Why Working Long Hours is Hurting Your Business Growth
Adam Sykes | Mar 17th, 2019 | 6 min read
It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.
- John Steinbeck
As a father of three children, all under 5, I understand the value of sleep. I say this, but I probably sleep far more now than I did in the early days of starting my business. I lived by the motto, “Sleep is for the weak!”
I could not have been more wrong.
When starting, I would work till 3 am regularly. I have even put in a few 36-hour-plus stints, working from 8 am one day till 8 pm, or later, the following day.
How to Work Longer?
I would run on caffeine Going through 2L of Coke Zero or Pepsi Max (always sugar-free, though) a day, along with multiple strong coffees was the norm. I would make my coffee selection by the volume of caffeine above all else. Quadruple espresso for the final push was a common occurrence.
Seeking out ways to sleep less, to do more, was a pet hobby. Whether that was sleeping in 4-hour bursts along with a short nap, to game your natural rhythms, or making sure lighting was always super bright, you name it if it was legal, I had tried it.
Pulling a 72-hour-plus week was, I thought, what successful people did. Both former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and, inventor, Thomas Edison, were notorious short sleepers. Thomas Edison used to call sleep a waste of time, often only sleeping three to four hours a night. However, when you read more deeply, he also had short naps throughout the day, so, the three hours is not the full picture.
When you look at other successful people, it is essential to consider that we are all different. It may be entirely possible for some people to require less sleep than others, and they may be successful, but this is a correlation, not causation. If you looked across a large section of successful people, there would be far more people that need the full seven to nine hours sleep that is recommended for an adult. Studies have shown that only 1 – 3% of the population can exist on 5-6 hours or less of sleep.
So, do long hours make you more productive?
There are a couple of issues to discuss with regards to sleep.
The first is how does productivity change concerning long hours?
Secondly, what effect does a lack of sleep have on your ability to be productive?
It seems to be evident that if you work for longer, then you can get more done. If you work seven days a week, 365 days a year, then you would work an extra 133 days a year compared with the majority of British workers.
52 weeks a year x 5 days a week – 28 days statutory holiday = 232 days
365 days a year – 232 days worked by majority = 133 days
The average workday is nine to five, with a half hour lunch break, or seven and a half hours. So, if you worked fourteen hours a day, not uncommon for me in the early days of my business, you could work 3,360 more hours, or 448 average-length work days, a year than the average British worker.
232 work days a year x 7½ hours a day = 1,740 hours a year
365 days a year x 14 hours a day = 5,110 hours a year
5,100 hours – 1,740 hours = 3,360 extra hours
3,360 extra hours / 7½ hours a day = 448 extra average work days
This adds up to roughly three years of work in just one calendar year.
This is the absolute extreme case, but I wonder how many new entrepreneurs aspire to be so productive!
Why are you doing this to yourself?
One of the first things you should ask yourself if you are thinking this way, is why am I putting myself through this?
Why did you want to run your own business?
If the answer was to have control over your own life, then you haven’t achieved this. You have just swapped the control of your previous employer for your business now having control over your life.
If it was to make more money, then yes, you may make more money, but when will you have time to enjoy it. It is merely a number on a bank statement, and nothing more.
The above may be enough to make you think again about your current sleep strategy, but we are here to look at productivity, so, let’s run some basic numbers. Let’s first agree that you cannot be 100% efficient the whole time you are working long hours. So, let’s try an average of 70% efficient, to begin.
14 hours x 70% efficiency = 9.8 hours equivalent
More than four hours of that fourteen-hour day are down the drain.
You Are Only Productive 3 Hours A Day
In fact, some studies have concluded that most people are only productive for just under three hours a day! So, you are wasting a whopping eleven hours a day doing those fourteen hours.
The lack of productivity may be in part due to Parkinson’s Law, in that a task expands to fill the available time. There may also be other factors at play.
As you work long hours, you become tired, less focused, but also you make more mistakes as your concentration fades. This approach to working has a double impact, as not only are you working less efficiently, but you are also building up problems for the future. You will need to fix these problems, so, rather than complete work, you are creating extra work for yourself, or, in other words, being negatively productive.
Affecting Your Health Not Just Your Business
Stretching yourself by working extended hours also has potential health consequences. As well as the obvious issues of exhaustion and stress, there is also evidence to show that this can lead to type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Poor diet and lack of exercise, often associated with a punishing work schedule, exacerbate these issues.
Memory can also be affected by long hours which can also lead to a decrease in productivity as you overlook things.
As well as all of this being an issue for the entrepreneur who is driven by the desire to achieve to push themselves to the limit, the same goes for your team. If you force your staff to work long hours, then it can lead to increased sick days, and ultimately high staff turnover when people burn-out and move on.
Working yourself into an early grave will also have adverse effects on your mood. Studies have shown that a happy workforce is 12% more productive, while an unhappy workforce is 10% less productive. So, from unhappy to happy, there is a 22% difference.
If you can be happy and productive, why wouldn’t you want to be?
Use the Right Strategies and Tools
So, work smarter, not harder. Get things done in the time you have available, by using the right strategies and tools. Get a good night's sleep and be ready to focus on what matters, every day.
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