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Working long hours is not good for you, your company or your customers

Being happy.

So many folk in the digital world seem to regard 60 hour weeks and limited sleep as something to be proud of. We disagree, strongly.

If you’re working more than 40 hours a week then there is something fundamentally wrong with your work schedule.

We’ve learned a lot by tracking time vs efficiency for more than a decade. The biggest lesson we’ve learned is that once you get past about 25 hours a week a number of things start to happen:

  • Time management becomes onerous. When you’re super busy you have too many competing demands that your task list often exceeds the magic number of 7. This causes you to waste an ever increasing amount of time just on time planning.
  • Tiredness sets in. And tired people take longer to complete tasks, and frequently to a lower standard. This has the double-whammy of creating extra work as tasks have to be re-done due to mistakes or poor quality and it lowers the overall quality of your output.
  • You lose valuable down-time. Working flat out gives you no time to reflect, think or ponder – if you work in a creative space then you need this time to recharge and inspire yourself.
  • Miss the big picture. It’s easy, when working on problems and tasks in a time-limited fashion, to miss the point entirely. Whatever you’re working on typically has a bigger objective and keeping that in mind means you’re more likely to deliver increased value
  • Your mood can darken. Different folks respond to pressure in different ways. Working in a pressure cooker environment can markedly change your personality, and not for the better. it’s no surprise that happy people work better, and longer hours will never make you happier.
  • You become far less responsive. Even if you you don’t work in an explicit service-orientrated business, you still provide a “service” to colleagues, bosses, staff or partners. If you are too busy then they’ll see and feel this lack of attention in a negative way.
  • Work / life imbalance. Every extra hour you spend working is one less hour you spend away from work. Get this equation far enough out of balance and your home life can suffer, adding additional pressures from domestic strife that can haunt you.
  • Zero spare capacity. The very nature of modern business is the expectation of flexibility and responsiveness to challenges and opportunities. If you’re working flat out then you’ll find it hard to find time to deal with problems or capitalise on opportunities.

Working long hours is definitely not a badge of honour, although it seems it’s often viewed as one by budding entrepreneurs. If your work is structured properly and correctly managed then you should aim for your operational working week to be around 25 hours, leaving lots of time to think, read, reflect and ponder.

You’ve probably heard the saying “busy fools”, and trying to cope with today’s increasing pressures can easily turn very bright people into fools.

So what would happen if we all worked just 25 hours per week?

Mostly we would be much happier and have better balanced lives. As the saying goes “you don’t lie on your death bed wishing you had worked more”. If our work life is properly structured, we’d have the ability to complete 80% of our weeks workload in around 20 hours – loosely following the 80/20 rule.

The remaining work time can be invested in learning, reading, reflecting, pondering and thinking. Taking the time-out to reflect and think about what you are doing will make you so more effective – you’ll deliver more value in fewer hours.

We certainly do. We’ve had a 25hr rule for 5 years – it may occasionally get broken but no one has worked more than 35 hours in a week in over a decade.

The two biggest challenges that come from adopting this approach are:

  • Trust. Traditional management models are about master-slave relationships based on structure, dominance and compliance. For flexible, shorter, working hours management has to trust the teams around them to self-manage their time, tasks and resources. This can create the scenario where management loses a lot of it’s power as teams become self-managed and require only light-touch management. Companies may even require less managers – we think this is a good thing.
  • How do you get paid. In the classic 9 til 5 routine you’re paid a salary in return for working those hours, despite the fact that the work delivered is often not related to the number of hours worked. The shift, then, needs to come from a value-based relationship where staff are rewarded for output, not hours worked.

I don’t have any simple answers to these challenges; you cannot make managers trust people and the friction involved in changing how people are paid can be towering. However, no one disagrees that working fewer hours is better for staff and efficiency so it’s worth the effort. In our opinion.

Right then, off for short nap to recharge!

//MD