How To Accomplish More By Working Less

The United States is in good company placing the merits of “hard work” on a high pedestal. Just like other countries, we equate working hard with success, achievement, and virtue. And we’re happy to put in long hours to achieve our goals.

How many hours per week?

While the 40-hour work week is the standard for full-time employment, in 2014 Gallup found the majority of Americans work 47 hours or more per week. And many small business owners put in even more hours.

No doubt, the American worker works hard, often putting in longer hours than workers in other countries.

But are hard work and longer hours the answer? Are they necessary to be more productive and achieve greater success?

Over the years many have shared their opinions about hard work and success. Here’s what three famous Americans have said:

  • “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”  Thomas Jefferson
  • “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” Stephen King
  • “Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don’t recognize them.”  Ann Landers

What’s the common thread here? Hard work!

Is it wrong to say it takes hard work to be successful? No, I don’t think so.

If you want to accomplish anything, you have to work for it. It’s rare for success to drop into your lap. And what may look like overnight success often is the result of endlessly working for years toward a goal.

But there is a dark side to the maxim of hard work.

For example, look at Japan. There, the principle of hard work has been taken to the extreme. Some Japanese workers routinely overwork, leaving them stressed, tired, and exhausted.

Working too much, leading to health problems or even death, has been identified in Japan as a problem for many years. The Japanese even have a unique word for this phenomenon. The word is “Karoshi” and is translated as “Death from Overwork.”

While this phenomenon is unique to Japan, I believe it’s wise to take note and learn from it. Putting in long hours may be virtuous, but you will pay for it with health, productivity, and overall life satisfaction.


Principally, there is nothing wrong with working hard, if done smart and within reason.

It’s ok to work long hours for a while, for example, if there’s a project that needs to get out the door. The problem is when the occasional long hours turn into a routine of long hours.

If you find yourself slaving away for hours and days on end, without taking breaks or getting rest, it eventually will backfire. There is plenty of research documenting the correlation between working long hours and the adverse impact on health.

One meta-analysis revealed that working long hours was almost as damaging as smoking. While smoking increased the risk of coronary heart disease by 50%, working long hours increased the risk by 40%!

Another meta-analysis found that employees who work long hours are at higher risk for stroke as compared to those working regular hours. The analysis points to the importance of managing vascular risk factors in those who work long hours.


Your health is not the only area suffering when you’re working too many hours. Your productivity also takes a hit.

When routinely putting in too many hours, workers tend to get less sleep and experience diminished focus. And over time it will lead to less and less productivity.

Workers today don’t have to be at the office to put in many hours. You’re always connected to the office through every one of your devices: phones, tablets, watches, laptops, desktops! Many find it difficult to disconnect and get away.

Here too, studies show long hours without time away don’t necessarily translate into greater and better output.

On the contrary…

While it seems logical we should accomplish more when putting in more hours, after a certain point we see diminishing returns.

The OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) reports that working longer hours actually results in a reduction of labor output.

A Stanford study examining the “Productivity of Working Hours” found that “…long weekly hours and long daily hours do not necessarily yield high output…”

But we’re not only losing productivity, but we may also incur safety risks when we’re working too many hours. When you’re tired or stressed your judgment is affected, which potentially could put your patients or yourself at risk.

The correlation between working long hours and productivity is well known. The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) even dedicates a section of its website to address the potentially harmful effects of long work hours and shift work.

Yes, every person is different. Some may do just fine with working many hours for months on end, while others may experience adverse effects much sooner.

But regardless, if you’re constantly working, without getting any breaks, your productivity will decrease and eventually you’ll burn out.

You need to get away from the office and have time to spend with your friends and family. And you need to take some time for yourself!

Plan, so that you can take some time off every week. Try to take a vacation or two during the year so you can recharge your batteries.

Life Satisfaction

Last but not least, constantly working is bound to take a toll on your relationships with friends and family. And over time it will impact your overall satisfaction with life.

While not extensively investigated, one study reports a correlation between working long hours and the risk of developing depression and anxiety. Over time, working too much will affect a persons’ mental health.

If you’re always at the office, without taking breaks or time off, you’re putting yourself at risk for physical and mental health problems. Be aware of the “working too much” trap… it’s too easy to fall in it.

Make sure there’s time for you to get away, even though it may take a while to figure out “the how to.” Determine to work less without worry of sacrificing productivity or accomplishment.

Do whatever you need to do:

  • Strategically set your goals
  • Take time to plan and get organized
  • Focus on what you want to accomplish
  • Find ways to work smarter
  • Cut the time wasters
  • Implement systems in all areas
  • Delegate what you can
  • Get help if you need to

So that eventually you can work fewer hours while accomplishing more.

Tell us what you think and share what YOU do to work less while accomplishing more!  We’d love to hear from you…


By Johanna Hofmann, MBA, LAc; regular contributor to the NPBusiness blog.

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  1. Very well put, as nurses we definitely put in long and sometimes many hours!! We don’t always see the effect on our bodies and our mental health.

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