Studies Show Working Overtime Is Basically Pointless

Simple Takeaway:

Working around 50 hours per week is the cutoff for productive work, according to research. Anything over that, and you’re not gaining enough productivity to make it worth the effort.

Working endless hours has become a badge of honor for working class Americans.

But it turns out, opportunity actually prefers sleep.

It also takes breaks, and it knows when it’s time to turn work off; and it prefers if you do too. 

Researchers have found that putting in extra hours of work, specifically over 50 hours, can end up being a waste of time from a productivity standpoint.

Here’s what the researchers say:

“Productivity drops immediately upon starting overtime and continues to drop until, at approximately eight 60-hour weeks, the total work done is the same as what would have been done in eight 40-hour weeks.” – IGDA

Another study found that when people worked more than 50 hours, output per hour started to fall. (See Economist)

In other words…

Around 50 hours per week is the cutoff for productive work, according to research.

Work 6 am to 4 pm, 7 am to 5 pm, or break it into multiple shifts if you prefer, whatever works best. (Science shows that early shifts have their advantages.)

If that sounds like it’s not enough time to get everything done, you might just need to change how you work in order to maximize productivity.

For example, studies have found that working for 1-2 hours, then taking a 20-30 minute break, keeps your brain fresh and enables you to accomplish more in less time. The fancy word for this is “Ultradian Rhythm“.

The point to all this is:

8-10 hours a day is reasonable, and you won’t get much more accomplished by working over that.

Make no more than 50 hours per week the goal, and give yourself at least a day and a half a week to rest (my rest time is Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday).

Turn it all off and spend time with people – family, friends, and community. Regardless of what the introverts think, people are good for your soul.

And next time 5 o’clock creeps up and you think – “Okay, just one more thing and I’m done…” – don’t do it. It’s scientifically not worth it.