How Working Less Can Make You More Productive


How many hours do you spend working each week? 47? That’s the average for an American with a full-time job. Do you work at night? How long are your spells of work? Two hours? More?

These are all questions you should be asking yourself. When it comes to time spent working, the consensus is strong: working too much, and working in huge blocks, makes you less efficient. It’s perhaps something we all know deep down. Even a small amount of reflection tends to lead us to the conclusion that those Tuesday evenings we spend glued to our desk really yield little in the way of useful output. Our concentration is only so powerful.

Yet so often we slog away. Time passes as it always does while our brains slow to barely a crawl. And when finally we permit ourselves to rise from our desks, we feel satisfied, perhaps even pleased, at having devoted so much to our task. Many of us will already have noticed all this and nonetheless cannot but return to the same tired, backwards pattern.

But maybe a little more convincing will finally help throw off this negative way of operating in favor of a truly efficient method.

Focus! (And How It Works.)

Do you regularly engage in five-hour work sessions? Do you feel pleased after? Studies on concentration suggest that we shouldn’t. It takes us 20 minutes to reach a proper level of concentration – why fritter it away by working too long?

But many of us do waste those periods of good concentration, and we do it by working past our limits. What’s my limit, you ask? It’s different for everyone but probably around 20-40 minutes, which is far less than most people think. Taking breaks is vital (20-30 minutes is ideal). Certain studies suggest that regular breaks and having awareness of your body’s natural rhythms can together increase your capacity to concentrate – up to 1-2 hours, perhaps. Whatever way you look at it, the science is clear: working less and in shorter bursts increases your efficiency.

Time-saving Tools

So often it’s the little things that encourage the negative approach. There are a number of things most of us could stand to do in order to condense the everyday tasks – the emails, number crunching, and so on – into the briefest period possible, to allow us to free up some time for the really important work. Here are a few time-saving tips:

– Use Dropbox. The ability to store documents online and distribute them to colleagues easily saves time and reduces stress.

– If possible, try delegating. Part of the negative mentality that drives us to constant work is feeling the responsibility to do everything at once. Lighten your burden and keep your mind on task by delegating as appropriate.

– “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”, this is Parkinson’s law, and after a little reflection many of us might find it rings true. No matter the task, our tendency is to devote to it the amount of time we’re given. Simply assigning yourself exactly the time necessary for its completion and sticking strictly to that decision can do wonders for one’s productivity.

More For Less

This is one area of life where the research is pretty unambiguous: work less and you’re likely to achieve more results. Studies show that employees view the opportunity offered by their company for work-life balance as second only to compensation in importance. Many of the most successful businesses accommodate their employees’ needs by making available company vacation properties, offering flexible hours, and allowing people to work from home. Laurie Lulg of LCB inc. puts it best: “when an employee has things working at home, then things are going to work at work.”

Even back in 1926, Henry Ford found that decreasing a worker’s hours from 10 to 8 and their week from 6 days to 5 led to greater productivity. The evidence has only mounted since then. Research into methods for cultivating greater productivity continue to show that longer hours correlate with less significant output. In fact, any attempt at improving one’s productivity should certainly include a long, penetrating look at how much time your spend working. So stop feeling guilty and give yourself a break. Whatever the voice in your head may tell you, it’s simply the best way to get things done.

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