How Working Fewer Hours Can Increase Your Productivity

How working fewer hours can increase your productivityBy ProBlogger Productivity Expert Nicole Avery.

We live in a culture that assumes the more hours you work the more work you are doing. Stories are traded of working past midnight or working 10 hour days with no breaks with great pride and being sleep deprived due to work, is treated by many as a badge of honour. But is it productive?

If you look at the statistics, it appears not:


The above graph shows the productivity (GDP per hour worked) in relation to the number of hours worked in OECD countries. The trend is clear: the more hours worked the less productive we are.

Personally this is something I have worked out the hard way. At the end of 2014 I was so close to quitting blogging. I was caught in the working longer hours trap. I would work some hours while the kids were at school, then once they were off in bed I would start my second shift and work late into the night.

I found myself in the position where it seemed, no matter how many hours I worked, I couldn’t keep up. Sometimes we need to reach a low point before we make change and this was the case for me. I shared on ProBlogger last year the steps I took to turn this around and you can read more about it here, but the biggest impact was changing my work schedule and working fewer hours.

Working fewer hours when you are struggling to keep up can seem contradictory, but productivity isn’t about the volume of hours you work, it is about your work output. I set new work boundaries for myself. I was no longer going to do a second shift. My workday would end when the kids were home from school and I would have at least one day every weekend that was work free.

As I made the changes to my work schedule, the results on my productivity were instantaneous. Working tired all the time is ineffective, things take longer, you are more easily distracted and there is an increase in procrastination. Taking adequate breaks away from the blog allowed me to refresh, rest and have time for thinking, all of which helped increase my productivity when I was working.

Associate Professor Cal Newport even has a formula to explain why working more hours isn’t necessarily more productive:

work accomplished = time spent x intensity of focus

You can use this formula to see if working fewer hours can help you increase your productivity. Newport uses an intensity of focus rating of 1 – 10 with 10 being the highest level of focus.

In my example back in 2014, after working until 11.00pm the day before my work accomplished the next day would have looked something like this:

  • 10:00am – 11:00am – 6 intensity of focus
  • 11:00am – 12:00pm – 5 intensity of focus
  • 1:00pm – 2:00pm – 4 intensity of focus
  • 2:00pm – 3:00pm – 4 intensity of focus

This would give me a work-accomplished result of 19 units of work for my four hours of work. Then I would have my second session in the evening:

  • 8:00pm – 9:00pm – 3 intensity of focus
  • 10:00pm – 11:00pm – 2 intensity of focus

This would give me a work-accomplished result of five units of work for my two hours of work and a total of 24 units of work for my six hours of work time that day.

Compare this to my current schedule, where I do not work at night and am in bed by 10:00pm:

  • 10:00am – 11:00am – 10 intensity of focus
  • 11:00am – 12:00pm – 9 intensity of focus
  • 1:00pm – 2:00pm – 9 intensity of focus
  • 2:00pm – 3:00pm – 8 intensity of focus

I estimate that for my four hours of work my output is 36 units of work, a 50% increase in my productivity compared to my 2014 example. And my current output confirms this formula to be correct. I am working about half as many hours as I was working, for more output. This year I have started a podcast and have almost completed a new product to sell from the blog – neither of which I did when I was working in the evenings.

It can be scary to think about working less, but if you think about the times when you have achieved your greatest work output, you will most likely find commonalities like you were well rested and focused. Working longer hours is not conducive to creating this state, so take the plunge and revamp your work schedule to work fewer hours, but work more effectively in those hours you work.

How many hours a week are you working on your blog?

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