Working Long Hours

Slow It Down

Let me preference this by saying this is not intended for the truly lazy, but for professionals who really care about their craft and clients. Stop working so hard! Work smart! There is no reason to be working 40 plus hours a week, week after week.

All you are doing is digging yourself into an early grave. If you find yourself always having to work long hours to make deadlines, then you need to improve your time management skills or simply adjust your deadlines.

Over the long run, working 40 plus hours a week will lower your efficiency, pile on stress, add some gray hairs and eventually burn you out. The key is to work smart, diligently, and efficiently. There are many studies (which are generally ignored) that support the position that reducing work hours and/or workweek decrease employee fatigue and increase their efficiency.

How many times have you had a 3 o’clock crash, notwithstanding consuming one of the various energy drinks, trying to fight against the ever-persistent sand man, or simply trying to burn time before 5pm because you are burnt-out? For most people, this is not laziness or the result of not getting enough sleep. It is mainly mental/physical fatigue brought on by an extensive workday.

Work less Produce More

A solution to alleviate this problem is to simply reduce the amount of work hours. I know what you’re thinking: “We can’t do that, we won’t get as much work done.” Not true, my dear friends. The studies don’t support this, however. For example, one study, conducted by Salary.com, concluded that the average American nonindustrial worker spends about 2 hours a day surfing the Internet and reading emails. That’s about 10 hours a week wasted time. By reducing work hours/week you are not losing productive work, but mainly trimming the nonproductive fat off your work day; focusing on tasks that need to be done; increasing the amount of billable work per hour; reducing the overhead costs of maintaining the work environment; and improving the bottom line.

Scott Young in his blog post discussed techniques for achieving a 4-hour workday. Though I feel this might be a bit extreme, the techniques he listed are the type of techniques needed to establish a productive workday of less than 8 hours. One of the first techniques is to simply remove the time wasters such as emails and surfing the net. Another time waster, I would add, is convening and attending unnecessary meetings. After deleting nonessential tasks, weekly and daily goals should be set up. These tasks should be structured in a way to allow work to be completed within your shorten work day. The idea here is to knock things out that need to be done that day/week. No more no less.

The downside is that often when productivity is increased, additional work is assigned or undertaken. This, of course, defeats the benefits of increasing productivity and efficiency by reducing the work hour/week. Scott Young pointed out the fallacy of assigning more work or giving yourself more work if you accomplished your goals early:

Imagine you are racing in a 400m race. If you pace yourself correctly, you should be completely exhausted by the end of the race. You will run as fast as you can within 400m.

Now imagine you were running a 400m race, but as you crossed the finish line, your coach yelled at you to run another 200m. If your coach did this frequently you might start pacing your race to leave a bit of extra running energy for the end of your run, just in case you’re asked to run further.

The point is that by adding more work you begin to defeat the purpose of this system and return to 40 plus work weeks with never ending to-do lists.

Well, Ford did it

One should keep in mind that there was a time when the average workweek was much longer than 40 hours. Suggestions to reduce the hours were met with arguments that productivity would suffer. However, taking the opposite approach, no less an industrial stalwart than Henry Ford strongly advocated for shorter work hours and workdays. At the time 12 hours days and 6 days a week were common. Ford argument on shortening the workday/workweek relied partly on his position that people need adequate leisure time to consume products but he showed that by reducing the workday to 8 hours and the workweek to five days, productivity did not suffer. Because of technological advancements, especially in creative areas, extensive hours are no longer needed to produce the same amount of work. It is interesting to note that in a paper written by Eric Rauch from MIT, “an average worker needs to work a mere 11 hours per week to produce as much as one working 40 hours in 1950.”

Give it a shot

Now I understand not every company can follow such schedules, but it does baffle me why this kind of information is often ignored. A few agencies have experimented with having shorter work days/weeks and have had fantastic results in employee’s performance and morale. People come into the business place more rested, positive and creatively inclined.

So for all you that find yourself working 8 to 8 everyday, stop digging a 1000ft ditch with a shovel and rent a tractor. If you’re an individual who can dictate your own hours, give it a try and see what happens. Make notes and observe the things you change about your daily routine. You might just realize you can accomplish everything in under 30 hours.