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July 9, 2018 BIZ BOOKS

Why working less produces more

“The Hard Break — The Case for a 24/6 Lifestyle” by Aaron Edelheit (Ideapress Publishing, $24.95).

“My name is Aaron and I was a workaholic.” Early in his career, Edelheit's career mantra was “work harder.” When problems arose, he worked even harder. Always doubling down on work destroyed relationships with his business partner and the woman he loved. As work consumed time, time consumed him.

One day, he stood in the shower drenched with water and depression's tears and fears. He realized something was wrong with him, but he didn't know what it was. He didn't make time to find out because the business wasn't performing to his too-lofty standards.

Serendipity arrived, in the form of appendicitis. During his recovery from surgery, Edelheit was forced to significantly dial back his 24/7 schedule. “Idle” time shifted his thoughts to introspection. He realized that “more hours worked did not equal more success.” He began to understand that the economic law of diminishing returns applied to hours worked, too. In fact, increasing hours worked resulted in negative productivity. Why? Think of the brain and the body as a smartphone; if it's not recharged periodically, it ceases to function.

Edelheit cites a World War I study of British munitions workers to make the productivity point: When workers put in more than 50 hours a week, output rose at a decreasing rate, and there was no difference in output if a person worked 56 or 70 hours. Munition workers on a six-day schedule produced more than those working seven days.

Why can't we “stop” working? The Zeigarnik effect. Psychologically, there's a tendency to dwell upon unfinished tasks. Since there's always something left unfinished at work, the tasks remain in our consciousness — much like the battery-draining apps running in the background on our smartphones. Subsequent research on the effect found that students, who interspersed study sessions with unrelated activities, remembered study material better than those who completed study sessions without a break. Business people study business.

The Bottom Line: 24/6 increases productivity and reduces stress.

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