Why America needs shorter, not longer workdays

Yet here’s something that sounds sacrilegious: Working shorter hours may actually make work better. In international comparisons of hourly productivity, countries with shorter work hours, like Norway, often rank ahead of the United States, with France, Denmark and others not far behind.

And though we Americans think that these long work hours are required to get the job done, research proves otherwise. Stanford economist John Pencavel has shown a “productivity cliff,” that the longer we work over 40 hours, the steeper the drop in productivity.

Economists and neuroscientists are showing us we can’t effectively innovate, be creative or be open to fresh insights when we’re crispy around the edges.

So America, it’s time to work shorter, more focused hours. Start with the easy stuff: better systems. Knowledge workers sometimes work long hours because they’re interrupted every three minutes during the day and can’t get the big stuff done. So set up a system for uninterrupted quiet time every day. Take breaks every 90 minutes. Go for a walk. Eat lunch with someone. That can improve the odds of having a breakthrough idea.