119: Why Working Long Hours Isn't Productive | Tanya Dalton Skip to the content
April 23, 2019   |   Episode #:

119: Why Working Long Hours Isn’t Productive

In This Episode:

You might be surprised to learn that working more hours doesn’t always mean you’re getting more done.Today, we’re talking about how many hours you’re working each week and how working too many hours can actually decrease your productivity. I’ll share some of the history on the 8-hour work day and how other countries and even some companies are experimenting with alternative models and finding a lot of success. We’re also diving into the importance of taking breaks, not skipping lunch, and finding ways to be mindful so we’re not just churning and burning through our work days, so we can pursue what makes us happy and fulfilled.

Show Transcript:

The Big Idea

Working longer hours actually makes you unproductive.

Questions I Answer

  • How many hours of work is considered productive?
  • How long do I need to work to be productive?
  • How can I use technology to make me more productive?
  • How often should I take breaks?

Actions to Take

  • It’s time for us to reclaim those eight hours of recreation time. Schedule in those breaks throughout the day. They’re not bad. They’re really beneficial in the long run. Add time in your calendar for those breaks and maybe even give yourself a stop sign when you promise yourself to turn off your phone for the day.

Key Topics in the Show

  • The interesting history facts behind the 40-hour work week

  • How technology has impacted the number of hours you’re working each week

  • Why it’s important for you to take breaks and examples you can use today

  • What is “wholistic” living? Learn how you can implement it right away + increase happiness.

Show Transcript

Welcome to Season 10 of Productivity Paradox with Tanya Dalton, a  podcast focused on helping you achieve your best life. Join Tanya this season  as she explores the concept of bending time so you could stay focused on  what matters most.  

 And now, here’s your host, Tanya Dalton.  

Hello, hello everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host,  Tanya Dalton, and this is episode 119. Today we’re talking about why working  long hours isn’t really productive. You see, in the pursuit of being productive,  many people think that means we need to get as many things done in the day,  and that means working long hours, pushing through when we’re tired all in  the pursuit of doing enough. And we talked about that idea of doing enough  last week on the podcast. So today we’re going to talk a little bit about how  many hours you’re working each week and how working too many hours can  actually decrease your productivity. You might be surprised to learn that  working more hours doesn’t always mean you’re getting more done. And I  want to share with you some really interesting history on the eight hour work  day and the 40 hour work week and how other countries and even some  companies are experimenting with alternative models and finding a lot of  success with them.  

 We’re also going to talk about the importance of taking breaks, not  skipping lunch, finding ways to be mindful. So we’re not just churning and  burning through our work days, we’re really pursuing happy and fulfilling  

things that keep us feeling really good about our lives. But before we jump in,  I want to say a quick word about today’s sponsor. Gusto is a great resource for  small businesses that not only offers easy to run payroll services, but also HR  support. Stay tuned because a little later on today’s episode, I’ll tell you how  you can get three months free when you run your first payroll through Gusto.  So I’ll share a little bit more on that later on in the show. But let’s go ahead  and talk about working long hours. And what you may not realize is that I was  a history minor in college and I love to geek out watching history channel  shows.  

 I think it’s because I find it fascinating to see where we’ve been. And  because I think it’s fascinating, I thought I would share some historical  information on how we’ve actually come to this eight hour work day and the  40 hour work week. Back around 1817, a Welsh Mill owner and a labor rights  activists named Robert Owen, coined the phrase, “Eight hours of Labor, eight  

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hours of recreation, eight hours of rest” as he was advocating for improved  working conditions after the industrial revolution. Back then it was common  practice for manufacturers to work around 100 hours a week, which was  between 10 to 16 hours over a six day work week. Can you imagine, one day  off for the weekend after that extraordinarily long week? Well, then around  the 1860s, the National Labor Union tried to get Congress to pass a law  mandating the eight hour work day. And at the time it didn’t pass, but it  started to get some public support. And by the 1900s, many industries had  adopted the eight hour work day model, but they were still working six days a  week, so 48 hours a week.  

 And then in 1926, Henry Ford decided he was going to do a little  disruption in the industry and he removed one of the required days of work.  So his employees went from working six days to a five day work week with  eight hours a day. And thus, that’s the 40 hour workweek. Now what’s  interesting is with the shift, Ford found that his workers were actually more  productive working 40 hours than they had been when they were working 48  and the success he had inspired others to adopt the 40 hour work week  model as well. So let’s pause for just a second and reflect on that again. Henry  Ford found that his workers were actually more productive working fewer  hours. Okay, spoiler alert here. I think you can see where I’m going with this  episode. Right? Okay. Let’s get back to the history.  

