When I started work, the general culture appeared to be if you don’t work long hours, you’re not pulling your weight. It took me over 10 years to get fed-up with the relentless pressure of 60-hours plus at work, especially when I felt I was padding out time just to be seen in the office.
Driven by purely selfish reasons of wanting to enjoy the world outside of work, I started to work less hours. Maybe I’m inherently lazy or value my personal time too much? But seeing others around me agitated, depressed and demoralised was not a path I was willing to follow.
So what did I do….I did less hours!
This needed regular justification and I’m sure my smug comments of “work expands to fill the time available” or “you work too long and you get less done” didn’t help me in the short-term, but this changed when others could see I got even more productive.
Even today, I coach my employees that working late isn’t a sign of commitment —it’s a sign of failure. Yes I want everyone to have a more balanced life but mainly it’s because they’ll actually get more stuff done! It takes an element of courage, awareness, whatever it may be for you to realise that above a certain threshold, working more hours actually stops producing more output.
The level of hours is undoubtedly different for different people and I’m sure it varies significantly even for the same person at different times in life. Life priorities, physical fitness, diet, personal issues, enjoyment and other factors all play a part.
- Maybe the maximum output per hour reaches its peak faster as you grow and think deeper about how to work?
- Why is it you get more done the day before you go on holiday than any other day in the year?
Why does working more hours mean you get less done?
Working fewer hours doesn’t seem to make sense on the face of it. From personal experience I know that working too many hours’ for too many days results in mistakes being made, which then takes more effort to fix than it did to create. I see overworked employees get more distracted and then begin distracting others. Soon they’re making bad decisions, reducing effectiveness and ultimately costing money.
Stop for a cuppa and a bite to eat
It appears that when people have just arrived at work, or returned from a tea-break, or back from lunch, they make better decisions. I believe each person is more positive and makes better decisions on a full belly. As the day goes on, energy burns up and decision making becomes less dynamic. When we’re running low on energy, basic physiology seems to suggest we’re more likely to start making different kinds of decisions. If we assume that making any decision involves energy, after a busy day of decision making you don’t feel physically tired, it’s an odd sort of exhaustion, more mental fatigue and your capacity to make good decisions has reduced, whether you have realised it or not.
In short, there are a limited number of good decisions you can make in any one day, and as you make more and more decisions, your ability to maintain your own consistency diminishes. So go home after 8 hours or so, turn off the mobile, keep your energy topped up and get out and enjoy yourself. By not working excessive hours, you’ll get more and better work done.
Who cares how many hours someone worked on something?
In the end, all that matters is how good it is and that it is delivered on time!