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8 Ways to Stop Working Long Hours

8 Ways to Stop Working Long Hours

Working long hours can be inevitable when you work in a corporate set-up, especially for people in operations and professionals, such as accountants, lawyers, engineers and those in finance. There are constant deadlines and an endless workload to get through.

As a practicing professional accountant, I often find myself working long hours just to finish financial reports and tax returns so my clients can submit them before the deadline. There will be certain days when I’m the first to come in to the office and last to come out. This was especially so during the first few months of setting up my accounting firm.

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    In the beginning, I didn’t have staff, so I did everything on my own: from answering inquiries, meeting with clients, closing engagements, picking up and sorting documents, bookkeeping and tax preparation, to filing and paying the tax return at the bank and the government offices. As the number of clients increased, the workload also increased commensurately, which lead me to work longer hours.

    Working for long hours eventually had me exhausted and stressed. The thought of quitting entered my mind. The business started to feel like a burden instead of a blessing. Such negative emotion was triggered by stress and exhaustion.

    To help me cope with the situation I talked to my husband to ask his advice, and I also started reading books on management: both time and business. From both these sources I learned ways to stop (or at least minimize) working long hours, without sacrificing productivity, quality of work, and, of course, income.

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    In this article, I’ll share with you 8 ways to help you reduce or stop working long hours.

    1. Begin with the end in mind

    My husband reminded me of an important principle I learned from the book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. That is: begin with the end in mind. This principle simply means before you start anything, you should already be thinking of the end, such as the future result or output. Allocate your time and align your actions to this end.

    2. Identify the value-adding vs. the non-value adding

    Now that you have the end in mind, the next step is to identify value-adding activities – tasks of great value to the end result – and non-value adding activities – tasks of less value to the end result. To help you do this, list down all the tasks you do, and then classify each task as value-adding and non-value adding. Your goal is to do more of those that are value-adding activities while eliminating non-value adding activities.

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    3. Prioritize

    After identifying value-adding activities, you need to set priorities to determine which task should be done first, and which is going to be last. When you set priorities, your criteria can be based on value, importance, time and urgency.

    4. Plan

    Now that you already know the output you want to accomplish, have identified tasks that are value-adding, and have set priorities, the next step is to make a schedule of when to execute tasks within a given time. It’s best if you can create a weekly and monthly plan, and then stick to it.

    5. Delegate

    Oftentimes, the reason why we work for long hours is because we want to do everything on our own. This is mostly because we don’t trust other people to do the work the way we want it. But in order for you to stop working long hours, and to grow, you need to start trusting other people and delegate tasks to them. Remember the saying: “two heads are better than one.” When you delegate tasks to other people, you have more time to focus on value-adding activities so you can accomplish more results.

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    6. Focus

    Another important way to be more efficient at work is to keep your focus. I used to believe in multitasking, that is, doing many things all at the same time. But it only lead me to exhaustion. It was my husband who pointed out to me the importance of focus – just doing one thing at a time. He explained that when you focus on a single activity at a time, you are more efficient and effective in accomplishing the task. It eliminates the confusion and exhaustion brought on by multitasking.

    7. Avoid distractions like social media, web surfing and emails

    One of the possible reasons that people spend more hours at work is because of unproductive distractions like reading personal emails, texting, web surfing and constantly logging in to social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and the like. Avoid these distracting activities during working hours. It’s best if you restrict them to only a few minutes during break time.

    8. Set a deadline on your tasks

    The last but not least way to stop working long hours is to set a deadline for each task. This is helpful for both work and non-work related activities. Setting a deadline gives you appropriate signals and pressure on when to begin and to end each task. This will eliminate the idle time spent trying to figure out what to do next or when to stop.

    On a final note, let me share with you an important quote on time management:

    Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials. – Lin Yutang

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    Lou Macabasco

    Lou Macabasco aspires to spread positive motivation.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

    How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

    What is decision fatigue? Let me explain this with an example:

    When determining a court ruling, there are many factors that contribute to their final verdict. You probably assume that the judge’s decision is influenced solely by the nature of the crime committed or the particular laws that were broken. While this is completely valid, there is an even greater influential factor that dictates the judge’s decision: the time of day.

    In 2012, a research team from Columbia University[1] examined 1,112 court rulings set in place by a Parole Board Judge over a 10 month period. The judge would have to determine whether the individuals in question would be released from prison on parole, or a change in the parole terms.

