America is the motherland of workaholics. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average U.S. citizen works 44 hours per week. Most are pushing 50 hours – and if you’re a lawyer, pulling 60 to 70 hour work weeks is all too common.
If putting in more hours churned out a higher quality product, then everyone would gladly work 12 hour days. But we aren’t machines; we’re human beings. We can’t work all day every day and expect consistent, high-caliber results. That’s because we experience diminishing returns. In other words, the more hours we work, the less productive each consecutive hour generally becomes. The first hour of the day is when our energy is the highest. With each passing hour, our concentration, willpower and workflow gradually decrease.
Instead of adding more hours to your work day, try reframing your focus instead.
Consider Teddy Roosevelt. Elected at 42, the youngest U.S. president part-timed as a boxer, poet and naturalist. Sometimes he finished an entire book before breakfast. He also published nearly 50 books and, by one estimate, completed over 150,000 letters.
This isn’t because he worked all day and never slept a wink. In fact, the president was known for napping regularly, and he achieved high honors at Harvard while only studying for a few hours a day.
What Teddy Roosevelt knew how to do was focus. He would put everything else aside and completely invest himself in the task at hand. Unfortunately, focusing isn’t something we all easily come by. After all, attention deficit disorders are rising every year.
If you want to make better use of your time so you can get home by 5 p.m. every day, consider the following:
This can be difficult to avoid in the age of social media. But the more you try to take on at once, the less likely you’ll finish any task on your long list of things to do and the more likely you are to stay at the office late into the night.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of the work you have to do, consider taking a break. This may seem counterintuitive. But according to Quartz, you can’t maintain brain power throughout an entire work day without a little rest. Go for a walk, meditate, get coffee with a friend — do whatever works best for you that will allow your mind to disconnect from work for so you can be more productive when you get back to it.
At the end of the day, just walk away
It can be tempting to bring work home. Lawyers understand this better than most. But at the end of the day, overworking will do more harm than good. It will lead to a lack of sleep, less time spent with family and friends, missed exercise classes and — overall — less quality work.
Are you feeling unproductive? Don’t start working more. Just start working differently to get things done.