If you spend all day in the office, it’s easy to forget that there are other ways to define success or measure what you’ve accomplished. You may believe that if you’re not putting in long hours and working late every night, then your career is doomed.
But what if I told you that working less could actually be better for your productivity? Or even more importantly, what if I told you that limiting your work hours could actually be better for your health?
The truth is: when people only work 40-hour weeks they often enjoy higher levels of productivity than those who work 60 or 80-hour weeks. The trick is finding a way to explain this approach to others — at work and at home — so that they can understand why scaling back improves our lives overall.
You think success is measured by how many hours you work.
If I asked you to describe what success means to you, what would you say?
Most people would probably say that success is related to the amount of money they make or the number of years of experience they have in a given field. But these are just measurements, not actual definitions.
Using these metrics alone makes it easy for us to say that someone who makes $1 million per year and has been working at their job for 20 years is “more” successful than someone who makes $30k per year and has been working at their job for two years. But does this really mean anything?
Think about how much value we place on our own time—especially when we’re deciding whether or not something will be worth our attention (or money). If someone told us that there’s an all-you-can-eat buffet down the street or a new TV show premiering tonight but then added: “but you’ll have to wait 3 hours,” most people wouldn’t hesitate before saying no thanks! So why do we attach so much importance onto working longer hours?
You believe the key to getting ahead is hustling, working more and doing more.
You’ve been conditioned to think about success in a certain way. Perhaps you equate the amount of work you do with your worth or value in the company. In order to shift the way you work and the hours you put in, you’ll need to shift your definition of success.
This belief is rooted in the idea of hustle, which dictates that you can do more and more, for longer hours and on more days, and it will all pay off in the long run.
The problem with this logic is that it assumes all those extra hours will actually benefit your career. In reality, they don’t always—they just make you exhausted and prone to mistakes. That’s why researchers have found that working too much can actually hurt your productivity: People who work 49 or fewer hours per week (the average American worker) are actually less likely to be interrupted at work than those who work 55 or more hours per week!
Now that you’re on board, how do you make it happen?
Maybe you’re burned out and want to cut back. Or maybe you want to cut back to avoid burning out. Either way, as you decrease your presence in the office or in front of the computer, you’ll need strategy.
If you find yourself struggling with this transition, try these tips:
- Set boundaries for yourself about when things are done for the day—for example, don’t stay at work until midnight every night unless there is an emergency or deadline looming around the corner.
- Make time for hobbies or other interests outside of work so that when the weekend comes around, your energy level isn’t completely depleted from being absorbed by tasks all week long.
- If you have trouble saying no when someone asks for your help, try setting a timer and working in increments of 30 minutes—that way, you can feel more focused on the task at hand and not exhausted from staying too long.
- Talk to your boss and coworkers about the changes you’re making, so they understand that this isn’t a permanent state of affairs. Remember: You don’t have to be a workaholic to succeed in business!
- If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your workload and ready to jump ship, it might be time to reassess your career path. If you love what you do and want to continue in that field, make sure it’s something that can be done from home or on weekends.
When you scale back, you may feel guilty.
If you’re burned out from working way too many hours, you may decide to scale back your hours, maybe even switch over to part-time work. The only trouble is, guilt kicks in along with that voice inside your head that says, “You should be doing more.”
You might feel guilty for not working as hard or as long.
You might feel guilty for turning down projects or requests.
You might feel guilty for not being as productive, or able to do what others can do.
This guilt is a result of your thinking and is a common feeling when you’re scaling back.
Here’s the truth: Each of us has different values and circumstances. There is no right or wrong here. Your coworkers may value being all-in on their career. They may have fewer responsibilities on the home front that make it possible for them to spend more of their resources at work.
The key is not to compare yourself to anyone else. It’s more about turning inward and aligning with your deepest values as well as designing your life on purpose.
So what would you like your life to be, ideally?
As a burnout recovery coach, I advise my clients to focus on maximizing their energy so they can show up as the best version of themselves at work. Rather than focusing on perfectionism, they focus on working with clarity, without distractions, and with purpose.
I encourage them to pay attention to their inner voice and if they are beating themselves up, to replace those unhelpful thoughts with more compassionate self-statements.
One of the ways I was able to avoid burnout even before I specialized in the area is by being intentional about my work and making my decisions through the lens of my most important value–that of lifestyle.
You need to manage others’ perceptions.
In addition to managing our own mind that brings up guilt, shame, and fear when we scale back, we also have to think about how others might perceive us.
If people at work start pushing back, having a way to frame your reasoning may help — whether that’s discussing with them directly why limiting hours is important to you, or simply knowing in advance what you’re comfortable sharing and what you’re uncomfortable sharing if someone asks why you’re always leaving right at 5 p.m., or if you’re taking a specific project off your plate because it’s always eating up too much time.
You don’t have to explain yourself if the other person doesn’t ask; but if they do ask, be prepared in advance for what makes sense for YOU and not others. (It could go something like this: “I’m working as hard as ever — just differently.” Or “My family needs me right now.” Or “I need more balance with my health.”)
If you have a good relationship with the person, explain what’s going on — but don’t get into too much detail. (This can be tough to do without sounding like you’re making excuses.) For example: “I’m working hard but I need to take a break right now. I have too much on my plate.” If the person presses for more details, give them something like this: “I’m taking a couple days off to be with my kids and rest up before continuing.”
If you’re not sure how the other person will react, be prepared for them to be disappointed or upset — and don’t take it personally. They may feel that they are being let down by you, but they probably won’t say anything because they know it’s not your fault. (If they do say something like this, try to explain why this is the best thing for you at this time.)
If this person is a good friend, it’s OK to tell them a bit more about what’s going on in your life. But be careful not to get into too much detail about what’s wrong with your job or why you’re feeling overwhelmed. This can make the other person feel bad for having asked in the first place — and it might open up a conversation that neither of you wants to have.
The takeaway from all this should be that if you’re struggling with work-life balance and feel like you’re working too much, then it’s time to take action. Start by creating a plan for how you’ll limit your hours, and if there are any other changes you can make to help ease the transition. You might not be able to change things overnight (in fact, it may take a while), but even taking small steps in the right direction will show results over time!
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