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Working Hours: State of Mind

Written by Tyler Wetzel on Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Santa Monica beach

Photo by Tina Rataj-Berard

“If a machine wears out in half the present normal time ... a new machine has to be made to replace it ... but if a man wears out in half the time, the world is poorer, and that needs no demonstration.” — William Hesketh Lever

The Assumption

The vast majority of the private sector insists that if we work longer hours then we will naturally produce more over a longer period of time. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Studies by Stanford on work suggest that we may be suffering productivity from unreasonably long working hours. The Economist published an article last week regarding this topic. In the article, they highlighted that people that are relatively more productive also work fewer hours. The study goes on to say that those individuals who work less hours are more likely to be productive during those limited working hours than their longer working counterparts. The study suggests that working less actually makes us more productive.

Productivity Graph

The Reality

We are most productive during the first four hours of work. As the day drags on, it may be the case that employees simply become much less efficient: due to stress, fatigue, and other factors, their maximum efficiency during any given work day may become substantially less than what it was during normal working hours. Therefore, overworked employees may simply be substantially less productive at all hours of the work day, enough so that their average productivity decreases to the extent that the additional hours they are working provide no benefit (and, in fact, are detrimental). This explanation is certainly possible when considering the data. For example, someone who works 60 hours a week in comparison with someone who works 40 is more inclined to being worn out and therefore prone to more accidents and reduced focus.

Work less, Do more

With more time on our hands, the rest of the day can be devoted to the pursuit of science, painting and writing instead.

Bertrand Russel, the English philosopher, was not a fan of work. In his 1932 essay, “In Praise of Idleness”, he reckoned that if society were better managed the average person would only need to work four hours a day. Such a small working day would “entitle a man to the necessities and elementary comforts of life”. Proponents of a shorter work day attribute this increased productivity towards us being healthier - physically and mentally. With more time on our hands, the rest of the day can be devoted to the pursuit of science, painting and writing instead. A well rounded day increases happiness and makes work more rewarding. Spending more time with your family, hobbies or on personal improvement will not only increase your overall happiness but will make you a harder worker as well.


Lazy but Productive French

France would be a prime example. They work fewer hours than all other European countries but they maintain one of the highest standards of living as well despite the reduced hours. Their GDP remains strong. Some may criticize them for being lazy but they would be wrong. The average French worker’s productivity is on par with other developed western nations and they do it in less time. You can read more about this French phenomenon in the Business Insider article here.

A Clear Mind is a Healthy Mind

The joy of learning is far more important to preserve for long term growth than squashing it under a heavy workload.

Furthermore, a passionate employee will continue studying topics pertaining to their job even on their off hours. For example, a designer may pursue code or personal projects if he has the free time to develop his own interests and skills. The joy of learning is far more important to preserve for long term growth than squashing it under a heavy workload. After we “grow up”, companies tend to forget that we are still inquisitive human beings with lives outside of work. We are not a machine, and we certainly can’t be replaced. Nurturing intellectual growth is essential to our happiness and a healthy state of mind, which in turn will be reflected in our day-to-day work.

So my advice — work less, do more.

Read next: Time Management for a Clearer Mind

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