Executives, small business owners and other ambitious people often throw every ounce of themselves into a career. But the average manager doesn’t have quite the same ambition.
He or she values a life outside of work, such as family, and isn’t willing to work 100 hours a week or more. For many managers, though, a 40-hour week isn’t enough.
Instead, they will find a high level of productivity and a good balance between career and life by averaging a 50-hour week. That number has a sound basis in both reality and science.
The science behind the 50-hour workweek isn’t new, nor are articles warning the average person about going over that level. What matters more is how a manager can maximize productivity within that 50 hours.
First, a brief review of the science along with some personal experience.
Why More Than 50 Hours is Bad for You
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control plowed through 52 recent studies about the physical impact of excessively long workweeks. Various studies found:
- Higher injury rates
- Increased mortality
- More illness
- Unhealthy weight gain
- Increased alcohol use
- Increased smoking
- Poorer neuropsychological performance
The studies especially found these impacts during 12-hour days, more so in combination with workweeks that lasted more than 40 hours.
Personally, I spent an average of 50 hours a week on the job in a typical week during most of my career in middle and senior management. I made a commitment to working an average of 50 hours a week early in my career as a husband and father of three children. An average day was 10 hours with a little extra time on emails and phone calls at night, on weekends and on vacations.
The drain of the 70-hour week
But some weeks I went as high as 70 hours, and the longest day was 21 hours. In those situations, my work pace slowed as I became tired. I got less done.
I say this because of what I learned and what science has proven: A manager with an average to above average level of energy can usually handle a 50-hour week on an ongoing basis. But going 55 hours or more is doable only for brief periods of time, such as the weeks surrounding the annual budget process or during the launch of major projects.
Likewise, a 10-hour day is usually doable on an ongoing basis. But an ongoing series of 12-hour days eventually becomes an energy and productivity drain for most people.
Performance declines as a result. The average manager who tries to outwork everyone will often get less done with longer hours.
How to Maximize a 50-Hour Workweek
This means productivity, efficiency and quality of work are more important than the quantity of hours during the week for many managers.
A successful management career depends in part on the manager recognizing his or her limits with time and energy. So the process begins with a firm commitment to working no more than 50 hours each week, although exceptions are always possible.
A 50-hour work week often does not include lunch. Casual eating is not working — unless it is done at the desk, during client meetings or during internal meetings.
Once a manager has made that firm commitment to a certain number of hours, she or he focuses on maximizing productivity. Steps include:
1 — Prioritizing essential tasks.
The process of prioritization is not yearly, monthly or weekly. It is daily or multiple times of day for the efficient and productive manager who wants a life outside of work. Ideally, it is the first task of the day.
2 — Tracking all time.
Track time in 15-minute increments. Group related tasks together. I have used a spreadsheet for years to track 15-minute blocks. It eventually became a habit with great benefits because I can analyze weekly, monthly and annual results with functions.
Begin all meetings on time and strive to end them before the scheduled end time. Anyone who can run a meeting in 15 minutes is a time-management rock star.
This habit, if done over a period of years, becomes ingrained. Productivity will climb as a result.
3 — Teaching productivity.
A good manager is a leader, and a good leader is a teacher.
Successful leaders and managers learn a great deal over the course of a career. They become more successful if they pass on what they learn to their subordinates. Their subordinates then become more productive and effective in their jobs. This frees time for the leader to focus on higher priorities. Everyone wins.
4 — Being obsessive-compulsive about every minute.
My electronic calendar sends me an automated daily email at the end of the day. The subject line is, “What was good about today?”
Evaluating how the day went is ideally the last task of any work day. That evaluation includes which times were productive and which times weren’t.
5 — Documenting vital processes and procedures.
So many times over the years I had to repeat the same information with bosses, peers and staff, especially new staff.
It came as a cost to productivity when the repeated information was about plans, projects, processes, procedures, policies and other essential information that could easily go into a document. Instead of typing all of the necessary information in an email for a fifth time, simply send an attached document.
Processes and procedures especially were prone to existing in someone’s brain instead of a piece of paper. If that someone resigned, went on vacation or called in sick, the replacement would have to re-learn the correct way for the process or procedure.
A 50-hour workweek isn’t just an arbitrary number of hours on the job. It is a guiding principle in how to become more productive, efficient and successful as a leader and manager.