 In 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act and that required  employers to pay overtime to all employees who work more than 44 hours a  week. Two years later that act was amended and it became 40 hours, which  then became US law. Now, the tricky part here is that it’s great. That’s a great  model for anyone who’s being paid hourly wages, but what happens to those  of us who are working under a salary without a clock in hand that you’re  clocking in and out with? Many times salary workers are the ones who get  taken advantage of. Meetings get booked before normal work hours begin,  work calls get scheduled at the end of the day as you’re trying to leave,  someone pops into your office during your lunchtime and wants to check in  with you about a project over lunch. And don’t even get me started about  technology and how that has increased the amount of hours that people are  working outside of the office. Instead of having days where you could clock in  at 9:00 AM and then clock out at 5:00 PM, we’re working nonstop around the  clock.  

 So we might ask ourselves, is the 40 hour work week too little? Is it too  much? Is it just right? Well, there’ve definitely been some fascinating studies  that show that 40 hours a week is not too little. Let me share a few examples.  Back in 1913, German psychologist, Hugo Munsterberg, whose name I probably  just totally butchered, but he wrote that a German factory noticed that cutting  the work day down by 10% did not result in a decrease of the day’s production  and output, but actually an increase. Then in 2004, there was a report by the  

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CDC that summarized 52 separate studies on overtime and longer work shifts  and they came to the conclusion that the extended work days have a negative  effect on both employers and employees. For example, over time employees  were less healthy, more likely to gain weight, become sick or even injured  during the work day. People were less alert and mistakes increased after the  eighth hour of work. And those that regularly worked extended overtime  hours were less productive than those who worked eight hours or even less.  

 So unfortunately, despite centuries of studies showing us that the  extended work hours have a negative consequence for employers and  employees, the average number of hours Americans work is steadily  increasing. In fact, a few years ago in the 2014 Gallup study, they showed that  50% of full time workers were working far more than 40 hours a week. And  keep in mind that originally, the 40 hour workweek was based on people  working in factories and manufacturing where they started when they got to  work and they stopped when they left and went home for the day. Working  from the house or outside of the office wasn’t even possible. So at the end of  the work day, you were done, you return the next day and you picked up  where you left off, but you went home and you took that time off. Today,  unless you have an hourly wage job, you’re more likely like the rest of us who  fit underneath that salary category where the number of hours worked each  day is a little bit fuzzy.  

 So I think that’s the thing that’s happening is we’re picking up work  hours here and there. Little tiny pieces add up bit by bit by bit. And yes,  advances in modern technology now allow us to have tools so we can work  anywhere, anytime. And that feels great except for when you consider the fact  that 80% of people continue working after they leave work each day, 50%  check their work email before they even get out of bed in the morning. So  being able to check out and being done for the day, that’s really become a  challenge with today’s technology and everyone’s fast paced I have to have an  answer of my email in two seconds mentality. We’re checking our emails and  working constantly outside of regular hours when we’re supposed to be  enjoying what our friend Robert Owens called the eight hours of recreation, so  it means that people on average are seven extra hours a week outside of the  office.  

 That’s quite a bit, those little tiny bits, they really do add up. And many  of you would argue that you’re clocking in more than that seven hours outside  of the office. So now you’re working at work and you’re working at home and  in the car and in the line to the grocery store, while you’re watching your kid’s  soccer game and so on. When does this stop? I want to share with you some  studies where companies have experimented with having employees work less  than 40 hours and what those results were because I think it’s really eye  opening. In 1974, government officials in the United Kingdom limited the  workweek to three days in an attempt to save energy. Interestingly, they found  

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that production only dropped a mere six percent despite the fact that people  were working two less days a week. But during those shorter hours, they  found that people were more productive and less likely to skip or to miss  work.  

 And then in 2000 to 2008 the French government limited the maximum  working hours to 35 hours per week. And employees who were surveyed  during this time expressed that they were happier and more able to achieve  that work life harmony that we’re all going for. And then around 2015, a  Swedish nursing home did a two year experiment where the nurses shifted  from working eight hour days to six hour days for the same amount of pay.  Those nurses expressed they were healthier, more energetic, more alert, and  the company noticed that their employee sick leave dropped 10%. So it’s hard  to say if working 40 hours a week is too little or just right. I think we can  definitely agree that working beyond 40 hours doesn’t really have the positive  results we think it does and working less than 40 hours a week does seem to  have benefits.  

