If your Work is Intellectual, Work Less

Work more to get more done? According to Mark Manson, this is an entirely old advice – I agree and here is why.

Working long hours – let’s say 12 hours in a row – may not lead to more or better results. In fact, I think that the advice of working many hours on a project comes from the industrial age. I’d like to work with the example of building a bridge. Asphalting a bridge is obviously finished earlier when workers work a 12-hour shift instead of a 4 hours shift. So working longe hours on manual work will lead to more results.

Building a Bridge

However, to build a bridge, engineers need to plan and calculate the smallest details of the bridge first. The work of these engineers is intellectual and working 12 hours instead of 4 hours will not bring the bridge to completion earlier. Every engineer has his own rhythm, and probably he will finish most of his results in an outstanding quality in the first few hours of his workday. After a few hours, his concentration is diminishing. He will not continue to deliver quality work but rather deliver mediocre results. As his attention is declining, he might even make mistakes and his results of the day are diminished. The next day he has to spend the first hours to correct his errors and his productivity of the previous day is gone. Well, he hopefully corrects his mistakes. The Berlin Airport (BER) is a perfect example where engineers did not do their job correctly – the result: loss of billions of € and an opening delay of years (or even decades).

This Does Not Result in a 15h Week

Employers who force their employees to work 8 hours a day straight on a single project might, therefore, decelerate the completion of the entire project. Instead, every individual should be able to choose himself when to work on which task and for how long. The only important thing is the completion of the job within the deadline and the best quality possible. How many hours are worked each day is not only secondary but nonsense.

Everyone has his own rhythm and his own time period where he can achieve 80% or even 95% of the results in only a few hours. This – however – does not necessarily mean that everyone works 15 hour work weeks. When 3-4 hours are reserved for working on the number one priority of the day, the remaining hours can be used to do other tasks: attending meetings, communicating with customers or co-workers, or reading a book. This might still result in an 8 hour work day – but a different one. Working 8 hours or even more on a single task is nonsense and will lead to diminishing returns.

I wasted many hours in September

Working long hours isn’t working for Mark Manson and neither for me. I personally learned that I can achieve amazing things in a time period of 3 to 4 hours where I produce 80% of my results (or even more). Last month I planned to work 12 hours a day merely to research and write my Bachelor thesis. I learned it the hard way that 90% of the qualitative results were achieved in short time periods I worked intensely focussed at night. A few days I tried to put in more hours and sleep less merely to get more done. But in reality, I got not only less done, but I made mistakes which forced me to do all the work all over again. Outside of my deep-work hours, my writing was terrible, and even some calculations I did in Excel were incorrect.

Don’t Check-mark a 12-hour Work Day

Working 9 additional hours merely to check-mark your 12 hour work day is stupid. Listen to your own biological rhythm and reserve 3-4 hours of deep work in your daily schedule.

Today’s intellectual information age had different requirements than a garment factory one-hundred years ago. The forty hour work week must be abandoned (immediately). Employees should be allowed to work flexible hours which will lead to more qualitative results and higher productivity.

What are your experiences with hustling long hours on a single task? Leave a comment below!

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