It is a common dilemma:  Should I work over the weekend so that I keep up, or should I take time off to maintain a work-life balance? 

The more frequent response seems to be, Keep working.  A survey from the Society for Human Resource Management found that 70% of workers go beyond scheduled hours and extend their work week into the weekend.  It is not always because the company requires it but because we impose these demands upon ourselves (50% of the surveyed).

However, a four-year study, published by the Harvard Business Review in October, gives support to the need for time off as a productivity tool.  A test was run with 12 teams at Boston Consulting Group.   Each group needed to take a planned time off during the work week.  The fact that it was a tough task to take even one weekday evening off from business and met with initial resistance from individuals is telling for our mental state. 

Results of the experiment included:

  • Better internal communication
  • Improved advance planning
  • More focus on prioritizing
  • More sharing of  personal lives
  • A closer-knit team

The point of the study was to eliminate bad intensity in the workplace, defined by Harvard's Dr. Perlow as having no time to completely escape from work and no feeling of control over the work.

Five months after regular blocks of time off, the consultants were more satisfied with their job and life in general.  Their retention levels at the firm were greater than those outside of the study.

In my recent article on 7 Steps to Stifling Productivity, one of the points to avoid is praising busy employees, including the ones who stay late.  Busy does not equate with productive, and staying late can mean that you were not getting work done during the day.  Better to praise the productive ones who leave at a scheduled time.

My time management seminars focus on the techniques of:

  • Uninterrupted blocks of time
  • Grouping activities to increase focus and limit multitasking
  • Prioritizing tasks

If you are using effective time management techniques, including the above, you should be comfortable with blocking time off for personal activities so that you come back to work refreshed, with a better attitude and improved perspective on both the work and life.