6 Ways to Be More Productive by Working Less

There’s no denying it: We live in a “more-is-more” culture. And above all else, that can-do attitude applies to work. With so much to accomplish and so many ways to stay plugged-in at all hours of the day, it can be tempting to stay in work mode from morning to night.

Related: 5 Secrets to Achieving and Maintaining Work-Life Balance 

In reality, extra time spent working doesn’t equate with an increase in productivity. In fact, a nonstop approach can have the exact opposite effect. According to Parkinson’s Law, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” And if you’ve ever toiled for hours and days on a single project, you may have observed the phenomenon yourself: Long hours inevitably lead to interruptions in concentration.

Although the obvious solution is to offset those disruptions with more hours of work, studies have shown that this strategy comes at a price -- increased stress, frustration, pressure and effort. It’s been well documented that too much work and not enough play may result in physical and mental stress, as well as depression.

But what do you do with this information in the face of a high-pressure deadline? Research suggests that you may want to try working less if you’re looking to accomplish more. According to one study, successful musicians whose schedules were tracked spent only 90 minutes a day practicing, napped more than their peers and took more breaks when they felt tired or stressed. Other research found that judges studied tended to make more lenient decisions immediately following a short break, suggesting that their time-outs boosted a positive attitude.  

While you may not have aspirations to be a musician or a kinder, gentler judge, you can certainly benefit from the idea that less is more when it comes to building your own business. Here are some tips for boosting productivity by cutting back on long hours.

1. Get outside.

Even if you’re just going out to grab coffee or tea in the afternoon, make it a point to stretch your legs and breathe in some fresh air. You'll have a daily excuse to step away from your desk and give a boon to your productivity. A recent experiment using the productivity app DeskTime found that the most productive employees in the study took 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work.

2. Schedule short walks.

Exercise is important, but not always easy to fit into a busy day. Schedule a walk, putting it on your calendar, the same way you would a meeting, even if your stroll is just a few minutes long. A recent study found that creative thinking improves during and shortly after a walk.

Related: 4 Ways Startup Employers Fail at Work-Life Balance

3. Eat lunch with coworkers.

Avoid the temptation to chow down in front of your laptop. Eating lunch at your desk is a surefire way to get less satisfaction out of your mealtime. One study suggests that skipping a proper lunch break may increase fatigue and decrease productivity. Schedule lunch with your coworkers, either in or out of the office, but away from your computers, to connect with office mates and unplug.

4. There's an app for that.

Apps like Workrave and Big Stretch Reminder force you to take breaks from staring at your screen, and can prompt you to step away from the computer when you’re tempted to keep your nose to the grindstone.

5. Reach out.

Get in touch with a friend, relative or other loved one for a brief chat and an important reminder of your life outside of the office. Research indicates that people who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression. A quick call can help you feel supported, and boost morale.

6. Write it out.

It’s hard to remember to be mindful during a busy day, but taking a few minutes to jot down your feelings may help alleviate some stress and keep you grounded. Research has shown that expressive writing can improve mood disorders and even boost memory. 

Related: Here Are 5 Ways to Achieve a Positive State of Mind