It's no secret that Americans work a lot. According to the results of a 2016 study by researchers in the U.S., Canada and Germany, the average person in Europe works 19 percent less than the average person in the U.S., which comes out to about 258 fewer hours per year.
We put in lots of work time despite mounting evidence that it's just not productive to work so much. In fact, the only thing that working more than 40 hours a week will do is make you unproductive. The magic number might actually be a maximum of 39 hours per week, according to a study from Australia.
I get that it's easy to fall into the "more work is better" mindset. Business culture is often set up to make it a challenge to find time for anything other than work. It's super easy to get into the routine of work-home-dinner-bed and repeat. Your weekends are then reserved for catching up on non-work obligations like household chores, family stuff, etc. It's easy to move from one week to the next floating between cycles, and losing out almost completely on true leisure time.
The dangers of unmitigated focus on work are all too apparent in this powerful Washington Post article from a violinist whose focus on her craft almost destroyed her love for playing the instrument. It wasn't until she felt forced to take time away from playing violin that she ultimately found her footing with it again. The writer explains:
"I gave up on my career, and went months at a time without picking up my bow. I had a few previous engagements to fulfill, but between those joyless performances, I didn't play. As much as I hated to see my violin case gathering dust, I felt lighter and more at peace when I went for long stretches without touching it."
This is an extreme example, but it shows the need for down time. It is a good illustration that there really is too much of a good thing (and of course, not everyone loves their jobs as much as she loved the violin).
The lesson here is that you need to cut down on the work time and prioritize harmony in your life. Or as I like to say, you need to give your thinking brain a break -- it just can't be on 24/7. So you need to have an outlet outside of work that is purely about your enjoyment and recharges you (for advice on how to figure out what that is for you, read this). For Warren Buffet that is the game of bridge. Google founder Sergey Brin likes high-flying trapeze and ultimate Frisbee.
For me, yoga has been a saving grace even though I was reluctant to try it at first. Not only does an activity that engages you help give you a break, but it can also actually help you become a better worker when you are on the clock. I can't tell you how many times I've had an epiphany while out for a run. And the focus and breathing techniques I've learned from yoga have been instrumental in helping me become a better professional.
Here's your simple takeaway in three actions: Work smart, find an activity you love, and make sure you make time for it.