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No One Will Tell You How Much Time You Should Work Every Day, So I Will

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Here is a well researched fact of life. The more you work, the less productive you become! The secret is to work smarter and take lots of breaks.

Let us look at the research to see if this is really true. A social networking company tested their new app called Desk Time. Guess what? The top 10% most productive people were not even working 8 hour days. Their recipe for success? They took regular breaks of 17 minutes for every 52 minutes of work.

A University of Toronto study showed very similar results. The leader of the study, John Trougakos says:

 “All efforts to control behavior, to perform and to focus draw on that pool of psychological energy. Once that energy source is depleted, we become less effective at everything that we do.”

Our brains are not designed for long, intense hours of focus. Work intensively for short bursts, then rest up.

But the 52 minute work and 17 minute break may not work for you. The secret is of course to take the breaks when you feel that you need them. Interrupting concentration by following a clock may ruin a train of thought. If I am on a roll and producing really good work, I want to continue so a break could be counterproductive.

It might not work if you are dealing with restless customers who are waiting in line to be served. This principle may work better for mindless and repetitive tasks which do not require a high level of focus. But certainly it is worth experimenting with this and see how you can actually reduce the number of working hours and work smarter. Here are 7 practical suggestions so that you can do just that.

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1. Don’t let presenteeism take over your life.

We have all heard of absenteeism but what about presenteeism? You have finished all the day’s tasks, yet you feel compelled to stay at your desk. You end up working longer hours than you really need. If you have the freedom to choose, just go home. There are lots of things waiting for you there. You can relax and spend time with the family or significant other. When you come back to work the next day, you are much more likely to get more creative and faster work done. Your body and brain need recharging.

2. Try working shorter hours with lots of breaks.

It may be time to experiment. Larry Page of Google wants to abolish the 40 hour working week . The Swedish government introduced a six hour working day as an experiment in the city of Gothenburg last April. The test group will work six hour days while the control group will work the standard 8 hours. Both groups will be paid the same. Will it reduce absenteeism and increase productivity? We are still waiting on the results as they are leaving it run for a year.

3. Learn how to say no.

Stop giving away your time when you find that you are overwhelmed. The range of requests for help, collaboration, invitations and meetings seem never ending and if you find that your real work is lagging behind, then it is time to call a halt. The best advice I have found on this one is to take time before answering. You are more likely to say no and it will save you tons of time and energy when you say yes and have to backtrack later! Remember that ‘no’ is a complete sentence!

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4. Breaks are more productive than you think.

If you think that your mind switches off entirely as you walk around the block or grab a coffee, then you are wrong. It is in these relaxing moments that the mind can produce some very creative ideas. It is not a waste of time. Albert Einstein, when asked how he came up with idea of relativity, said:

“I thought of that while riding my bike.” – Albert Einstein

5. Set yourself realistic deadlines.

There are lots of studies which show that people generally work better when there are time restrictions. In fact, pressure to complete tasks within a deadline can yield fruitful results, if the person sees it as a challenge. If, on the other hand, they see it as a threat, it may well be counterproductive having a tough deadline to meet. You have to decide how you react to deadlines and set them accordingly.

 6. Don’t overdo the breaks.

You have to find the right balance because having too many breaks can be an ally in procrastination. I cannot do that now as I have to have a break! If this is taken to its logical conclusion, then very little work will get done.

7. Don’t forget your body.

Switching off for a break might involve a nap, a walk or checking your Facebook status. Google was one of the first major companies to introduce nap rooms to help employees recharge mind and body. If you are not lucky enough to work in one of these companies, you may have to content yourself with taking a walk, stretching or doing something else to give your wrists, arms and fingers a rest. You can avoid the rather painful RSI (repetitive strain injury) by using software such as Workrave which will alert you with an alarm to tell you when to get up and move around.

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Let us know in the comments if you have successfully managed to work a shorter week and how you achieved that.

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Featured photo credit: New books from AdLibris/Peter Hellberg via flickr.com

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