 I mean, hey, who wouldn’t be happier working a little bit less, right? One  of the things I’ve implemented myself for my business is that we close our  office at three o’clock every Friday. I look at those two hours my employees  get as a chance for them to take care of themselves, to go do something they  love before the weekend hits. I like to think of it as a gift of two hours that I  can give to them and honestly it costs me nothing in productivity, nothing. I’ve  not noticed a drop in our work, but I have seen an increase in my team’s  happiness when they walk out the door with their two bonus hours. The only  time they don’t get these bonus hours is during the months of June and July  because I close up work at noon on Fridays and they get five hours instead.  We’re a very small team. People are usually pretty surprised by how small my  team is, but we are highly productive even with those bonus Friday hours  every week.  

 And here’s my thoughts on this. Being a boss, I’m in a position impact  the lives of each person on my team. I can make life happier and easier for  them or I can make life feel hard by pushing them to work longer and harder.  You might be in a position of power at your work, if you manage even so much  as one person, you have that power. So let’s use our power for good to help  others live the life they want and allow them to come to work every day at a  place that they’re happy to be. To me, the secret of having productive  employees is to have a happy team who work hard because they believe in  your mission and they believe that you are doing everything in your power to  give them a happier life. And honestly, it feels good as their boss to give them  that time.  

 So, okay, I know we’ve been talking a lot about work, work, work. So I  want to take a quick break to talk about our sponsor and then we’ll talk just  about that actually, the importance of taking breaks. This episode is  

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sponsored by Gusto. For those of you who are small business owners, Gusto is  a fabulous tool that can help you with your payroll, your benefits and all of  your HR needs. Gusto makes it really easy to organize, sign and even store  your employee documents all in the Cloud, so it’s available with just a few  clicks. Gusto also offers expert HR support that’s just a phone call away to  help you answer any questions you might have. And Gusto automatically files  and pays all state, local and federal payroll taxes. One less thing to have to  worry about and there’s plenty of other things to worry about. Right now, my  Productivity Paradox listeners get three months free just by setting up and  running your first payroll. It’s really easy to do. I use Gusto myself. Just go to  Gusto.com/Paradox to take advantage of this small business tool.  

 All right. That’s the end of that break, but I want to keep talking about  breaks because I want to talk to you about how important it is to take breaks.  And I know you’ve heard me say this before, but I really believe you shouldn’t  work more than about 90 to 120 minutes before you take a break. That’s part  of our ultradian rhythm that we talk about an awful lot on this show. And  many people think, well, I’m in the groove. Why stop what I’m doing to take a  break? Or they think, I don’t have time for a break. I have wall to wall meetings  today at work. There’s no time for breaks. But when it comes to work, where  you’re exerting your energy using the thinking part of your brain or your  prefrontal cortex, there really are legitimate reasons to stop and take a break.  

 Your brain needs to be able to rest in order to be productive, and when  you take a break, it helps you to shift your mind and your focus to something  else in order to give that prefrontal cortex a little time to recharge and to heal.  Breaks don’t have to be anything crazy or outrageous. It could be little things  like even stopping to have a snack, taking a power nap. You know how much I  like a 26 minute nap. We talked about that in a previous episode. Meditating or  daydreaming to use a different part of your brain, or doing something creative  like drawing or even doodling, or get a little exercise. Maybe take a quick walk.  Movement breaks have lots of other benefits obviously too besides just  recharging your brain. There’s the emotional and health benefits as well, but  breaks really do restore your motivation, especially when you’re working on  long term projects or tasks that really requires endurance.  

 Breaks not only increase your productivity, but also your creativity.  Studies show that when we spend too long working on a project, we can get  fatigued and we start making mistakes and we become careless. So taking a  break is a really important part of any type of long term projects you’re  working on. We need some waking rest time, so not even necessarily sleeping,  but just taking some rest breaks because that can really improve your learning  and your brain’s ability to consolidate memories. We know that during sleep  your brain does this work, but the same actually holds true when you take  resting moments to check out from your day and let your brain rest for a little  bit. And I know it might feel really hard to take a break, especially with the  

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hustle and the bustle of co-workers all around you, so you might need to use a  few strategies to help get yourself the breaks you really need to be more  productive.  

