Canadian author Chris Bailey experimented with switching back and forth between two extreme schedules. He alternated between working a 20-hour workweek and a 90-hour workweek for a month. Though you might assume you'd get more done during the longer workweeks, the opposite turned out to be true.
"After slogging through one 90-hour week and one 20-hour week," writes Bailey in an excerpt of his new book The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy Better in the National Post, "I quickly discovered something breathtaking when I was looking through my experiment logs: I accomplished only a bit more working 90-hour weeks than I did in my 20-hour weeks."
How could you barely accomplish more working quadruple the hours you worked in the previous week? Bailey found it all came down to the fact that he approached his work with less-focused bursts when he worked the longer weeks: "When I invested more time in my work during my insane weeks, my work became a lot less urgent; on a minute-by-minute basis, I invested less energy and focus into everything I intended to get done," he writes. "But when I had a limited amount of time in my 20-hour weeks, I forced myself to expend significantly more energy and focus over that shorter period of time so I could get everything done I had to do."
People who pull double shifts on the regular aren't going to be as effective workers as those who have time to get a good night's sleep and have some downtime between shifts. "Working 90 hours a week for any longer than one week is a recipe for burnout. Doing so leaves you with hardly any time to recharge your energy levels and focus," writes Bailey. He adds that "working longer hours means having less time to refocus and recharge, which leads to more stress and lower energy."
Even though you're less productive when you put in ridiculously long hours, you'll probably still feel a self-satisfied sense of accomplishment sneaking in. Bailey found that he felt more productive during his longer workweeks even though he worked less efficiently:
"It’s hard not to feel productive when you’re busy all day long," he writes. "But busyness does not translate into productivity if it doesn’t lead you to accomplish anything."
Ultimately everyone has to find their own sweet spot when it comes to productivity, whether that's 20 hours a week or 40.
"Limiting how much time you spend on your work — whether on an important task or on your work in general — is a great way to spend your time, attention, and energy wisely," writes Bailey.
So next time you sit down to work on a project, try setting a time limit. You may be surprised to find out how much you get done and be able to buy yourself more time to enjoy your life in the process.
Well, that's all the convincing I need — time to slap my laptop shut and recharge with some popcorn and Netflix!
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