Working longer hours does not make you more productive. Instead, working hard - being focused and efficient - is the accurate measure of productivity and what ultimately enables people to achieve their goals.
Understanding the difference between working long hours and working productively is key because it influences how much time you spend working and what activities you invest in.
Research shows that employees who work for companies who enable strong work-life balance work 21% harder than employees who work for companies that expect them to work long hours.
Whether you’re a leader who is empowered enact business policies that promote working fewer hours or an individual contributor who feels like work is consuming their life, this article will help you understand how work-life balance affects productivity and actions you can take to improve yours.
Long Hours Kill Your Productivity
A study of 65,000 US employees found that after eight hours worked, productivity drops by 10% and continues to decline by 10-19% for every additional hour. The main reason for the dramatic drop in productivity is exhaustion. It’s tiring to work nonstop for ten hours, day after day.
Working long hours also tends to lead to sleep deprivation since people have to stay up later to fulfill home responsibilities, including maintaining relationships. If you work in an office that values staying late, here are some ways you can try reducing your hours:
- Show your boss this research to advocate for forty-hour weeks.
- Take breaks throughout the day to mitigate the effects of working nonstop.
- Strive to complete all of your work within eight hours so that you can justify leaving on time.
If you are unable to complete your work in eight hours on most days, you need to rethink what you spend your time on. Here are some activities you can eliminate and free up hours of your day:
- Meetings that you don’t play an important role in. Instead, ask someone to email you relevant information from them.
- Tedious, repeatable tasks that you can delegate to a subordinate. For example, filing expense reports, cleaning your data, research, etc.
- Tasks that do not drive value. Critically evaluate what activities propel you toward your goals and eliminate any that do not.
Even if you can’t shift to a forty hour week, every hour that you save improves your work-life balance and productivity.
Work-Life Balance Prevents Burnout
One of the most compelling reasons to prioritize work-life balance is that it prevents burnout. Unlike exhaustion, lack of creativity, and other temporary issues caused by poor work-life balance, burnout has long-term effects on your productivity and can trigger mental health problems.
Burnout is so detrimental because it’s a combination of severe exhaustion and lack of motivation that, combined, make it very difficult to fully engage in work and personal activities. If left unchecked, burnout can trigger a career crisis if you lack the mental stamina to meet performance expectations. Provided that your personal life isn’t chaotic, having a healthy work-life balance prevents burnout by:
- Giving you enough flexibility to reap the benefits of working. Instead of constantly having to sacrifice personal hobbies, family, etc. for work, you get to enjoy your life which makes it easier to stay motivated.
- Allowing you to take brief breaks throughout the day and get enough sleep to prevent exhaustion.
Distancing Yourself Enhances Your Creativity
Researchers at the University of Indiana at Bloomington discovered that temporarily separating yourself from projects and problems significantly improve your ability to think creatively about them. This concept is known as psychological distance, and it improves your creativity by allowing your subconscious mind to take over and make insightful connections that your conscious brain can’t.
Having a healthy work-life balance makes it easier to leverage psychological distance since you have a robust array of activities to fully take your mind off projects.
\When you get stuck on difficult projects, shift to other tasks for the remainder of the day and resume the following morning. Spending an evening engaged in non-work activities will give you a fresh perspective and help you overcome mental roadblocks.
If you’re on a deadline and running out of time, take a brief break to work on something completely different, read some articles or engage in another activity that takes your mind off your project for ten to thirty minutes. You won’t yield as much benefit but, it still gives your brain an opportunity to refocus.
Happiness Plays a Critical Role in Performance
Unless your job is your number one passion in life, it’s difficult to be happy when you’re working sixty-plus hour weeks. You don’t have the time or energy to focus on the activities that matter most to you. Working excessive hours is a useless sacrifice since being unhappy limits your cognitive abilities. Research shows that happiness plays a key role in your productivity by:
- Improving memory
- Increasing capacity for innovative thinking
- Boosting engagement
- Among other things
Each of those abilities plays a critical role in your performance, and you can easily improve them by spending more time on activities that make you happy.
About the author: Emily leads Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.