I've never seen so much backlash.
After I posted a long article about how Marissa Mayer from Yahoo suggested it was the long hours (130 of them in a week) that helped build Google into a powerhouse, many readers started firing off emails, tweets, Facebook comments, and angry rebuttals. They agreed with me that working more hours doesn't lead to success. It's when you work smarter and faster. They agreed that taking breaks and even enjoying some time off to relax is a better way to fuel creative ideas and foster productivity.
What caught me by surprise was not the fact that people don't like to work longer hours. That's been true since the first person clocked in on a time-sheet. It's surprising how many people reacted to the idea and how vocal they became. Some went a little over-the-top, suggesting that Mayer's incorrect viewpoint is what has caused Yahoo to sink like a ship. Others even went so far as to criticize her skills in many other ways, which was not my intent. I've been known to praise many of her ideas.
Still, I have to commiserate with those who are fighting back against the number of hours we're required to work each week. Sadly, the problem is getting worse, not better. We login after breakfast and keep backpedaling through emails all day long. We tap in on Slack at night to check the status of one more work conversation, even though no one has said anything new. We're ridiculously hyper-connected with gadgets to the point that we're becoming obsessive. If we ever dared to actually track how many hours we work in a week, we might clock in at 130 hours.
130 hours! Another commenter noted how that's nearly impossible when there are only 168 hours in a week. If you do the math, you'll see that it means you're only sleeping a few hours per night. (This commenter didn't realize that the 130 hours hours also includes at least one all-nighter, so that equates to six hours of sleep on every other night.) It's distressing for a few reasons. I recounted the most important ones in the original article--that we don't work as smart and our work output at 3 a.m. is a little suspect. It's a dangerous practice that leads to outright depression.
A few readers noted how this is more than just inefficient. It's also killing us. Working constantly is terrible for your long-term health because you are not getting enough down-time. Last year, several studies suggested that long hours can create health risks. One suggested that working more than 55 hours per week can increase your risk of stroke by 33%. Another said that only about 1-3% of the population can handle sleeping fewer than six hours per night without some serious side effects, most notably a drop in our productivity level. Some of us are tapping at a keyboard mindlessly answering emails (guilty!) when we should be in bed.
Why the outrage? My sense from reading many of these messages and comments is that people are fed up. They are so over-connected and the expectations to work long hours are so high that they don't know where to turn. The boss is not listening. The tech industry has turned a deaf ear to their concerns. They're tired and depressed. In many ways, the many online comments reveal that people do not have a voice.
I'm going to go out on a limb here as a way to address the problem. I'd like to suggest that we all take a step back from the hyper-connected work-world we've all created. Start by tracking your actual time, even for a single day or up to a full week. Jot down every 30 minute increment you spend checking email, writing in Google Docs, surfing the internet looking for advice. When you do the math, post your total hours on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #worktoomuch and we'll see if this is a widespread problem. (My hunch is that it is even worse than expected.)
My goal is to stick with 40 hours or less. I want to work fewer hours but achieve more in that time-frame. I want each hour to "add up" to more productivity. I want my down-time to mean something, to lead to more creative ideas. I want technology to help me work fewer hours, not saddle me with guilt when I pull out my smartphone yet again during dinner. Will you join the fight to work less?