Both Work and Life Are Better with Shorter & More Focused Days

The “Nine to Five” has long ago been replaced by the “Eight to Six” and the “Seven to Nine”. Technology is making it easier for us to worker longer hours, both in the office and at home (or on vacation too), but are we getting more done? Is this work providing us with a better life? We are being psychologically pushed towards working increasingly longer days and weeks while the mounting body of evidence is telling us to do the opposite.

Trading Sleep for More Work and Health Problems

A recent report in the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that paid work time is the number one sleep thief in the US. We are sacrificing more of our sleep to work, and to commute to work each day and relying on caffeine and other stimulants to get us through the day.

Results show that work is the dominant activity exchanged for less sleep across practically all sociodemographic categories. Compared to normal sleepers, short sleepers who reported sleeping 6 hours or less worked 1.55 more hours on weekdays and 1.86 more hours on weekends or holidays, and they started working earlier in the morning and stopped working later at night.

Why is working more a bad thing? There is little evidence that more is actually being accomplished in those extra hours given up and there are several negative health and financial consequences as well. Sleep is vital for moving information from short-term to long-term memory. This may be more important for students than workers, but constantly forgetting facts will hinder work productivity as well. Another negative consequence for employees in lower socioeconomic tiers who work  more than 55 hours per week (and their employers if they provide healthcare) is that the incidence of type 2 diabetes was much higher than those who work 35 – 40 hours per week.

Things are not so dire that we cannot recover dear HR manager. Increasing the amount of natural light in the office will improve people’s mood while at work, decrease energy costs and improve their sleep at night. Another technique that can be employed is the post-lunch nap. “Cat naps”, “power naps” or whatever else you call  10 – 30 minutes of shuteye has long been known to give a quick boost of energy, but little more. New research though, shows that a 30 minute nap can actually reverse the negative hormonal effects of poor sleep from the night before.

Do More by Promising Less

Another reason that more work is piling up for all of us is that we are taking on more projects at work and at home. There is the actual time and energy cost of doing the tasks needed for the project, but what often doesn’t get accounted for is the mental administrative costs needed to complete them. We want to be helpful, we want to say yes to new tasks, meetings, events, but are they the best use of our time?

The best way to break out of this vicious cycle of over-commitment and underperformance is to very carefully manage what you agree to do. You can actually do more if you take on less.

Some steps you can take are:

  1. Don’t say yes right away: slow down the decision making process so you have enough time to study your schedule and commitments
  2. Say no early and often: The quicker you say no, the easier it will be for them to find someone else and for you to move on to your other commitments. As you repeat this process it’ll get easier to say no to projects that you don’t have time for.
  3. Review the Project and Your Calendar: How big of a time commitment is it? How much time do you have? If it is something you really want to be a part of, what can you move around or drop to make it happen?
  4. Adjust your current commitments: If this new project is currently of higher value to you or your organization, see which of your current projects you can hand off, shelve, or terminate so that you have the necessary time and energy to complete this new project.

Many companies are seeing the emotional, physical and financial benefits of good time-management and supporting their employees to have lives outside of the office. Pivotal Labs, refuses to do “crunch-time” programming for their clients. Most deadlines are arbitrary, why push employees towards burnout when its not truly needed? Slack, an enterprise communication startup that eschews the 24 year old, all-night coders for married-with-children 40 year old programmers and 45 hour work weeks. They are growing like crazy and have a value of over $1 Billion USD.  Sprinting will happen, crises and last-minute opportunities will arise. If you want your employees to most effectively be able to rise those occasions, give them the support for a long and sustainable career the rest of the time.


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Ravi Mikkelsen

Ravi Mikkelsen is the CEO and cofounder of jobFig, an HR focused behavioral analytics startup in San Francisco, CA. A lifelong entrepreneur and nomad, he has been involved with startups in three countries on two continents and has lived in 9 different cities. Connect with Ravi.

Reader Interactions


  1. Michael Gregory II says

    Great article. I think sometimes a problem I have is telling everyone, “Yes, I’ll do it,” before I even realize what they’re asking me to do. It’s sort of a bad habit I’ve been trying to shove off. So I like what you said when you mentioned, “say no often,” because that really is necessary. Especially when you work in a very demanding environment. (I’m an Information Technician Manager) so you can understand the stress that comes in the job. lol. I have my own techniques I use to balance my mind, but I like your inputs as well.

  2. Ravi Mikkelsen says

    Thanks Michael. I had the same problem of constantly saying yes to everyone that asked for help regardless of if I had the time for it or not. I completely understand your stress. Keep saying no! 🙂


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