I'm going to let you in on a little secret.
I only work about 40-45 hours a week.
My mother is probably reading this and laughing. (Hi, mom!) To her, no one should work more than 40 hours a week unless they're getting paid major overtime. But that's not because she's a slacker. Quite the contrary, actually. She started her career as a bus driver and worked her way up the ladder with no college degree while raising two children, at times as a single mother. She's a hustler. But she doesn't work in an industry where 50, 60 and 70+ hour workweeks are the norm, and she understands the value of a break from time-to-time.
I'm in PR -- and unfortunately, the culture in our industry is to slave away, no questions asked. I have heard and been subject to many horror stories. I once billed a 90-hour week while on the road for a client. I barely survived it. I have to listen to people constantly prattle on about how busy they are, like it's some sort of deranged badge of honor. (If you haven't read Meredith Fineman's brilliant blog post in the Harvard Business Review on being busy, I suggest you do so.) Plus, it seems like I skim at least 10 different versions of the "How to be More Productive" article each week. I'm sure many of you -- in PR or not -- can relate. So, I have to ask... Why?
According to Juliet B. Schor, author of "The Overworked American," the average worker is now on the job about one month longer per year than his or her 1969 counterpart. Studies show that, over time, working long hours is bad for your health - increasing the risk of depression, heart attack and heart disease, among other ailments. Late last year, a young Indonesian copywriter died after working 30 hours straight.
Plus, I'm convinced that it just makes you dumber. There was a time when I consistently worked between 55-70 hours a week. I couldn't focus enough to actually do my job well. My writing was terrible. My judgment was off. I dropped the ball right and left. Plus, I was a pain in the ass to be around. All I could talk about was work and I was a complete basket case. Not to mention, I never exercised and ate takeout every day. On the contrary, during the periods where I worked between 40-50 hours a week, I got promotions.
Adding more hours to the workday doesn't make you more productive. Sara Robinson believes that "every hour you work over 40 hours a week is making you less effective and productive over both the short and long haul," and I agree with her.
Actually being productive makes your more productive. And there is no app, method, or pill you can take that replaces actually getting stuff done. I find that when I get 8 hours of sleep every night, exercise, and take time to relax, my work is more inspired. When I actually take lunch instead of eating a Lean Cuisine at my desk, I am more focused in the afternoon. When I give myself 8 or 9 hours to accomplish everything, I don't get distracted by cat videos. I just get my work done.
Now, I'm not knocking a tough work ethic and I know that everyone is different. There are times when the day must stretch long and there are some people, namely startup entrepreneurs, who need to work more than the rest of us. And that's OK as long as it's not every day. So take a night off -- go to the gym, get some sleep, spend time with your loved ones. Trust me: it's OK and your work will be better for it.