We live in a culture of burnout. We’re encouraged to work hard and play hard. We criticize the workaholic out of one side of our mouths and applaud their dedication and commitment to excellence out of the other. We’re told that we can have it all—an incredibly successful career and a happy, fulfilling family life. We smile and lift our imaginary glasses in mock toast saying “Live life to the fullest because there will be plenty of time to sleep when we’re dead!”

There’s an old saying in the advertising business, “If you don’t come in on Saturday, don’t bother coming to work on Sunday.” It’s that kind of thinking that is burning us out and killing our creative potential. We are driven by the misconception that the more hours we work, the more productive, prolific, and prosperous we will become. But is that really the case?

Diminishing Returns
In the early 1900s, the Ford Motor Company ran all kinds of tests to find the best ratio of hours worked to productive output. After dozens of scenarios, they found that the right number of hours worked to produce the best return is 40 hours a week. Adding 20 hours initially increased productivity slightly, but that increase reversed itself in less than a month, and productivity slid downhill. Ford officially adopted the 40-hour workweek in 1926.

When we work extra hours there is often an immediate increase in productivity. But, as Ford proved, after a relatively short time, that extra investment of hours results in diminishing returns. Ultimately those extra hours result in less productivity.

The 6-Hour Workday
A recent article in Fast Company interviews companies in Sweden that have switched to a 6-hour workday. By shortening the workday by 2 hours, companies are hoping to do two things:

  1. Sustain or improve productivity
  2. Improve employee morale and quality of life

Some CEOs and other leaders are starting to question the wisdom of an 8-hour workday.

“I think the eight-hour workday is not as effective as one would think. To stay focused on a specific work task for eight hours is a huge challenge” —Linus Feldt, CEO, Filimundus

The shorter day is causing people to stay more focused. They know that they are expected to get their work completed in less time, so they eliminated many “breaks” such as personal email and social media, among other distractions. Feldt goes on to say, “The biggest response that I couldn’t foresee was the energy level I felt with my colleagues,” he says. “They were happy leaving the office and happy coming back the next day. They didn’t feel drained or fatigued. That has also helped the work groups to work better together now, when we see less conflicts and arguments. People are happier.”

But I Don’t Live in Sweden
It’s true. Those of us living and working in the U.S. are not likely to see a major push to adopt the 6-hour workday. But there are some important lessons to takeaway from what companies are learning from a shorter workday.

  • Sop believing the lie. More hours do not make us more productive or prolific—especially in the life of a creative. While our ability to create is a renewable resource, it also needs to be nurtured. When we routinely work ourselves to the point of exhaustion, we make it much more difficult to sustain our creative energy. Ultimately, it will only burn us out…without any noticeable increase in productivity.
  • Learn to say no. Often our extra hours of work are caused by saying “yes” to things that are neither required or important to us. Be more discerning in how we invest the hours of our day.
  • beRENEWED!  We all know the importance of exercise for the health of our bodies. The same is true for our emotional and spiritual selves. The nurturing of our creative potential requires that we build intentional times of renewal into our lives. My book Burnout Sucks! has some specific suggestions for you to consider in chapter 12.

Have you struggled to keep your working hours to a manageable amount? Leave a comment and let us know.

More on the 8-hour workday:
Huffington Post
The Skool of Life

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