Stop Wasting Time Burning The Midnight Oil

A few weeks ago, I came across an interesting article. Sweden was moving towards a standard 6-hour work day, away from the 8-hour work day that most countries follow. This decrease in work hours has taken the country by storm, with many Sweden-based businesses having already implemented the changes.

Many of us work ridiculous hours with the intent of getting more done. In fact, the average person works 50+ hours a week, which is proving to be quite ineffective. The truth is, a majority of people cannot concentrate on a task for eight excruciating hours. Hence Sweden’s move towards the 6-hour work day.

You might be asking yourself whether employees can get much done with shorter working hours. Well, the answer is YES!

Many managers in Sweden have reported increased focus, enhanced stamina, boosted motivation, reduced conflicts, raised efficiency, and a general increase in happiness.

With decreased work hours, employees are motivated to get more done in a shorter time, plus they get to spend more time on their personal activities and with their families.

 

Furthermore, distractions such as social media are discouraged during a 6-hour work day, meaning that the working hours are fully optimized.

You might be wondering whether it is possible to replicate this model in other countries; across industries and businesses. Well, that is what we will look at below. Before the end of this article you will know whether you can get more work done, in fewer hours.

The Productivity Cliff

We cannot talk about productivity without mentioning the productivity cliff. As I mentioned above, a large number of people across the globe work more than 50 hours each week. More often than not, these long hours are not accompanied by overtime pay. You are working for free!

If you are one of these people who works nights, weekends, and holidays, in the hopes of getting more work done, I have some news for you.

A recent study from John Pencavel at Stanford University shows that the productivity per hour (output) of an employee falls drastically after 50 hours per week. And after a 55-hour workweek, it is highly unlikely that an employee will get any work done at all.

Furthermore, this study shows that an employee who works 70 hours per week has an output equivalent to a person working 55 hours per week. That’s 15 hours down the drain.

productivity cliff

The Alarming Pitfalls of Overworking Yourself

Long hours are not only detrimental to your productivity; they also have negative impacts on other areas of your life. Firstly, excessive working hours lead to sleep deprivation, which will negatively affect your mood, efficiency, and overall health.

Apart from being a sleep thief, long hours are also known to increase your risk of a stroke. Consider a UCL study of 600,000 men and women across 3 continents. This study has shown that those who work 55+ hours a week have a 33% greater risk of suffering from a stroke than those working 35-40 hours a week.

There is also increased risk for other cardiovascular diseases, such as coronary heart disease. And from an economic standpoint, longer hours increase employment turnover and absenteeism.

All in all, overworking yourself will lead to mental and physical fatigue, which will eventually lead to a fall in cognitive abilities and overall output.

In short, when you push yourself too hard, you can achieve a lot in the short term but little in the long term.

Ten Ways to Maximize Your Productivity

I know that the statistics above are tough to swallow, especially when you have to work multiple jobs to put a meal on your table. I can’t blame you for putting in a 70-hour workweek when you have a family to feed, children to nurture, and bills to pay.

Additionally, I can’t tell you to swear off long hours when you are building your business from the ground up.

What I can do is show you how to get the most out of fewer work hours. I can also show you how to create boundaries between home and work. In this way, you can achieve success with your current situation.

Here are ten great ways of maximizing your productivity levels.

 

1. Start your day early: Most people who live in the city have a similar start to their day. You wake up early, get stuck in traffic, and barely make it to work on time. There is no way that you can have a good start to your day if you have to go through this crazy routine.

That is why it is important to start your day early so that you can beat the morning madness. You will also find that you can get a lot done when there are few people around to distract you. So increase your productivity by getting up an hour or two earlier.

2. Stop multitasking: Multitasking is viewed as an admirable skill that allows you to get through more tasks in a short period. Unfortunately, this is a completely false notion. Multitasking has been proven to kill your focus and cut your productivity by up to 40%.

When you are multitasking, you are alternating between numerous tasks without giving any your full attention. Instead, you should allocate your time to one task, and carry out that task before moving on to the next. Put time limits on your tasks, and when the time runs out move on to the next task.

Additionally, prioritize your tasks, and cluster all similar tasks together.

3. Plan a day ahead: Planning is the secret to all success. By simply dedicating 15 minutes of your evening to planning for the following day, you can dramatically increase your productivity. Create a list of the tasks that you want to get done, in order of importance.

The next day you won’t be running around, trying to figure out what the hell you are supposed to be doing.

plan ahead

4. Work towards a goal: It is exciting to set big goals and to achieve them. However, it is sometimes daunting to accomplish a goal, especially when it seems like there are thousands of hurdles in front of you.

What you should do is break down your large goal into several small tasks, which are easy to accomplish. Each of these small tasks will bring you a step closer to the large goal that you are trying to achieve. Make sure to track your results, and remind yourself of your end goal. Goal breakdowns are a basic time management hack.

5. Delegate: If you are a sole entrepreneur, then skip this point. However, if you work with other people, then you need to pay attention. Delegation allows you to make use of the people that you work with, and you should not take this for granted.

