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Does working only 40 hours (or less!) per week seem like an impossible dream? Are you convinced that your career will suffer if you don’t work “all the time?”  Limiting your hours so that you can have a balanced life is actually very possible, if you use the right productivity improvement techniques.

I shared some tips on improving your efficiency with Fast Company magazine for an article called “How to Work Only 40 Hours a Week This Year.”

This is an important topic. Constantly logging long hours will deplete your ability to create, innovate and do quality work. It also takes a toll on your health and your relationships.

In the Fast Company article, I talked about one of my core productivity improvement techniques: getting all of your tasks and deadlines listed in one place. If you have to consult your email, your calendar and various sticky notes to track what you’re working on, you’ll never really have a handle on things. That anxiety can keep you burning the midnight oil even when it’s not necessary. To consolidate your various to-do lists, I recommend using an electronic task app. (Email me if you’d like to learn about my favorites, as what I recommend depends on many things, and remember that the right tool won’t matter much without the right process.)

Does Your Job Really Demand Crazy Hours?

While using the right tools will help you spend less time at work, you also need the right mindset. I pointed out in the article that some people work long hours because they assume their job demands it. But as this study shows, it may only appear that way.

Some people work long hours because they think their boss expects it. If you notice that you have assumptions like this, it’s time to question them. Too often, an “always on” culture can take hold in a workplace without anyone really intending it. You and your colleagues might be checking email at all hours or working on weekends because “that’s the way it’s always been.” Anyone at any level of an organization can ask for clarification around availability and response times. Emphasize how this clarity will improve everyone’s productivity and results. (You can use my work for ammunition. My latest book is full of research and other evidence, and this article of mine in Harvard Business Review will be useful as well.)

And if you’re a leader, look at the expectations you set for others. Remember, your job is maximizing your team’s potential. To accomplish that, you have to encourage downtime. Questioning assumptions, getting clarity around expectations, and effectively managing your work are all effective productivity improvement techniques. And so is downtime! Remember that the research shows that sometimes the best thing you can do FOR your work is NOT WORK!