Studies Show Working Overtime Is Basically Pointless

If I asked a room full of men to raise their hand if they work more than 40 hours per week, nearly every hand would go up.

If I asked them to keep their hand raised if they work more than 50 hours per week, only a small minority of the room’s hands go down.

If I kept going, hands wouldn’t start going down until we hit the 60+ hours per week mark. (See here, here, and here.)

If you’re like me, you can’t even answer that question because the work day blends seamlessly with the rest of the day. We don’t even know what to call the part of the day when we’re not working. We just call it “after work”.

It’s a sad reality, but somehow we’ve come to believe it’s not only okay to work all the time, but that successful people – especially successful men – should be putting in endless work hours.

After all, opportunity never sleeps, right?

As it turns out, opportunity does 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 all those 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

So if 60 hours is too much, how many hours per week should we strive for? I thought you might ask…

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, 8 am to 6 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, your spouse is right, you do work too much.

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

And let’s be honest, we’re going to push it a bit over the 50 hour mark on any given week. So make no more than 50 the goal, and if you land a couple of weeks in the high 50s, you’re still better off than you were when you were working all the time for nothing.

Give yourself at least a day and a half a week to just rest (my rest time is Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday). Turn it all off and spend time with your family, friends, and in your community. Do some yard work. It’s good for the 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.

Posted by Mike P. Taylor

Mike P. Taylor is an author, speaker, and coach who helps people find purpose so they can live and work with clear direction. He lives in Decatur, Alabama with his wife Sydney and their four kids. Learn more about him here.

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