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10 Reasons You Should Stop Working Long Hours Today

10 Reasons You Should Stop Working Long Hours Today

If you have a job in the present challenging economic times, you are probably doing everything you can to hold on to it. If your employer asks you to put in 50 hours of work every week, you likely go further and put in 60 or more hours. You might think you are getting more done by working longer, but in fact every hour you put in over 40 hours a week is making you less productive, both in the short and long term. Studies have found that the “sweet spot” for optimum productivity is 40 hours a week. Here are ten specific reasons you should stop working long hours today if you want to maintain optimum productivity.

1. Reduced productivity

Long work hours are often counterproductive. Ford Motor Company proved this in the 1990s through a series of studies that showed every additional 20 hours of work above the recommended 40 hours resulted in an increase in productivity only for three to four weeks before productivity turned negative. If you consistently work long hours, you get burned out and inevitably start falling behind in your duties. Productivity declines and you have to spend more hours trying to catch up on neglected tasks.

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2. Increased fatigue

Fatigue sets in when you work extended hours over a long period of time. Symptoms of fatigue from extended workdays include sleepiness, weariness, poor concentration, irritability and increased susceptibility to illness. These symptoms are a big hindrance to productivity. If you don’t stop and rest from work, fatigue will increase and become overwhelming.

3. Higher safety risks

When fatigue increases and you become overwhelmed from long workdays, your safety is at risk. Accidents and injuries are more likely to occur in the workplace. This safety hazard, while difficult to clearly support with scientific evidence because fatigue levels are not easy to measure and quantify, is a logical concern that you should not ignore.

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4. Neglected social life

You will find it difficult to maintain a healthy social life when you work 60 or more hours a week. Free time to spend with family and close friends is not adequate with this work schedule. Extended work hours can also reduce the quality of your life by conflicting with quality time for family and time for other responsibilities and needs outside work. Stop working long hours and get a life outside of work.

5. More stress

Odds are when you work long hours you are doing it at the expense of not only your family and close friends, but also your diet, exercise routine and sanity. The more you try to prove you are a passionate and productive team player at work, the more you get forgotten by your kids, spouse and dog; and the more your mind registers stress.

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6. Musculoskeletal damage

Repetitive work when sustained in awkward postures increases the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that damage the body’s muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons and nerves. Avoid extended work hours to give your body sufficient time to recover and repair itself each day, otherwise your muscles might just buckle under work pressure.

7. Ergonomic hazards

Depending on where you work, lengthened work hours can expose you to serious ergonomic hazards like chemicals, radiation, vibration, noise, and extreme temperatures. Exposure to these ergonomic hazards can have serious health implications that you are better off avoiding by shortening your workday.

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8. Heart attack

The risk of heart disease increases markedly by 67% for people who work long hours compared to people who work the standard 7-8 hours a day, according to a report by The University College London. Although a number of underlying factors like high blood pressure may make a difference, working long hours does not help your heart. Professor Stephen Holgate of the Medical Research Council says: “This study should make us think twice about the old adage ‘hard work won’t kill you‘.”

9. Brain damage

Another report, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found middle-aged workers who clock upwards of 55 hours a week have poorer mental skills, including short-term memory and reduced ability to recall words, than those who work fewer than 41 hours. The study suggests that prolonged time at work can cause long-term brain damage or dementia. It is not clear why working long hours has an adverse effect on the brain, but this study should give pause for thought to workaholics.

10. Risk of obesity

Yet another study, by researchers at the University of Maryland School, reported that demanding work schedules can contribute to obesity. Lead researcher Nicole Au, who led a similar study at Monash University in Australia, said, “Extended work hours may reduce the time spent preparing home-cooked meals, exercising and sleeping, which are risk factors for obesity.”

Admittedly, some of these associations between extended work hours, health and safety concerns are not conclusive. However, getting off the 40-plus-hour-a-week treadmill now is definitely a better habit for your overall well-being and productivity.

More by this author

David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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