Business leaders pride themselves on working hard, putting in the long hours required to achieve success. Paradoxically, the extra hours many of us put in may actually hinder our effectiveness and the performance of our companies. In short, working fewer hours can make us better leaders and improve our company’s results.
1. Better and Clearer Thinking: First, limiting our hours and taking at least one weekend day off gives us the opportunity to think. Similar to sleep, it gives our brains the time to process and decipher all the inputs and create new ideas, connections, and neural pathways. Second, by stepping back from our work we get ourselves out of the trenches and see the broader view. Instead of flying and darting over hills and valleys at 1,000 feet of altitude, this stepping back allows us to cruise at 35,000 feet, surveying the landscape and seeing the big picture. This can ensure that we move the business forward in the right direction. Third, working fewer hours reduces our level of stress. High levels of stress deplete our mental capacity and diminish our judgment.
2. Extra Hours Encourage a Pattern of Inefficiency: Few of us work a non-stop, solid eight hour day. Instead, we divert ourselves with the Internet, unimportant tasks, non-work activity, gossip and innumerable other distractions that suck up time and thus require us to stay at the office for the face-saving 10, 11, or 12 hours a day. By setting a time limit on our work day (say 8 or, at most, 9 hours), we can force ourselves to get done in that time frame what needs to be done. We can thus make every day as efficient and productive as that day before vacation when we cram and successfully get it all completed. By respecting this time limit even when we have not finished everything, we will ensure that the next day we will work more effectively right from the start. Rather than getting bogged down and off track, we will get right to work on the most important issue without hesitation, without procrastination, without distraction.
3. Requires a Focus on the Important: By limiting the number of hours worked, we also require ourselves and our company to focus only on the essential. We do not have the time in the day to focus on non-essential or “nice to have” goals or activities. In most cases, we are trying to do too much ourselves and dumping too much on our poor team members – additional reports, initiatives, and programs. With all these priorities, we, inevitably, lose our focus on the most important 3 -5 goals for the business. Perhaps, some of us are thinking:
If I remember to focus on the important and then put in the extra hours then I can make progress towards my goals even quicker. Win win.
No! The limiting factor in business is not time, it is attention. Our attention spans are limited and we can only grasp so much (3 – 5 priorities). Further, study after study has shown that after a solid 8 or 9 hours of work, our effectiveness, our ability to focus, and our attention to detail drops off precipitously. In effect, after this time, most of us are wasting our time by continuing to work. Instead of staying in the office, burning the midnight oil and heroically grinding it out, we just need to “Go Home!”
By working fewer hours, we will think more clearly and broadly, work more efficiently and effectively, and force ourselves to focus our attention on the most important. And oh yeah!! It just might help us get some work-life balance back into our week.