If there is a task that someone else can complete well, delegate it to them. But don’t use this as an excuse to dump all of your unwanted work on the helpless intern.

6. Eliminate Distractions: In a world full of distractions, you need to find a way to minimize or eliminate all distractions in your environment. This includes putting off your computer, blocking social media, silencing your phone, and hanging a ‘do not disturb’ sign on your office door.

Create boundaries at work, so that you are only taking part in activities that will enhance your productivity. Also, keep your distance from the average achievers at work, as they are looking for any opportunity to drag you into an unproductive conversation.

eliminate distractions

7. Take short breaks: Believe it or not, humans have an attention span of 8 seconds (this rivals that of a goldfish). It is therefore not surprising that our brains start to go haywire and shut down when we work long hours.

That is why it is important to take a few breaks, to refocus our energy. By having a little quiet time in the middle of a hectic workday, you can elevate your productivity levels.

So take 5 minutes and shut yourself in your office or your boss’s office. Or maybe use your lunch hour to take a walk and breathe in some fresh air. You will see how much your creativity and energy increases after this.

8. Say no: Many of us are people pleasers. Saying no is therefore a hard thing to do. However, there are huge benefits in saying no. Apart from the small power rush that you might get, saying no also allows you to prioritize.

When you say no to extra projects, social engagements, and other similar tasks, you allow yourself to focus all your energy on one important task. This is as opposed to spreading yourself thin across several less important tasks. Commit yourself to your current task, and only accept other tasks once you have completed your current one.

9. Exercise: Exercise has a multitude of physical benefits such as weight loss, improved endurance, and enhanced flexibility. However, what few people know is that exercise has amazing productivity benefits as well.

When you exercise you release a chemical messenger known as GABA, which controls anxiety and reduces stress. Furthermore, exercise allows for improved creativity, meaning that you can go back to work with more innovative ideas.

So take 10 minutes or even an hour to go jogging, swimming, surfing, cycling, or even gardening. Find a physical activity that you love, and use it to increase your productivity.

exercise

10. Make the most out of your weekend: Many people work through their weekend, but it will serve you better if you take time off on Saturday and Sunday. Disconnect from your work and connect with your personal life.

Reflect on what you have achieved and what you want to achieve, without getting distracted by reports and meetings. Spend time with your family, and go on adventures with them. Pursue a passion and have fun. Take some time to yourself so that you can recharge, refocus, and relax.

And you can use your Sunday evening to make a plan for the upcoming week, so that the next five days are not hectic but productive. Whatever you choose to do over the weekend, ensure that you are not constantly exposed to your work and the accompanying stress.

Final Verdict

As you can see, overworking yourself has proven to be futile. Not only does the productivity cliff prove this, but the shift in Sweden’s work hours also enhances the point. However, chances are your country is not about to change the standard number of working hours in a day.

What you can do is get more done in the hours that you do have, so that you are not spending your weeknights and weekends trying to finish up on your work. Instead of wasting the excessive hours that you have each week, you can get more done in less time with the productivity tips above.

I urge you to manage your time more wisely, and increase your output by working smarter instead of harder.

Before you leave, remember to share this with your friends, family, and colleagues who are struggling with poor productivity. And, if you are trying to overcome some of your productivity shortfalls, drop me a comment and let me know what steps you have taken to rectify your situation. And don’t forget to sign up for the Business Broken Down newsletter for instant updates on new posts.

It was great to talk with you today, and I hope to see you again next Monday. Have a productive week!

34 Comments

  1. Davina, this is very interesting. I have not heard about this. I wish the USA would do this. We work about 60 – 70 hours per week. We usually only get two weeks vacation per year, average!

    Like

  2. I think about how amazing it would be for quality of life and for kids to be with their parents after school if the 6 hour work day went into effect. This is something I hope Americans will be paying attention to as the Sweeds figure it all out. Thank you for the 10 tips – I need to print a list!

    Like

    1. Hi Joann,

      The benefits of the 6-hour workday are amazing, and I also hope that it can come into effect in other countries. Glad you liked the productivity tips, and I hope they work well for you.

      Asante,
      Davina

      Like

  3. I’ve read similar studies and think that Sweden has it figured out. The burn out rate for people who work 50-60 hours a week is high, increased health problems, and the stress!! Oy! I know on those weeks that I bust my butt and try to fit more in that I am not productive by the end of the week.
    Instead of fighting myself over a nap, I’ve learned to just go take one. I might sleep for 45 minutes, but I will make up for that when I wake up with a clear head and can focus and work well again 🙂
    Great article and tips!

    Like

    1. Hi Rhoda,

      Sweden is definitely making great strides when it comes to reduced work hours and school hours (for young children). I’m glad that you’ve found a way to increase your productivity during hectic weeks because the drawbacks that you’ve listed are awful. Glad you enjoyed the article and tips.