 One strategy I like to use is putting on headphones. That’s a great signal  to show people that you don’t want to be disturbed. A lot of times when  people have headphones on, people will tip toe around them because they  think they’re really entrenched in something. Another idea is to escape to your  car or somewhere outside of the office for just a few minutes if you want to do  something mindless like flip through a magazine or listen to some relaxing  music. I know for me, I will go and walk around the warehouse part of my  office from time to time just to get a little space to clear my head. I’ll just  literally walk in circles around pallets and pallets of books. If you do have an  office with a door, consider shutting it. It’s a lot harder for someone to pop in  during your lunch break and interrupt you if you have the door closed, an  open door says come in, closed door says, hey, I’m doing something.  

 So think about some creative and out of the box ideas for how you can  really take more breaks. I think it’s so important that we take this time for  ourselves. We see from the studies we talk about, we have all the science to  back it up, but I feel like many times we feel guilty taking these breaks. We  feel like we need to work harder in order to earn these breaks. And I put the  word earn and air quotes there, I know you can’t see me, but we feel like we  don’t deserve these breaks. But here’s the God’s honest truth, we need breaks  in order to be productive. We have to take that time for our brain to heal and  to really recharge. When we don’t take that time, we are wearing ourselves out  and we’re running ourselves ragged for no reason because we’re not doing  better work.  

 We’re not doing more work even, we’re just really making it through our  day churning and burning. And that’s not really what we want. Is that really  the life you want where you’re just running from task to task? Give yourself a  break. Think about the fact that you do deserve a break. And not only do you  deserve that break, but your work deserves that break. You deserve to be  putting out excellent work.  

 So the other thing I want to talk about here is this idea of wholistic  living. Wholistic with a W, which means taking care of yourself as a whole.  Your whole self. Remember, life isn’t about the quantity, but it’s about the  quality. The number of hours you work and the dollars you make, they don’t  translate into happiness. Happiness is priceless, and yet it is usually  undervalued and de prioritized, especially when we’re slogging through our  day. If you’re working long hard hours, but feeling emotionally and mentally  drained, that’s not exactly healthy. Even when we’re dying to take a break or  to rest for a minute, for some reason we don’t allow ourselves to do that. We  think it’s frivolous or unacceptable, but maybe if we shift our mindset and  

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acknowledge that we actually need a little time to rest, to regroup and  recharge, we’ll be happier and more productive in the long run.  

 And don’t forget that when you’re saying yes to something, it means  you’re saying no to something else. So when you’re working nonstop taking  calls and responding to emails before and after your normal work hours and  you’re working around the clock, what are you saying no to? Your family time,  your exercise time, your me time, your time to hang out and just be you? Hey,  it’s okay to think like they did back in the 1800s.  

 Remember how I said at the end of the day they left work at work?  Here’s the truth. Work will still be there tomorrow whether you answer the five  more emails and ignore your kids or if you put the phone down and go  outside with them and shoot a few hoops in the driveway. I think it’s really  time for us to rethink busy and this idea of working nonstop around the clock.  It’s time for us to reclaim those eight hours of recreation time. Schedule in  those breaks throughout the day. They’re not bad. They’re really beneficial in  the long run. Add time in your calendar for those breaks and maybe even give  yourself a stop sign when you promise yourself to turn off your phone for the  day. I guarantee the world will not end if you clock out for a few hours and  reclaim your me time and you recharge. I can promise you those emails will  still be there in the morning.  

 And this is the thing with our relationship with time, we have to change  how we feel about it. We have to feel okay reclaiming it for ourselves by  taking breaks. That’s what this season is all about. It’s really about reframing  our relationship with time, bending time to make it really work for us. And  we’ll be continuing a conversation about time next week when I have a special  guest on the show who’s going to talk about how do you understand where  you want to spend your time, what do you want to focus on? So we’ll have  some tips and ideas on how to really understand that.  

 And speaking of time, it’s time for the academic year planners to be  available on the inkWELL Press site. So these are planners that run July 2019  through June 2020. They’re in stock as of today. So if you want to get a little  more organized, head over to inkWELLPress.com. All right. Until next time,  have a beautiful and productive week.  

Thanks for listening to Productivity Paradox. To get free access to Tanya’s  valuable checklist, Five Minutes To Peak Productivity, simply go to  inkWELLpress.com/podcast.