If it’s 10 pm and you’re still at the office, are you the ideal employee? Not exactly. Putting in extra hours may make you feel like an indispensable member of the team, but it’s not a productive long-term strategy for success.

 

Work Smarter, Not Harder

The biggest reason to eliminate your workaholic tendencies is the damage you’re doing to your health. Our minds and bodies aren’t made to work nonstop. According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, the stress caused from overworking can lead to impaired sleep, difficulty concentrating and a tendency towards heavy drinking — as well as serious medical problems like depression, diabetes and heart disease. If you never leave the office on time, you’re essentially working yourself into an early grave.

To make matters worse, there’s a good chance your boss isn’t even noticing your long hours. Research has found that the majority of managers are unable to tell the difference between employees who work 80 hours a week and those who are merely exaggerating their long hours. Since the productivity levels of the two groups were similar, there was no concrete reason for managers to dole out bonuses for pulling all-nighters.

 

Strike a Balance by Improving Your Productivity

If working long hours serves no useful purpose, how can you break the habit? Start with these tips:

  1. Set your alarm clock. Getting up early can be a bit of a drag, but there’s a solid reason for starting work early and leaving on time. Most people find themselves better able to focus early in the day, especially if the office is half empty with no one around to chat with. Tackle your top priorities immediately, before your energy levels start to drop. With your boost in efficiency, you can clock out on time with a clear conscience.
  1. Prioritize your to-do list. A to-do list is a helpful organizational tool, but only if the list is a manageable size. Identify what must be done today and what can be put off until tomorrow. If you’re struggling with this concept, try adopting the 1-3-5 method for creating each day’s list. Jot down one vital large task, three medium sized tasks, and five small tasks that would be nice to accomplish but aren’t absolutely essential. At the end of the day, create a new list for the following workday.
  1. Stop multitasking. Pop culture leads us to believe that the ideal worker is constantly multitasking, but this simply isn’t true. Splitting your attention between two or more tasks increases the risk of errors, leaving you with more work to do later when you’re forced to fix those sloppy typos in your sales presentation or scrap your budget spreadsheet entirely. The Guardian also reports that multitasking increases the brain’s production of the cortisol and adrenaline. This can lead to stress and a mental fog that are bad for your health as well as your productivity.
  1. Batch process repetitive tasks. Consider dealing with repetitive tasks such as making phone calls or writing invoices in one batch instead of doing them throughout the day. Knocking these types of items out in an assembly line fashion is more efficient than constantly switching back and forth between tasks.
  1. Go on a diet. Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you sign up for Weight Watchers. I’m talking about an information diet. With so many websites, magazines, newspapers and television stations at our disposal, keeping up with current events can easily become a 24/7 job. Limit yourself to only the essential news sources, setting a timer to remind you not to waste an entire hour being distracted by different stories. You may feel out of the loop at first, but the time you save will be well worth the effort.
  1. Cut back on your email. According to members of the department of psychology at the University of British Columbia, constantly monitoring your inbox promotes stress without improving efficiency. The typical office worker responds to email within an hour of receipt, but limiting checking email three times or less per day creates a reduction in stress that is equivalent to visualizing peaceful imagery. This is likely due to the fact that switching between tasks zaps cognitive resources, forcing the brain to work harder without improving productivity.
  1. Schedule personal time. Boundaries are essential for work-life balance. If you have a central calendar system, block out chunks of time as set appointments for hitting the gym, helping your son with his algebra homework or any other personal priority you’ve been neglecting. To avoid coming across as a slacker, simply label these hours as “unavailable” for after-hours meeting requests.
  1. Embrace your imperfections. Striving for perfection can be paralyzing. If you’re putting in extra hours because you feel like your work could always be just a little bit better, it’s time to silence your inner critic. Decide how long a task should reasonably take and set a timer. When the buzzer goes off, force yourself to move on to the next item on your list. Realistic expectations are the key to success.

 

Are you struggling to find the right work-life balance? Share your tips for cutting back hours and amping up productivity in the comments!

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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