Your long hours aren't helping your get more done. Science proves it. And if you take a long, hard, honest look at your schedule, you can probably see this for yourself.

When people have insane workweeks it's usually because overwork is making them stressed and inefficient, causing them to work longer hours, which in turn makes them more stressed and exhausted... and the cycle continues.

How do you break out of it?

Well, you work less, obviously. But that's easier said than done for lots of folks, even if you're lucky enough to have the power to set your own schedule. Guilt and fear of falling behind are hard to overcome. But it is possible to get your crazy schedule back under control, insists time management coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders.

In a helpful recent HBR blog post she offered detailed, practical advice for professionals who are looking to regain some scheduling sanity drawn from both her own experiences and those of her clients. Here's a very basic outline, but check out the complete piece for all the details.

1. Evaluate how you currently decide when to stop working.

"People often stop when they feel too tired to continue or they observe their colleagues stop. But these signals aren't helpful," Saunders insists.

"Working to exhaustion means you're less productive when you are working--and it can also mean you don't have the energy to enjoy your time outside of work. Basing your hours on a colleague's is dangerous because you're putting your time in someone else's hands (someone who may or may not be working effectively)."

2. Set your own target.

Instead of just working until your brain basically starts to smoke, set a target number of hours you want to work in, say, a week and work from there. If that sounds overwhelmingly stressful to you, "start small by focusing on an incremental goal, like leaving 15 minutes earlier each day," suggests Saunders.

3. Observe how you work.

Of course, just deciding one day to work fewer hours won't magically solve your problems (though it's a start). You also need to tune how you work to make your new goal feasible. "If you find yourself planning your time but still are working late into the night or on weekends, identify what's hindering you from working your preferred number of hours," Saunders explains.

"Maybe you're in meetings most of the day or get interrupted constantly, so dedicated project work only happens after everyone leaves. Or perhaps a project is understaffed," she writes. Whatever the issue, you need to identify it before you can correct it.

4. Take action.

Once you've diagnosed the factors that are forcing you to keep insane hours, the obvious next step is to fix them. Maybe block your meetings together so you have more uninterrupted time. Schedule your most draining tasks for your periods of maximum energy. Be bold and request more resources or ask colleagues to pitch in more on a problem project. Negotiate extensions of insane deadlines.

If you face resistance to these initiatives, Saunder suggests pointing out that humane scheduling "allows you to work more effectively."

5. Fight back against anxiety.

"When I first decided to limit my hours, I felt like I was having withdrawal symptoms," confesses Saunders. Don't let your jitters derail your efforts.

Saunders suggests scheduling something concrete like an exercise class or drinks with friends for your appointed leave time. "After a few weeks of doing this (and discovering that nothing horrible happened), I became less emotionally resistant to the reduced hours," she relates.

Do you think this plan would work for you?

Published on: Jul 25, 2016
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