Why Overworking May be Ruining Your Health and Reducing Your Productivity, Plus Two Easy Fixes

With ever increasing demands to do more with less, we may find ourselves working regular 10- to 15-hour days. However, this work pace may be doing more harm than good. Researchers studied the work habits of more than 600,000 people in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, and found that people who work more than 55 hours a week are 33% more likely to suffer a stroke and have a 13% greater risk of heart attack than those who work between 35 – 40 hours weekly. However, in addition to taking a toll on your health, relationships, and well-being, overworking may also be making you less productive overall. In this week’s article, I’ll explore the negative effects of overworking and two key ways you can improve your productivity, enabling you to tackle and complete your demanding work tasks, while leaving sufficient time for yourself, your family, and your personal well-being.

1. Take Regular Breaks
Working for more than 60 – 90 minutes at a time can actually decrease your level of productivity; research shows that taking short breaks during long tasks helps you to maintain a constant level of productivity. Taking scheduled breaks every hour or hour and a half can actually help improve concentration. Further, researchers at Florida State University have found elite performers (athletes, chess players, musicians, etc.) who work in intervals of no more than 90 minutes are more productive than those who work longer than 90 minutes.

Consider an Exercise Break. What’s more, according to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, using work time to exercise may actually help improve productivity. If possible, build in set times during the week for taking a walk or going to the gym. Specifically, cardiovascular exercise has been shown to improve your mood, reduce risk of heart disease, and combat stress. Getting your blood pumping could be just what you need to clear your head and refocus.

Refresh with Nature. Further, researchers from the University of Michigan found that spending some time out of the office, specifically in nature, can actually improve your focus and performance. In their study, students completed a cognitive test and were then individually sent on a walk through the busy streets of Ann Arbor, Michigan, or a nature-filled arboretum. When they returned, the two groups were tested again, and the students that went to the arboretum scored significantly higher.

Practice Yoga and/or Meditation. In 2017, researchers studied 38 people who went on a three-month yoga and meditation retreat. They found the participants reported feeling less depressed and anxious. Participants saw notable reductions in markers of stress and inflammation in the body. Even if you don’t have time for a full retreat, meditation has been shown to help relieve stress, ease depression, and boost your immune system.

2. Get Some Necessary Downtime
Research shows that overwork can lead to serious health problems. The good news is that scientific evidence suggests that you will be healthier and more productive if you take some real breaks and time away from work throughout the year.  

Take a Vacation. Vacations can be fun and relaxing, with notable health benefits. One study showed that employees were able to sleep better and were in a better mood after vacations, and the employees still felt the effects more than a month after their return. In addition, the famous Framingham Heart Study found a positive correlation between frequent vacations and longer, healthier lives. In addition to health benefits, vacations can actually improve your productivity. A survey recently published in the Harvard Business Review found that corporate leaders in countries with more paid vacation days were more likely to work at a faster pace and have better focus. Rather than feeling guilty for taking time off, these leaders are able to enjoy their time away because when they are at the office, they are more efficient and productive. They work smarter so they don’t have to work longer. Another study even suggested that people who take more than 10 vacation days a year are twice as likely to get a raise or a bonus.

Get Enough Sleep. Though time away is beneficial, getting enough regular rest is also important. Getting between seven and nine hours of sleep a night is critical for your physical and mental health. The American Sleep Association notes that over 30 percent of 20- to 39-years-olds and 40 percent of 40- to 59-year-olds report getting less than the recommended amount of sleep at night. And according to a Harvard report, sleep deprivation reduces efficiency and makes you more prone to errors. On the other hand, being well-rested elevates your mood, boosts your creativity, reduces stress, sharpens your focus, and improves your memory.

Final Thoughts
Despite what you might believe, overworking yourself on a regular basis likely won’t help you to succeed in the long run. In fact, it can make you resent your work, lower your work quality and productivity, and negatively impact your overall happiness. What’s more, overworking can take a critical toll on your health, interpersonal relationships, personal well-being. For better overall health and productivity, make sure to take regular breaks during the workday, exercise regularly, take advantage of your vacation days and time off, and get enough nightly sleep. 

Written by Ashley Kayes, CP APMP
Senior Proposal Consultant, AOC Key Solutions, Inc. (KSI)



  1. Great article! Agree 100%. Stress can serve as a motivating factor to complete our work. But being constantly over-stressed initiates the "fight or flight" response, causing our bodies to pump out cortisol. It's a great survival tactic if you need energy to flee a predator, but not when trying to meet a pens down deadline. Prolonged exposure results in exhaustion ("burn out") and impacts everything from your digestive system ("proposal bloat") to your immune system. Like you say in your article, exercise breaks are so important -- not just to clear your mind and refocus, but it releases that build up of cortisol. Bottom line: being stressed and overworked is bad!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! Great point about needing to release the build-up of cortisol! Also, love the term, "proposal bloat"! Thanks again!


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