    While the facts of the case often take precedence in decision making, the judges mental state had an alarming influence on their verdict.

    As the day goes on, the chance of a favorable ruling drops:

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      Image source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

      Does the time of day, or the judges level of hunger really contribute that greatly to their decision making? Yes, it does.

      The research went on to show that at the start of the day the likelihood of the judging giving out a favorable ruling was somewhere around 65%.

      But as the morning dragged on, the judge became fatigued and drained from making decision after decision. As more time went on, the odds of receiving a favorable ruling decreased steadily until it was whittled down to zero.

      However, right after their lunch break, the judge would return to the courtroom feeling refreshed and recharged. Energized by their second wind, their leniency skyrockets back up to a whopping 65%. And again, as the day drags on to its finish, the favorable rulings slowly diminish along with the judge’s spirits.

      This is no coincidence. According to the carefully recorded research, this was true for all 1,112 cases. The severity of the crime didn’t matter. Whether it was rape, murder, theft, or embezzlement, the criminal was more likely to get a favorable ruling either early in the morning, or after the judges lunch break.

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      Are You Suffering from Decision Fatigue Too?

      We all suffer from decision fatigue without even realizing it.

      Perhaps you aren’t a judge with the fate of an individual’s life at your disposal, but the daily decisions you make for yourself could hinder you if you’re not in the right head-space.

      Regardless of how energetic you feel (as I imagine it is somehow caffeine induced anyway), you will still experience decision fatigue. Just like every other muscle, your brain gets tired after periods of overuse, pumping out one decision after the next. It needs a chance to rest in order to function at a productive rate.

      The Detrimental Consequences of Decision Fatigue

      When you are in a position such as a Judge, you can’t afford to let your mental state dictate your decision making; but it still does. According to George Lowenstein, an American educator and economy expert, decision fatigue is to blame for poor decision making among members of high office. The disastrous level of failure among these individuals to control their impulses could be directly related to their day to day stresses at work and their private life.

      When you’re just too tired to think, you stop caring. And once you get careless, that’s when you need to worry. Decision fatigue can contribute to a number of issues such as impulse shopping (guilty), poor decision making at work, and poor decision making with after work relationships. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t dip your pen in the company ink.

      How to Make Decision Effectively

      Either alter the time of decision making to when your mind is the most fresh, or limit the number of decisions to be made. Try utilizing the following hacks for more effective decision making.

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      1. Make Your Most Important Decisions within the First 3 Hours

      You want to make decisions at your peak performance, so either first thing in the morning, or right after a break.

      Research has actually shown that you are the most productive for the first 3 hours[2] of your day. Utilize this time! Don’t waste it on trivial decisions such as what to wear, or mindlessly scrolling through social media.

      Instead, use this time to tweak your game plan. What do you want to accomplish? What can you improve? What steps do you need to take to reach these goals?

      2. Form Habits to Reduce Decision Making

      You don’t have to choose all the time.

      Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it doesn’t have to be an extravagant spread every morning. Make a habit out of eating a similar or quick breakfast, and cut that step of your morning out of the way. Can’t decide what to wear? Pick the first thing that catches your eye. We both know that after 20 minutes of changing outfits you’ll just go with the first thing anyway.

      Powerful individuals such as Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg don’t waste their precious time deciding what to wear. In fact, they have been known to limiting their outfits down to two options in order to reduce their daily decision making.

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      3. Take Frequent Breaks for a Clearer Mind

      You are at your peak of productivity after a break, so to reap the benefits, you need to take lots of breaks! I know, what a sacrifice. If judges make better decisions in the morning and after their lunch break, then so will you.

      The reason for this is because the belly is now full, and the hunger is gone. Roy Baumeister, Florida State University social psychologist[3] had found that low-glucose levels take a negative toll on decision making. By taking a break to replenish your glucose levels, you will be able to focus better and improve your decision making abilities.

      Even if you aren’t hungry, little breaks are still necessary to let your mind refresh, and come back being able to think more clearly.

      Structure your break times. Decide beforehand when you will take breaks, and eat energy sustaining snacks so that your energy level doesn’t drop too low. The time you “lose” during your breaks will be made up in the end, as your productivity will increase after each break.

      So instead of slogging through your day, letting your mind deteriorate and fall victim to the daily abuses of decision making, take a break, eat a snack. Let your mind refresh and reset, and jump-start your productivity throughout the day.

      More Tips About Decision Making

      Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

      Reference

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