5 Ways to Cut Your Work Hours Without Skimping on Productivity

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Being the first one into the office and the last one out at the end of the day has become a badge of honor, but working long hours doesn't necessarily mean you're getting a ton of work done. If you’re tired of burning the candle at both ends, read these expert tips on how to lessen your load without killing your productivity. That way, you can be the last one into your office and the first one out—but you’ll still get everything done on time.


A study at Florida State University [PDF] that followed top athletes, actors, chess players, and musicians found that those at the top of their field work in 90-minute spurts, with breaks in between. They can focus more intensely in short bursts followed by recovery periods that allow them to recharge. The takeaway: Break every 90 minutes for the biggest benefit.


Every day, take a five to 15-minute break during the day to re-group your brain, says Halle Eavelyn, a transformational coach who focuses on helping female entrepreneurs re-claim their lives. You could do this by focusing on your breathing—but if you want to do something more tangible, she suggests taking a short mindfulness meditation walk. “Notice the abundance of the blades of grass, notice the abundance of the leaves on the trees, the cars in the driveway,” Eavelyn says. “Come into the present moment, and you will begin to breathe easier, begin to relax, and feel less anxious. You’ll stop thinking about the bills and the deadline, and you’ll start thinking about the things that are right in front of you, which will make you focused and more productive at work.”


Know when your brain is at its peak time, and make a list of the three to five things you could do each day during that time that will help you be more productive, says Jason Womack, California-based founder of Get Momentum, an online coaching program. Wunderlist is a great app to use as your to-do list; it allows you to organize tasks, set timers, and share your list with others so you can get more things done quickly.


In 2007, nearly a quarter of the population were chronic procrastinators, compared with just 5 percent in 1978, according to a study in the Psychological Bulletin [PDF], and that number appears to be rising. Why? We have so many more distractions today than there were back in the '70s. But there’s a way to put a stop to them, Eavelyn says. Various apps and browser extensions can help, such as Stop Procrastinating, which will allow you to either disconnect from the internet for a certain period of time or prevent access from certain sites (hello, Facebook) so you can halt your distractions. Freedom ($2.50 per month) and Self Control (free) are others that can help if your own willpower isn’t as strong.


In Germany and France, measures have been taken to prohibit sending work emails after hours. That’s because they understand that working harder during a shorter period of time is more productive. A researcher at Stanford University [PDF] found that the maximum number of hours for productivity is 48 hours per week. Once you go above that number, output starts to diminish.