How Smart People Work Less and Get More Done

Maybe you’ve seen these recent headlines:

  • CEO Resigns After Overworked Employee Commits Suicide
  • France Just Gave Workers the ‘Right to Disconnect’ From Work Email
  • 52% of Working Americans Are Giving Up Vacation Time

Notice the pattern? Many of us are working like maniacs.

What’s the problem with working too many hours and not taking vacations?

There’s just a large body of evidence of the downside of not taking vacations and of chronic overwork. Studies over the course of 50 years reveal that people who are chronically overworked — and by that I mean working more than 50 hours a week for months on end — are prone to obesity, heart disease, burnout and shorter lifespans. And that’s whether you work in a factory or you’re a professional.


Disconnecting is the most important weekend strategy, because if you can’t find a way to remove yourself electronically from your work Friday evening through Monday morning, then you’ve never really left work. Making yourself available to your work 24/7 exposes you to a constant barrage of stressors that prevent you from refocusing and recharging. If taking the entire weekend off handling work e-mails and calls isn’t realistic, try designating specific times on Saturday and Sunday for checking e-mails and responding to voicemails. For example, check your messages on Saturday afternoon while your kids are getting a haircut and on Sunday evenings after dinner. Scheduling short blocks of time will alleviate stress without sacrificing availability.


No time to exercise during the week? You have 48 hours every weekend to make it happen. Getting your body moving for as little as 10 minutes releases GABA, a soothing neurotransmitter that reduces stress. Exercise is also a great way to come up with new ideas. Innovators and other successful people know that being outdoors often sparks creativity. I know that a lot of my best ideas come to me while I’m surfing. While you’re out in the ocean, the combination of invigorating activity and beautiful scenery creates the perfect environment for an influx of creativity. Whether you’re running, cycling or gardening, exercise leads to endorphin-fueled introspection. The key is to find a physical activity that does this for you and then to make it an important part of your weekend routine.

Minimize chores

Chores have a funny habit of completely taking over your weekends. When this happens, you lose the opportunity to relax and reflect. What’s worse is that a lot of chores feel like work, and if you spend all weekend doing them, you just put in a seven-day workweek. To keep this from happening, you need to schedule your chores like you would anything else during the week, and if you don’t complete them during the allotted time, you move on and finish them the following weekend.

Wake up at the same time

It’s tempting to sleep in on the weekend to catch up on your sleep. Though it feels good temporarily, having an inconsistent wake-up time disturbs your circadian rhythm. Your body cycles through an elaborate series of sleep phases in order for you to wake up rested and refreshed. One of these phases involves preparing your mind to be awake and alert, which is why people often wake up just before their alarm clock goes off (the brain is trained and ready). When you sleep past your regular wake-up time on the weekend, you end up feeling groggy and tired. This isn’t just disruptive to your day off, it also makes you less productive on Monday because your brain isn’t ready to wake up at your regular time. If you need to catch up on sleep, just go to bed earlier.

In today’s society, there’s a lot of pressure not to rest, isn’t there?

That’s absolutely right. It’s an uphill battle for all of us. For more than a century, we in American have been told stories of people who burned the midnight oil and toiled 100 hours a week. We’ve heard that those are the people who become successful and if you don’t do that, you’re a loser or you’re not passionate about your work. But rest is not a sign of weakness; it’s something that everybody needs.

What about daytime naps?

The value of naps is unquestionable. The reality is that at plenty of workplaces you can’t take naps, unfortunately. But some offices in Japan and Korea have nap-friendly policies that benefit everyone.

Designate mornings as me time

It can be difficult to get time to yourself on the weekends, especially if you have family. Finding a way to engage in an activity you’re passionate about first thing in the morning can pay massive dividends in happiness and cleanliness of mind. It’s also a great way to perfect your circadian rhythm by forcing yourself to wake up at the same time you do on weekdays. Your mind achieves peak performance two-to-four hours after you wake up, so get up early to do something physical, and then sit down and engage in something mental while your mind is at its peak.

Prepare for the upcoming week
The weekend is a great time to spend a few moments planning your upcoming week. As little as 30 minutes of planning can yield significant gains in productivity and reduced stress. The week feels a lot more manageable when you go into it with a plan because all you have to focus on is execution.