The Evidence that Long Hours are Doing You Damage


Pens down, you guys.

Us Aussies have a problem: we don’t know how to take a break. We also have a habit of working late, checking email at odd hours, and “catching up” on weekends. Yes, we’re a hard-working nation that regularly puts in extra hours for no extra cash – a gift of around $12,000 worth of work per full-time employee each year, according to research by The Australia Institute.

That figure might be enough to induce a heart attack, and if you’re routinely working overtime there’s a good chance you could have one, thanks to all that quality time in your office chair. Prolonged sedentary behaviour, like sitting at a desk, has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer (even if you hit the gym on the daily). In fact, a University College of London study found that working more than 11 hours a day increases your risk of heart disease by 67 per cent.

The bad news is, your hard-work ethic is almost certainly backfiring, and not just for your health.

It’s not just your heart copping it, either: clocking up more than 39 hours a week at work also means you’re more likely to develop mental health problems, say researchers at Australian National University, and continually hunching over your keyboard could score you back and shoulder pain, with a side of chronic headaches to boot.

The solution is simple, yet oddly difficult in practice: go home on time. If you love the work you do, there’s a big deadline looming or you’re caring for a start-up like it’s your first-born child, the temptation to put in another hour can be irresistible.

The bad news is, your hard-work ethic is almost certainly backfiring, and not just for your health. Staying back an hour every evening might be giving your manager the impression you suck at time-management, while attempting to work through fatigue can see sloppy errors slip through the net and creativity crumble.

Breaking the overtime habit isn’t easy, but it is essential for your wellbeing. Try these tips to trim down your working week.

Stand up every half hour

Set an alarm on your phone or computer to go off every 30 minutes. You don’t have to take a huge break, just get up and stretch, grab a drink of water and move around a little. Worried it’ll interrupt your flow? Don’t be: working in 25-30-minute blocks is a proven productivity strategy, known as the pomodoro technique.

Make plans for your lunch break

Working through lunch again? Not only do you miss out on a mental break, eating al desko means you’re more likely to rush your meal, which hinders digestion and takes the pleasure out of the experience. The fix? Schedule something to do in your lunch hour, whether it’s running errands, catching up with a friend or going to a yoga class. Make it an appointment in your calendar and Do. Not. Skip. It.

Fill the creativity bank

Instead of perceiving leaving on time as a missed opportunity to get stuff done, consider it a chance to reboot your creativity. Ditch the office at 5.30pm and head to an art gallery to check out an exhibition, go to a workshop, catch up with friends or hit the gym. All of the above give your overworked mind the downtime it needs to refresh and reset.

Set a goal for tomorrow

Productivity expert and author Tim Ferriss has this trick for those who are reluctant to clock off: at the end of your workday, write down a goal for tomorrow. It gives you the sense that you’ve got your workload under control, so you can switch off and relax for the rest of your evening.

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