If there's one mantra today's business professionals are living by, it's likely "No pain, no gain." The idea is, with the market as competitive as it is, you have to be cutthroat. Give to the umpteenth degree. You have to push, hard, or people will think you just "don't have what it takes."
But does the push, push, push ideology really make sense? There are a handful of instances when cutting back on your workload will actually help you get more done.
1. When you don't know what your goal is
When you have a goal in mind and can divide the process for achieving it into smaller, more manageable parts, it often becomes psychologically easier to hold the course in your work. Part of the reason for this is because you can reward yourself at each milestone--even just by acknowledging the accomplishment and saying "Done!"--and trigger a release of the feel-good hormone dopamine in the brain. That dopamine helps you maintain a better mood, but it also plays a role in keeping you motivated and learning. Athletes, for example, often break down what they're doing to keep performing through physical fatigue, such as "Just one more lap to go until this mile is over!" If you're running yourself ragged simply because you believe hard work inevitably has to have some kind of positive payoff, though, you have no idea how much further it is until the finish line. Maybe you'll work hard 5 hours. Maybe it will be 20. Nothing is clear. And without that lack of clarity, without that ability to pace yourself because you know where the goal is, you'll likely spend all your energy too quickly, get zero satisfaction and burn out before you can finish.
2. When you have a physical or emotional issue to handle
When you have a physical condition, such as a chronic disease or injury, your body is under a certain amount of stress. It will need more rest and fuel to recover, heal or get back into balance. But plowing full steam ahead into your work involves additional physical, mental and emotional demands. It can become very hard for your body to function at its best or for you to perform at an optimal level, simply because it's so difficult to meet these increased requirements. Emotional issues can be a source of stress on the body in the same way. Researchers have found, for example, that psychological stress can make wounds take longer to heal. To protect your wellbeing, it's usually best to back off your projects or hours so you don't overload yourself. Once you've dealt with the emotional issue or physical condition, you can push hard again, because you'll have reduced the stress sources you have.
3. When you don't have a good support system in place
Giving 110 percent often means you take on some additional risks. For example, if you get really busy, it's pretty easy to get sucked into not eating a good lunch or driving when you're tired. In a best case scenario, you might get hit with a little embarrassment or lose a few bucks. But in the worst case scenario, you could end up unintentionally hurting yourself or someone else. People in a support system can watch out for you to make sure this doesn't happen, just like a spotter in a gym makes sure your load is under control.
4. When your extra effort isn't going to affect the outcome
Generally speaking, the expectation with work is that what you do is going to result in some kind of change, be it a new design, a fresh policy or better efficiency. But sometimes people keep pushing even when what they're doing honestly isn't going to make any difference. For example, if people genuinely aren't able to afford your product, spending hours and hours and thousands of dollars on marketing campaigns probably isn't going to boost your sales numbers a staggering amount. These cases are more a matter of principle and emotion--you feel like if you just work hard enough, you should be rewarded, so you keep going based on what you want, even if the numbers or other facts tell you it's probably a waste. You're probably better off acknowledging this emotional investment, finding constructive ways to let go and redirecting your energy to more productive areas.
If you don't dig deep in business at least some of the time, your competitors probably aren't going to have that much difficulty passing you by. But this doesn't mean you have to go at everything full throttle the entire time you're at the office, and sometimes you actually might come out ahead by saying "That's enough!" Be strategic, and when you run into one of the above scenarios, think twice about barreling forward.