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.
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.