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This Is the Real Reason You Shouldn’t Work Long Hours

Topics: Career Advice
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Image Credit: Pexels / Leonie Fahjen

Are you sick and tired – maybe even literally – of putting in long hours in an attempt to get ahead at work? The good news is that research suggests that you’d probably do a better job if you worked less.

You can probably think of a few good reasons why you’d like to start putting in fewer hours at work. Maybe you’re craving better work-life balance, more time with your family, or better rest. But, when you want to get ahead professionally, maybe earn a raise and promotion for example, cutting back your hours can feel more than a little difficult. Aren’t long hours part of the recipe for success?

Less is more

It turns out that when it comes to performance at work, fewer hours often equal better results. This is according to Morten Hansen, a management professor at U.C. Berkeley. He recently led a study of 5000 workers to help understand which factors make the biggest difference in performance. These workers represented a variety of different jobs from factory laborers to senior management, etc. The findings might surprise you. Hansen found that the most productive workers actually do less.

“The main finding, and it’s actually a huge surprise to me, is that the best performers, they do less,” Hansen told NBC News BETTER. “We always think about the opposite, right? The best performers should be those who are on 24/7, they are juggling five, six, seven, eight projects at the same time. They go to meetings after meetings. But no, the best performers, they were able to prioritize and to concentrate on a few things that really matter for performance.”

'We always think ... the best performers should be those who are on 24/7. They go to meetings after meetings. But no, the best performers, they were able to prioritize and to concentrate on a few things that really matter for performance.”Click To Tweet

Of course, putting in the time is important too. But Hansen found that hours don’t lead to better performance after a certain point. He and his researchers found that performance starts heading in the wrong direction once workers are investing beyond 50 hours a week.

It’s about focus

Top performers don’t just work less, they focus more. Hansen calls this, “do less, then obsess.” The big idea here is that focusing in on a few key priorities leads to better performance.

“Here’s a tip to improve your performance right away: Write down your priorities on a piece of paper, and maybe 10. Then you take your pen, and you cross out the bottom seven, and you say, I’m gonna focus on the top three,” Hansen continued. He recommends finding ways to postpone, delegate, reschedule, or reevaluate the rest.

He recommends focusing on priorities that increase and create the most value. He also suggests that working with joy and passion is incredibly important for improving performance. Hansen lays out these findings, and more, in more detail in his new book, Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better and Achieve More.

Flow state believers are on the rise

Hansen isn’t the only one who’s talking about working smarter not harder. There seems to be more and more talk about the benefits of spending time in flow state. This optimal state of concentration makes workers more productive and more creative. You can access this consciousness by combining challenging and stimulating work with a lack of distractions.

We’ve also learned so much in recent years about the time-saving power of mindfulness and meditation. Investing a few minutes in these kinds of practices should help you accomplish more in less time during the rest of your day.

You don’t need to work twelve hour days in order to get ahead at work. In fact, you’d be better off focusing on how you work best rather than how much time you invest. Working fewer hours, and focusing on fewer priorities, is a great place to start.

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