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How to Work Less, Do More and Be Successful

Topics: Career Advice

Working longer hours won’t necessarily make you more successful. In fact, it could actually hold you back professionally. Focusing on boosting your productivity and creativity — and on strengthening your relationships — might be a better way to get ahead at work.

The hectic pace of modern work-life can be challenging to sustain over time. No matter how much you love your job, you might find yourself manifesting symptoms of job burnout if you go too long without a real break.

It’s hard to do your best work when you’re feeling tired, disillusioned or maybe even a little depressed, and these symptoms can manifest as a result of overwork. Working too much has real consequences and, in the end, it won’t help you get ahead professionally.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about the dangers of working too much:

Longer hours decrease productivity and increase risk

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Tim Gouw/Pexels

You might be tempted to put in extra hours in order to attend to everything that needs to be done at work. But, don’t take this practice too far.

Research has found that employee output falls sharply after a 50-hour workweek. John Pencavel of Stanford University noted the effect when he studied the relationship between productivity and working hours. Productivity declined even more dramatically after 55 hours. And, Pencavel found that workers who invested 70 hours produced almost nothing more with those additional 15 hours.

Working longer isn’t necessarily a good thing. In some workplaces, it could even be dangerous.

“The simple reality is that work, both mental and physical, results in fatigue that limits the cognitive and bodily resources people have to put towards their work,” said Ken Matos, senior director of research at the Families and Work Institute, speaking with CNBC. “When they are not thinking clearly or moving as quickly or precisely they must work more slowly to maintain quality and safety requirements.”

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You’re not your best self when you’re overworked

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When you’re tired and overworked, you aren’t your best self. You might find yourself feeling less optimistic about your job and your future than you would otherwise, for example. Or, you might notice that the quality of your professional relationships (not to mention your personal ones) takes a nosedive when you’ve been working too hard.

Having balance in your life, and taking care of yourself, allows you to be at your best. You’ll have a brighter outlook on life and work, and it will help to strengthen your interpersonal skills.

You need to take frequent breaks in order to rest and restore. This habit will improve your mood and, most likely, the quality of your relationships too. Being overworked, on the other hand, can leave you depleted and functioning below your abilities.

Fatigue impacts decision-making

Making good decisions — and avoiding bad ones — is one of the most important things you can do to advance your career. However, fatigue, as a consequence of long hours, can impact your decision-making skills in a big way.

Decision fatigue comes as a result of engaging in a lot of decision-making. The quality of your choices tends to decline after you’ve been forced to make too many without taking a break. This fatigue can lead to impulsive or ill-advised choices that can have real consequences later.

It might seem that forcing yourself to work extra hours will help you get ahead. But, if you make decisions when you’re not in the best frame of mind, your efforts could backfire later.

Thankfully, there is a lot you can do to improve your professional performance, and ultimately your standing, that doesn’t require working longer hours. Research has shown that there are lots of ways to do more, work less and be more successful.

Let’s take a closer look at a few strategies:

1. Mind the technology

The technology available to you in 2019 is powerful. You can harness it for good in your career. Or, you can use it in ways that hold you back. So, be mindful about how you’re using technology during the workday.

You might want to consider limiting how often you check email while you’re at work. And, you should avoid checking it first thing in the morning. This will help you to stay on track with your most important objectives rather than getting sidetracked by someone else’s agenda.

Similarly, picking one or two times for checking email during the day, and staying away from it the rest of the time, could help you to stay focused and productive.

Additionally, avoid checking social media during the workday. It’s a tremendous distraction. Engaging with social media between work tasks is common practice these days. (Nearly 90 percent of employees say they check social media at work.) But, just because this practice is common that doesn’t mean it’s in your best interest.

As an experiment, try going a week without checking social media at work and see if you don’t notice a significant difference in your productivity.

2. Find your flow

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Eddy Klaus/Unsplash

According to research from UC Irvine, reported by Training magazine, workers spend an average of just 11 minutes on a project before being interrupted. This has real consequences for productivity. Especially since the same study found that it takes about 25 minutes to get back on track following an interruption.

If you’re interrupted a lot at work, it’s almost certainly impacting your ability to get into flow state. This “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best” is only achieved through sustaining concentration and avoiding distractions. You’re your most productive, and your most creative, when you’re “in the zone” so to speak.

The good news is that you don’t need to spend eight hours a day working in flow state in order to improve your efficiency. Your productivity, and ultimately your work performance in general, can benefit from just an hour or two a day.

So, try to find a quiet conference room where you can focus. Or, close and lock your office door for just a little while each day, for example. You’ll get a lot done and work to the best of your ability if you can find — and claim — time and space to focus.

According to research, workers spend an average of just 11 minutes on a project before being interrupted. This has real consequences for productivity. Click To Tweet

3. Eliminate useless meetings

Many workers find meetings to be a profound waste of time. In fact, 17 percent of employees say they’d literally rather watch paint dry than attend one.

Eliminating the time you spend in useless meetings could do wonders for your productivity and help you to get more done while putting in fewer hours. So, if you have the authority to do so, try limiting the time you spend in meetings, or cancel them altogether and switch to something like collaborative software to help you communicate with colleagues. Some meetings can be eliminated simply by making a change to a weekly email update structure instead.

If you aren’t able to control the amount of time you spend in meetings, focus on using these times to your advantage as much as possible. One of the reasons that some people enjoy meetings more than others is that they provide opportunities to socialize a little. Using this time to strengthen bonds and enjoy yourself a bit might even help you get ahead professionally. It’s certainly a better use of the time than moaning and groaning about the meeting and letting it get you down.

4. Negotiate flexibility

These days, a lot of workers say they’d like to telecommute. In fact, 80 to 90 percent of U.S. workers say they’d like to give it a try, at least part-time. And, there is good reason for this. Studies show that flexible work options help workers to accomplish more.

A two-year study, conducted by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom and reported by Inc, noted a boost to productivity for remote workers. Most reported finding it easier to concentrate at home. (Also, eliminating the commute saves time and energy on either end of the workday.)

As a result, telecommuters are far more likely to work “a true full-shift” than office workers. In the end, researchers found that telecommuting increased productivity by 13 percent. Telecommuters also took shorter breaks and had fewer sick days.

Negotiating for flexibility could do wonders for your productivity and your overall enjoyment of your job. Even working from home just one or two days per week could make a big difference. So, consider negotiating for this benefit the next time you take a new job.

5. Take care of yourself

One of the best ways to get more done in less time at work is simply to prioritize taking care of yourself during your off hours.

Getting plenty of sleep helps to keep you feeling good and working to the best of your ability. Regular exercise also helps to improve productivity. Eating right can do wonders for your mood and your cognitive functioning. And, taking regular vacations is important for maintaining productivity levels and job satisfaction. Taking care of yourself is crucial if you’re serious about wanting to boost efficiency.

If you really want to be get more done in less time during your work hours, be sure to maximize and prioritize your hours away. It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s one of the best ways to get ahead at work.

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Do you want to work less but get more done? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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Bernard Poisson

A LOT of IT companies expect candidates/new hires possessing the “live-to-work” mentality. They don’t express this up-front during interviews, even when asked about their ‘work-life’ balance. Of course, the reply is coming from an over-worked employee! There was a recent article I read about an actual interview question of: “How do you feel about taking work home with you?” <- RED FLAG, abandon-ship, abandon-ship! This is a CLEAR indicator that this employer has no respect for their employee's free-time. Another discussed execs calling candidates during weekends/holidays, to see if they would answer and possibly do some work! Another RED FLAG!… Read more »

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