers lag behind their American, G7 opposite numbers, and even French and Italian counterparts in terms of gross domestic product per worker.

How so when the British work comparatively long hours? The British fill up so much of our time with work, says Dr Batey, that its quality and speed is compromised.

The answer? Cut that culture of presentee-ism by working shorter hours, he says.

Stopping at 1500 BST may not be seen as such a sin if it actually boosts productivity in the long run.

DON'T WASTE A SECOND

Three o'clock
The witching hour

Absencecare, a company which helps firms manage staff, predicts the number of absentees on Wednesday could be at 8.3% of the nation's workforce, a rise of about 56% on the average day.

But taking the day off is an overreaction to the problem, according to workplace psychologists, when just a few changes can increase productivity and bring deadlines forward.

Turn off, they argue, those nonessential communication streams that impinge on concentration at work. So, finesse those social networking sites for the day, rein in those opposable texting thumbs, and pull the plug on any TV or radio in the background. Logging on to news websites, might of course, be an exception to the rule.

"One of the best ways to get on is to turn off e-mail," says Dr Batey. "It feels like stepping naked out into the world, but it works."

Many employers, of course, may disagree - seeing e-mail as a crucial workplace tool.

The design of the working environment can also have an impact. Open plan offices mean the free flow of information, but also conversation. Shutting oneself away in a quiet space is likely to increase productivity for introverts, say psychologists, but it won't save the extroverts.

STAY IN THE LOOP

There are other ways to stay in touch with events in South Africa without needing a television, says Mark Howard of the Imperial College Business School.

"Unless you are an absolute dyed-in-the-wool England fan who wants to watch every kick of the match, a lot of people will be content to get updates and scores. During the Ashes, a lot of people were watching ball-by-ball analysis on the BBC or newspaper websites."

If you work for a manufacturing company, you can't stop the production line for a couple of hours
Mark Howard
Imperial College Business School

If you have got a meeting scheduled during the match, then telling colleagues to keep you informed of developments is not inappropriate, he says. After all, the World Cup comes round only every four years and it is the national sport.

Staff that planned ahead will have been able to come in early for a few days this week, or work late, in order to get the few hours off, or they could work through their lunch to gain one hour.

Two hours out of a whole year isn't going to prove critical for most office-based organisations, says Mr Howard, but these flexible work patterns don't suit every industry.

"If you work for a manufacturing company, you can't stop the production line for a couple of hours.

"But for office-based environments, our feeling is that companies are allowing staff to make up the time, and they will reap the benefits by having a happy workforce."

SET DEADLINES AND POOL RESOURCES

If the volume of toil to complete before kick-off seems insurmountable, a list of specific and achievable tasks with set deadlines can do wonders for time management.

If it is prioritised (see matrix above), updated during the day, and left on the desk last thing, to take on the strain of remembering everything, a simple list can focus the mind and relieve stress, argues Dr Batey.

A looming deadline can make people work faster, as long as they don't experience a major stress response, like that in a bad exam, he says.

And be creative. If you pass the work around and share it out - pooling resources rather than straight-forward delegation - problems can be solved collectively.

INDULGE THE ENTREPRENEUR

Alan Sugar mask
Make like a Lord and break out on your own

Successful business people in general, follow the matrix, argues Dr Batey; if the task is actually important, they will do it.

But they can tend towards rule-breaking, be a little bit impulsive, ignore the tasks they perceive to be non-urgent, buck social conventions and concentrate on their own work.

One fairly drastic way to get the boss to agree to a Wednesday afternoon off to watch the football? Become your own boss: "Then you'll be really busy but can ignore all the rules yourself."

But don't go making any hasty decisions - if England implode this afternoon, the act of jacking it all in earlier in the day may, in retrospect, appear a little rash.

LAST RESORT

Fan heading in to the pub
If all else fails..?

Should matrices, lists, egotism and isolation fail, there is perhaps one final tactic for England fans wishing to reclaim two hours from this most tense of working days: acknowledge what Dr Batey calls the "dreadful scheduling" afflicting the English workforce.

"When there have been rounds of redundancies and lay offs, bosses should encourage team-work and this is a really good opportunity for that," he says.

In these hard economic times, Dr Batey thinks managers who resist requests for an early finish to the working day are missing a trick - the experience could be a bonding one which pays a healthy goodwill dividend.

"Use football as a mechanism to pull the team together," he says.

But where does that leave those who don't much care for the spectacle of 22 men chasing a synthetic sphere around a field for 90 minutes?

Even the football disenfranchised can benefit their employer, says Dr Batey, by using the time to think more creatively about work.

"Creative companies advocate spending 10 to 15% of time on creative and innovative projects, answering the big unanswered questions," he says. "Be a hero and have a go at those."

Slovenia v England. Watch it here at 1500 BST on the BBC Sport website, or BBC One from 1415 BST, or Radio 5live at 1500 BST. There will be live text commentary and in-depth analysis on the BBC website.


Below is a selection of your tips for getting your work done, and out of the office early (and other assorted comments)

Of course to help get finished by 3pm, one technique would have been to not spend time reading this article when I could be working!
Steve Johnson, Winchester

Work in the Netherlands, then the match starts at 16:00, with less impact on work time. We have a TV (and beer on tap) in our office anyway, so my Dutch colleagues can 'enjoy' the English performance, and the likely(?) misery of their English colleague (me) - who at least enjoyed the cricket yesterday.
Martyn, The Netherlands, Breukelen, The Netherlands

I work in a clothes shop in the suburbs of London and am really looking forward to work this afternoon - we're all hoping for a quiet, easy going afternoon without stress or feeling rushed off our feet.
Sadie, London, UK

I have a dentist appointment this afternoon and have to leave the office at 3pm. No, really, I do, I genuinely do. Why does no one believe me?
Alan Marson,

Work twice as hard in the morning. Pay your boss half the price of a front seat ticket. Wash away all gloom by going into work this evening to do a four hour stint from 18.00 hours.
Pantaloons, Ilkley/England

How about recording it then it's win-win.
Jakeyrollin, Scotland

Dare I suggest it but perhaps you could work two hours of overtime in the near future to make up for it…
Charles, Portsmouth UK

Start early, finish early. Simples
Andy Farrington, Newton Stewart

You say "Even the football disenfranchised can benefit their employer, says Dr Batey, by using the time to think more creatively about work". Why should I work when the football fans are having extra paid time off? - that's divisive and team breaking not team building. If football fans are allowed time off (at work or at home) to watch football, then I should be allowed time off to do the things I enjoy.
Dave Perry, Southampton, England

Yes, act like a responsible member of society and book time off in advance. If you cannot get time off, then tough cookies, that is life. I find it absurd that companies are being encouraged to let workers out so they can watch a bit of football. do i get a campaign to get me out of work when a cricket match is being played?
Hugh, Bristol



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