      Asante,
      Davina

      Like

  4. I have heard about this initiative and also about an entrepreneur couple who introduced a 4-day working week in their firm with great success. I absolutely support them. It’s very common at the beginning of a career (and I fell into the same trap) that one tries to prove him/herself by working day and night. Then it becomes a habit which is really difficult to break and create an effective working method. Your tips are perfect to do so. Promodoro technique can help to keep the short breaks, too.

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    1. Hi Veronika,

      I haven’t heard about the 4-day working week, but I’ll be sure to read up on it. Thanks for sharing your experience, I’ll keep it in mind when I overwork myself.
      And yes, the Pomodoro technique has proven to be effective when it comes to boosting productivity. Thanks for stopping by.

      Asante,
      Davina

      Like

    1. Hi Stella,

      I’m happy to know that you enjoyed the article. Delegation is definitely a skill that most of us need to learn, because it can play a big part in boosting our productivity.

      Asante,
      Davina

      Like

    1. Hi Tasleem

      Glad to hear that you have found ways to increase your productivity. Multitasking is definitely a habit that we should all stop, as it only reduces our efficiency. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      Asante,
      Davina

      Like

  5. Awesome tips- I like how you touch on the health aspects of overworking. One thing I have started doing is standing at my computer instead of sitting. There are many negative health implication associated with sitting at computer all day long.

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    1. Hi Erica,

      Happy to hear that you enjoyed the tips. I’ve heard of standing desks, and though I haven’t tried one out I know that they are better than sitting. Will look into it now, thanks for sharing.

      Asante,
      Davina

      Like

  6. I think better organization is key to not wasting time. By planning out your day, cutting distractions and setting goals you really can cut your work time down and prevent running yourself down. As a blogger who also has a full time job it’s important for me to do things efficiently so I’m not working 8am -10 pm everyday

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    1. Hi Dia,

      Planning and organization are definitely essential skills. I hope you have found ways to increase your productivity so that you do not run yourself down. Best of luck with your blog 🙂

      Asante,
      Davina

      Like

  7. A great post, Davina, and thoroughly researched. Many entrepreneurs go into business as they wanted ‘to manage their own time’ or for more ‘time freedom.’ In the beginning, to get a start-up off the ground one may need to work 50-60 hours, but I agree this should only be for a limited time, otherwise burn-out and frustration will result in giving up.

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  8. If we could all accomplish what is required of us and still support our families in less hours, I’m in!
    The fact that my Dogs wake me up to go outside every morning around 5am means I am forced to start my day early and I absolutely love working at that time of day. Those 2-hours before the family wakes are my most productive.

    There are a few points in your list I need to pay more attention too; especially the multi-tasking…
    (while commenting here, I’m working on a banner for one clients website, updating plugins on another clients site and Beta Testing another plugin on my LocalHost Server for a Developer I know. Mmm, need to make Coffee too)

    Like

    1. Hi Duane,

      You’re lucky; you have non-battery operated alarm clocks 🙂 I also find that I’m most productive when everyone is asleep, but it seems like the earlier I wake up, the earlier everyone else wakes up. And multi-tasking is definitely a tough habit to break out of, but hopefully you can make the change.

      Asante,
      Davina

      Like

  9. I agree with a shorter work day (yesssss) but I wonder about the money. In my work I have 3 part-time jobs (all in the same industry) and I just bounce around where needed – I love it because I have variety and I’m never, ever wasting my time!

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    1. Hi,

      In the case of Sweden, work hours were shortened without cutting down on wages. I’m glad you found a way to be efficient with your time, I’m still working to improve my own productivity. Thanks for sharing.

      Asante,
      Davina

      Like

  10. This was such a great read and perfect timing. I feel like I’ve been working nonstop this month on getting my business up and running, but I haven’t been as productive as I could be. I think eliminating distractions (ahem social media) is one of the hardest ones for me. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Hi Mimi,

      Happy to know that you enjoyed it, It’s definitely hard to stop and evaluate your working habits, especially when you’re building up your business. Hopefully, these tips will show you how to become more productive..including cutting down on social media time 🙂

      Asante,
      Davina

      Like

  11. I totally believe that a shorter workday results in more work done. I’m a freelancer, and for me personally, I work WAY better under pressure/a timeline. I will sit on the computer all day being unfocused, but when it gets to the evening and time is running out in the day, I power through work!

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  12. YES! I’ve worked with firms that had a strong preference for face-time and long hours (startups, amirite?) rather than reasonable working hours with higher productivity. You could see it in the comparitive workload and productivity of those of us who had family commitments and left at 5 on the dot vs. our colleagues who stayed until 10pm and didn’t get in until 11am. It also negatively affected the team as a whole, because when one team member’s work depended on another, the schedule sync became a time sink.

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    1. Hi Resa,

      You’re definitely right 🙂 I think there’s a common misconception that the longer you work, the more you get done. And unfortunately, most people and businesses haven’t realized how much this strategy is hurting their business. Thanks for sharing your insight, I’ll definitely use your experience as an example when I’m explaining this topic further.

      Like

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