Do you do business in your region? Sign up to our daily bulletin to keep up-to-date.
Five good reasons to stop working late
Posted by Grace Marshall on 25 Jan 2016
Is 2016 the year you’ve told yourself you’ll leave work on time? Or get some more sleep? Or start taking up running or tennis or singing again?
If so, here are 5 good reasons to stop working late:
1. You do better work
We all have our optimum level of working. Beyond that, each extra hour we put in will cost more and give us less in return. When Henry Ford conducted experiments on productivity he found 40 hours per week to be the optimum for his production line employees. Working longer hours actually diminished their productivity - this is the law of diminishing returns.
With those of us who work with our minds - knowledge workers rather than production line workers - this number is arguably less. Most creators, entrepreneurs and leaders find that they only have a couple of hours of proactive attention, when they are at their best, coming up with their best ideas, doing their best work. After that, they can work on other things - but their attention levels are nowhere near the same.
2. You make better decisions
Bill Clinton said on CNN in 2008: "Most of the mistakes I made, I made when I was too tired, because I tried too hard and worked too hard. You make better decisions when you’re not too tired.
Research into Decision Fatigue suggests that our ability to make decisions is like a muscle. Every decision you makes is like another rep in a workout, and after a while it always gets tired. That’s why parole board judges are more likely to give favourable rulings at the beginning of the day, or after a lunch break. As the day goes on, decision fatigue sets in, and they are more likely to settle for the default answer: "no”. What decisions do you default to when you’re tired?
3. You get more work done
According to Parkinson’s law, work expands to fill the time available. If you’ve got 1 hour to prepare a pitch for a client, you get it done. If you’ve got all day, the chances are, you’ll take all day. A deadline helps to focus the mind, and many people have found that having a deadline for leaving work - whether to catch a train, meet childcare commitments, go to a gym class or meet friends for a drink - has actually helped them to be more productive with the hours they spend at work, and often get even more done than if they had spent an extra hour or two lingering at the office.
4. You do less multitasking
If you’re working late at the office after everyone else has left, you might actually find you get more work done in that hour, because there are less distractions and interruptions (as long as you’re not too tired to do the work). However, if working late means you’re getting your laptop out while the TV is on in the background, checking emails at the dinner table or working while the kids are asking you questions every two minutes, one email could take you a whole hour to compose.
Multitasking isn’t actually multitasking. When we try and perform two tasks simultaneously, what we’re really doing is switching and rapidly refocusing between tasks. Both tasks take longer, and you don’t give either one your full attention. So not only do you not benefit from having some downtime, you also don’t do great work. In fact, some research suggests that brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of your productive time.
4. Having a life outside of work is good for you and your work
As human beings we are not designed to work continuously without breaks. Recovery is a crucial part of our job. What we do when we’re not performing directly impacts how well we perform.
Recharging is not a luxury, it is fuel for our productivity. Our tendency to work under pressure without any breaks is completely counterproductive.
What’s more, our best ideas often don’t come when we are sat at our desk, but when we take time out - walking the dog, at the theatre, enjoying a meal or even in the shower.
Not only do you have more energy to give to your work when you are fully rested and fully charged, but when you have a life outside of work you’re also more likely to have better ideas to put to work.
5. You lead by example
It’s amazing how often I work with organisations that have an unofficial culture of working late and doing emails in the evenings, weekends, and even while on holiday, simply because that’s what the boss does. A culture is a collection of individual habits, but leaders have more influence than most, when it comes to setting the tone of what’s acceptable and what’s expected.
If working on a Sunday morning is your choice, and not something you expect from your team, make sure you actually communicate that. But even better, make this something you commit to practicing yourself so you can lead the change by example, as well as by conversation.
And if you’re not the boss? Well show your colleagues how much more productive you are when you take you stop working all hours, and enjoy life outside of work. I guarantee you they’ll want some of what you have.
About the author
Grace Marshall is the author of How to be REALLY productive: achieving clarity and getting results in a world where work never ends and the Amazon bestselling 21 Ways to Manage the Stuff That Sucks Up Your Time.
She is also a Productivity Ninja with Think Productive one of the world’s leading productivity training companies.
She specialises in helping busy time jugglers find ways of getting things done with less stress, less overwhelm, more fun, enjoyment and fulfilment, and does her own juggling with two children and her own coaching business at Grace-Marshall.com.