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Working Late? How to Wake Up Recharged and Refreshed

Always on the clock? Here is how to avoid a workaholic hangover

Have you ever felt at the end of a workday that you accomplished very little? Do you hit a wall by 3:00 in the afternoon? If so, it may be time to re-examine your professional working habits, both on and off the clock.

On the job productivity is the key to success, accomplishment, and even a sense of well-being. But amidst workplace stressors, distractions, and demands, how can we maximize productivity? One way is by taking steps to ensure that the work we took home last night is not interfering with the work we are able to do today.

Working On and Off the Clock

In an age of demanding work schedules, many companies issue their employees smartphones. This is not a job perk; the purpose is so that employees can continue working after hours, and be accessible whenever management needs them. Many employees balk at the notion of having work-related phone calls interfere with their family life or downtime. But not everyone.

Some employees consider the ability to work at night on a company issued phone as a great way to stay ahead of the curve and ease the burden of the following day. You don´t need to be a workaholic to appreciate the value of being accessible outside of normal business hours. Particularly in some professions, workers relish the opportunity to conduct business at night or on weekends, outside of the demands of a weekday schedule, where time constraints might interfere with productive work-related conversations and negotiations.

But there are downsides. Time spent working at night obviously interferes with family responsibilities and relationships. But research indicates it can also interfere with cognitive functioning the following day.

Avoiding the Workaholic Hangover

Lilian Gombert et al. (2018) in “Protect Your Sleep When Work is Calling,” studied the potential impact of work-related smartphone use as well as the quality of sleep on next-day self-control processes at work.[i] This correlation is important because the ability to function well at work facilitates a productive workday.

The authors defined self-control as “the ability to regulate one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in order to align them with goals, rules, or other standards.” They recognize that self-control is a regulatory resource that gets depleted—termed ego depletion, which can hinder-control and create feelings of cognitive exhaustion and decreased willpower.

They explain that when self-control is depleted, recovery time is necessary. And that if an employee has no opportunity to recover, he or she may suffer negative long-term psychological consequences.

Gombert et al. also note that self-control demands are a source of workplace stress. They cite occupational health research that has demonstrated how self-control demands are linked with short-term effects, such as ego depletion, as well as long-term consequences such as depression, burnout, and missed work—all of which can involve compromised well-being.

So how does smart phone use off the clock interfere with effectiveness on the clock? Gombert et al. note, “work-related smartphone use during non-work time requires executive self-control processes, and in that way depletes limited regulatory resources.” In other words, working on your phone off the clock requires more mental effort than you think—which might be taking more of a toll than you appreciate.

Thankfully, there may be a way to potentially minimize this affect—quality of sleep.

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Sleeping it Off

Many people appreciate the value of a good night's sleep. Rest is particularly important for employees inclined to take work home. Unfortunately, many employees burn the candle at both ends, believing the additional hours with which to tackle work-related phone calls and other tasks will boost productivity. Actually, research seems to indicate the opposite is true—that investing in quality sleep will allow the employee to save time the next day by restoring cognitive depletion and restoring self-control.

Gombert et al. found support for the fact that following evenings where employees engaged in a high level of work-related smartphone use, they experienced “disproportionate levels of ego depletion when dealing with self-control demands at work.”

However, they found that when employees slept well, their self-control processes at work the next day were less likely to be impacted by work-related smartphone use the night before. This, in turn, can translate into a more productive work day.

Work-Sleep Balance

The bottom line appears to be that modern employees seeking to maximize their productivity should strategize their workday accounting for their humanity. No one can work around the clock without suffering both physically and mentally—which decreases output and accomplishment.

This should be good news for many people driven to succeed in business. Deciding to wind down and go to bed early is actually a sign of strength—which can facilitate increased productivity the following day.


[i]Lilian Gombert, Anne-Kathrin Konze, Wladislaw Rivkin, and Klaus-Helmut Schmidt, “Protect Your Sleep When Work is Calling: How Work-Related Smartphone Use During Non-Work Time and Sleep Quality Impact Next-Day Self-Control Processes at Work,” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2018, 1-15,