It’s not easy to have a perfect work-life balance – in fact, getting the right balance is one of the biggest problems that we face today. All of us want to earn fat salaries. We want to be more successful than our peers. We also want to spend more time with our family. This might seem to be an impossible equation, but there are ways to solve it. If we can properly structure our work and time, we will be able to have our cake and eat it too.
THE RELATION BETWEEN LONG HOURS AND PRODUCTIVITY
A lot of people believe that taking a break from work will make them less productive, so they work every day of the week. They can indeed learn a thing or two from the French. French workers have to take at least 31 days off work every year. The vast majority of them prefer to take their vacation in August. So, they shut their shops and fly to Cannes or neighboring countries. Workaholics might call this laziness, but by holidaying for the whole of August, French people avoid a burnout. They come back from their vacation with more energy and enthusiasm.
The time given to work is not always directly proportional to the quality of work. Actually, at some point, it becomes inversely proportional. So after a while, if you work more, you will become less productive. People who work long hours are more likely to get distracted. What’s more, if more time is available to complete a job, we have a tendency to expand the job. So, if you work less, you are more likely to work better.
Practicing a skill is no different. Some studies have shown that successful musicians practice less. Most of them practice just 90 minutes/day. They are also more likely to take breaks during practice. They even take naps during the day.
Several other studies have also shown that working too much can lead to stress. Stress affects health and reduces lifespan. Besides, keeping focus for more than fifty hours/week is simply impossible. Henry Ford was a visionary who knew this and so he reduced his workers’ schedules from 48 hours/ week to 40 hours/week. He believed that if his employees were forced to work more, they would make more mistakes. Leisure time helps us to recharge our batteries. This will have a positive impact on the quality of work we do.
WHY DO PEOPLE WORK LONG HOURS?
People earning a small salary will probably have to work overtime to make both ends meet. But some well-compensated employees also overwork themselves, although they don’t have to do it. Why is this so? Well, our culture doesn’t allow us to take breaks. People who take a break from work are often perceived as lazy. We are also worried that leisure will make us less productive. Interestingly, these fears are baseless. Long working hours do not necessarily mean improved productivity. In fact, most of the time when we reduce our hours at the desk, our productivity actually increases.
In the 21st century, when labor saving domestic appliances made their advent, there was a considerable buzz about how we would spend the new-found free time. It just didn’t happen. Yes, domestic appliances like refrigerators, washing machines, and vacuum cleaners helped us to save a lot of time, but we filled that time with paid work. Technology has improved our productivity. Some studies have shown that today an average U.S. employee who works 11 hours/week is as productive as someone who worked 40 hours/week in 1950. Decades ago, everyone believed that greater productivity will result in shorter hours.
THE IMPORTANCE OF REST AND LEISURE
In the current circumstances where many people face work insecurity, discussing leisure might be an outlandish idea. However, a regular work week does not have to exceed 40 hours. If it does, it is unlikely to increase productivity. In fact, leisure and rest are vital to overall well-being, productivity, and creativity.
Today, our culture tells us to equate long hours with commitment and success. We have convinced ourselves that labor is a part of our lives. It probably is, but we also need to find some time to rest and reflect. Consumerism encourages us to work more and earn more. This wasn’t quite the case in the medieval times when people chose to work less when wages increased.
In some highly industrialized countries, people don’t even debate long working hours. While new technologies allow us to stay in constant touch with the office, people are still compelled to stay in the office for long. Unfortunately, this is doing more harm than good. If increasing productivity is our goal, it is imperative that we find time for leisure.
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