In today's fast-paced digital economy, it is easy to find yourself always connected and always at work. Additionally, the recent pandemic lockdowns have led to increased workdays, according to a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Relations. The global survey of 3.1 million people in more than 21,000 businesses found that the workday length has increased recently by 8% or about 48.5 minutes. Like me, you have likely experienced moments when you have realized that spending more time working will not lead to better results. In economics, this is described as the principle of diminishing returns. In any production system, there is a point when increasing the quantity of your input while keeping all other inputs constant yields progressively smaller results. The fallacy of thinking that many of us find ourselves in is that when work demands increase, we have to work harder and longer to achieve improved results. In reality, we are less efficient, make more mistakes, and are less engaged when we do not get any downtime to recharge. Is there another way? If so, how can we shift our thinking and prevent overwork?
Shifting Our Thinking
Overwork's well-researched impacts include emotional exhaustion, stress, burnout, and sometimes Karoshi (Japanese for death from overwork). This list likely doesn't surprise you because you have already experienced some of these effects or know someone that has. There is simply no easy answer for how to shift our own thinking about working longer. However, the following are a few strategies worth trying:
Reflection: Make time to reflect daily. Ask yourself, is it true? Do you need to work longer or smarter? Your mind is a muscle and shifting your thinking can begin by putting 10-minutes into your calendar each day for a time to reflect.
Trusted Advisors: Recruit a personal board of trusted advisors made up of experts in your work area, strong supporters of you, thoughtful critics of your ideas, and networkers. These individuals will be able to provide perspective and insights based on their skills and backgrounds. They can help cultivate new perspectives on challenges you are facing. Life was not to be spent alone and it is helpful to get outside input.
Hire an Executive Coach: We all experience the effect of not seeing the forest because of the trees. A coach provides a unique perspective gained by coming alongside you, partnering in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires you to maximize your personal and professional potential.
Investing in ourselves or as Covey explained in his seventh habit "sharpening the saw" is to preserve the greatest resource we have. When working on your mindset it is essential to keep the focus on continued progress, versus perfection.
Take a Break
Although taking short breaks may not have the same benefit as an extended vacation, the reality is that shorter "within-day" breaks can lead to significant benefits. In a recent study on the role of breaks, researchers discovered that individuals who took breaks to do something they enjoyed experienced increased energy, better health, job satisfaction, improved performance, and reduced burnout rates. The research concluded that having a choice on what to do during the break and the predictability of the break schedule are significant factors in moderating the associated benefits. Here are five tips for incorporating breaks into your day:
Take a break with someone else, accountability helps when starting a new behavior.
Plan to take short breaks throughout your day and place the time into your calendar. Shorter work periods help to eliminate distractions and increase concentration. One approach is to work for 25 minutes, take a short 5-minute break then after four repetitions, take a 30-minute break. Another approach is to work for 52 minutes, then break for 17 minutes throughout the day.
Use your breaks to do something you enjoy; you are more likely to commit to doing something you find fun.
Keep track of how the breaks make you feel, positive consequences influence future behaviors.
Use wearable devices to prompt you to take a break.
While your entrepreneurial mindset may be telling you to keep pushing, in reality going slower in the short run can lead to significant gains psychologically and physiologically in the long run.
Covey, S. R. (1989). The seven habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. Simon and Schuster.
DeFilippis, E., Impink, M., Singell, M., Polzer, J. & Sadun, R. (2020). Collaborating during Coronavirus: The impact of COVID-19 on the nature of work. National Bureau of Economic Research. https://www.nber.org/papers/w27612
Hunter, E. M., & Wu, C. (2016). Give me a better break: Choosing workday break activities to maximize resource recovery. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(2), 302–311. https://doi.org/10.1037/apl0000045
Randolph, S. A. (2016). The Importance of Employee Breaks. Workplace Health & Safety, 64(7), 344–344. https://doi.org/10.1177/2165079916653416
Sugumar Mariappanadar & Ina Aust (2017) The Dark Side of Overwork: An Empirical Evidence of Social Harm of Work from a Sustainable HRM Perspective, International Studies of Management & Organization, 47:4, 372-387, DOI: 10.1080/00208825.2017.1382272
Zhu, Z., Kuykendall, L., & Zhang, X. (2019). The impact of within‐day work breaks on daily recovery processes: An event‐based pre‐/post‐experience sampling study. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 92(1), 191-211. https://doi.org/10.1111/joop.12246