More Work = Less Productivity (infographic)

Posted on Posted in Words on Work-Life Balance

Working more will not increase your productivityDo you ever feel like you’re working more but achieving less? Like you’re putting in more hours than ever, but still falling behind? You want to maximize your productivity, but all you seem to be maximizing is your tolerance for sleep deprivation and your intake of caffeine.

Well, you’re not alone. In fact, recent research by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) suggests you might be part of a global trend. And the research suggests that the key to maximizing your contribution might actually be — wait for it — working less.

Research: Countries Working the Fewest Hours Created the Greatest Economic Value

The OECD collects information globally on a number of factors related to economic development, including average hours worked per week, average wage per hour, and gross domestic product (GDP). The good folks over at analyzed this data by country and noticed some pretty startling facts:

  • The 3 countries who generated the greatest economic value per hour were among the bottom 5 for hours worked per week
  • The countries that worked the most hours per week generated the least value per hour
  • The country that worked the least number of hours per week (Germany at an average of 26 hours per week) was in the top 10 for economic value generated per hour
  • The country that worked the most hours per week (Mexico at an average of 43 hours per week) ranked dead last for economic value generated per hour

In other words, as the infographic below makes clear, there appears to be an inverse relationship between hours worked and value generated.

What National Productivity Can Teach Us About Personal Productivity

This macroeconomic information lines up quite well with research on personal productivity. While we are often tempted to burn the midnight oil and put in overtime when we really want to deliver, repeated studies show that our personal output actually decreases as our hours worked increases. We’re generally at our most productive in our first few hours of work, but our productivity decreases over time. Moreover, when we start working more than 40 or 50 hours per week, our productivity is actually less than it is when we work fewer hours, all other things being equal.

Personal Productivity versus Work-Life Balance

What can we do with this information and what does it have to do with work-life balance? Many of my clients struggle with the desire to succeed at work and the desire to be good parents, partners, and friends. In pursuit of the former, they frequently find themselves sacrificing the latter. “I’d love to make it my daughter’s soccer game, but I’ve got to put in some extra hours on this presentation this week.”

Instead of working more hours, we need to focus on making the most of a few key hours. Ruthless prioritization, saying no, and simple time management approaches like the Pomodoro technique (which encourages short bursts of focused work, punctuated by restorative breaks) can help us work less and achieve more. We can be the professionals, parents, and partners we want to be, without sacrificing our mental and physical wellbeing.

So, the next time your boss winkingly exhorts you to “work smarter, not harder,” you can correct her and say, “Work less, not harder.” And when she stares at you cluelessly, you can hand her a copy of this article.

Thanks to* for this awesome infographic.

Hours Worked Vs Profitability

*This article is not an endorsement for They were just kind enough to share this information, which I thought you, dear reader, might find valuable.