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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 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

    Reference

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