How to cope with working long hours

Marija Kojic

Last updated on: March 28, 2022

Some countries don’t have a standardized maximum length of the workweek – for example, the average workweek in the US is 38 hours, but you may often need to work much longer hours instead.

And sure, most of the time, you’ll be paid for all the hours you spend working…

But, you’ll still need to survive all these all-nighters long enough to get paid in the first place, as this practice comes with its fair share of problems:

🚩 If you often work long hours, you may start to feel exhausted and unmotivated, at the very least.

🚩You may be at increased risk of stomach pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia or even heart problems.

🚩 One of the worst consequences of working long hours without a proper system or rest is burnout. This serious professional malady caused by overwork and stress may lead to abrupt resignations, mental collapses…or even something worse.

So make sure you pace yourself carefully, and take good care of your health throughout – here’s everything you need to know about how to cope with working long hours.

How to cope with working long hours 1

10 tips on how to cope with working long hours

  1. Make a precise schedule
  2. Automate what you can
  3. Track time
  4. Avoid distractions
  5. Take power naps
  6. Eat enough
  7. Take breaks
  8. Use commute time well
  9. Ask for help
  10. Find inspiration in others


Let’s go through each one and explain every tip with a bit more detail:

Tip #1 – Make a precise schedule 📝

If you plan your entire day to the minute, you’ll find it easier to work longer – because you’ll know how you’ll be spending your day in the first place.

First, list your priorities in a clear to-do list – make sure your priorities are crucial, urgent and important tasks, i.e. tasks that will significantly take the load off your shoulders for the upcoming days.

to-do list-

Define the times you’ll spend on these tasks, and write them next to your to-do items – for example, you could allocate no more than 30 minutes for each task. Then, add your to-do items to the right time slots in your calendar – you can also use a time blocking planner template for this purpose.

to-do items in a time blocking template

Make sure you track your progress, by adding checkmarks next to the items you’ve finished thus far – you’ll feel a sense of progress and success as the number of green checkmarks increases.

to-do list in progress

By keeping and tracking such a to-do list, you’ll minimize the chances of an unexpected priority task popping up in your mind at 10 p.m. – because you’ll have all your tasks already listed and accounted for.

Tip #2 – “Automate” what you can 🔁

When you have a lot to do, it’s best that you focus most of your attention on your priority work activities.

And, when you’re trying to focus on work, it’s best if you avoid making constant breaks to make dinner, buy groceries, answer your emails…

So what is your answer?


Well, at least in a way.

Nowadays, you can order almost anything online – so, order your food, groceries, or basic home supplies online when you’re in a rush. 

You have services such as Udely and Postmates for this purpose – and also arranges pickups and delivery for your washing and dry-cleaning.

As for the often mundane tasks such as answering emails, you can automate emails for replies that you have to send over and over again – for example, Gmail has a canned response option you can enable in Settings.

making email templates

Once enabled, simply:

  • create the email template you want sent out
  • add the email addresses you’ll want the system to recognize and send replies to
  • define the keywords in the emails you want the system to search for

Then, Gmail will send your email template automatically as soon as you receive an email that matches your criteria.

By automating and ordering what you can online, you’ll save more time for work and finish up faster – and, you’ll have the feeling that you worked less.

Tip #3 – Track time ⏲️

Knowing how much time you spend on your tasks gives you a sense of control – and tracking time on all your tasks helps you gain and maintain this control.

Your best bet is to track time as you work on tasks – each time you start working on a task, start the timer, and then stop it once you’ve finished the task.

This way, you will:

  • build a time tracking archive with data telling you how much time you really need to finish each individual task – so that you know how much time to allocate to these tasks in the future
  • identify time wasters, i.e. time slots you could be putting to better use – so that you know how much more extra time you could save for priority tasks
  • identify tasks that take up most of your time – so that you know you need to clear your schedule for these tasks in the future
A list of time entries

As the end consequence of your time tracking efforts, you’ll be better at organizing your day – and making your extended work hours really count. 

Tip #4 – Avoid distractions 🎧

Sure, avoiding distractions is easier said than done – especially when it’s half past 10 at night, and your family is watching a new episode of Modern Family you’d love to join in on.

But, you still have a lengthy report you need to finish and need to resist the temptations. So, what do you do?

Well, your best practice is always to isolate yourself in a separate room when you’re working – if you live in a small apartment, using noise-canceling headphones while listening to an online noise generator does the trick flawlessly.

It’s also best if you were to put your phone away and force yourself to avoid distracting websites by using a website blocker app – there’s no point in “working” long hours if you’re just going to be browsing Facebook.

Another great way to avoid distractions is to work extremely late or extremely early – hardly anyone is awake at 5 a.m. in the morning or 2 a.m. at night to disrupt your workflow.

So, depending on whether you’re a morning lark or a night owl, pick your extreme time slots – you’ll have no one to disturb you, no neighbors mowing the lawn, no friends unexpectedly coming over, no family members asking you to run some errands for them.

As a result, you’ll work with more focus and finish faster than expected.

Tip #5 – Take power naps 😴

You should never sacrifice your sleep for anything –  this may sound like lazy talk, but the truth is that you need enough sleep in order to deliver quality work in the first place.

Sadly, having a busy schedule for a couple of days and getting 8-9 hours of sleep rarely mix. But you can make up for lost sleep time by practicing power naps.

According to a sleep researcher, Sarah Mednick, 20-90 minutes of nap time during the day helps with memorization, creativity, perceptual processing, and alertness.

Nowadays, with flexible working hours where you’re expected to work for a predefined number of hours, but, not necessarily in one go, napping at work is no longer a problem during the days when you have to set camp at the office.

Just remember that afternoon hours are perfect for a short nap, because your body is already used to the idea of slowing down around lunchtime – so, schedule at least one nap anytime between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. for the best effects.

Such a nap (or a couple of them) will help refresh you and give you a boost of energy necessary to help you keep going late into the night.

Tip #6 – Eat enough 🍔

Aiming to focus when you’re hungry is like Anakin Skywalker thinking he can beat Obi-Wan despite not having the high ground at Mustafar – simply, don’t try it.

You can’t think, focus, or perform on an empty stomach – and, sadly, food replacement pills you could gulp in seconds and feel full have yet to be patented.

So, you’ll need to eat the old fashioned way, and you will need to eat – this includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and nutritious snacks in between meant to help keep you healthy and energized for work.

As mentioned, you can order all your meals in – but, apart from being expensive on a regular basis, this practice isn’t always healthy.

However, there are certain basic dishes you can easily make, and even eat for several days:

🥣 Overnight oatmeal for breakfast – make it in the evening in 5 minutes and eat it in the morning. There are plenty of variations you can try, but we recommend this easy strawberry recipe.

🍗 Roast chicken for lunch – roast it one day, carve it into pieces, and put in the freezer. Order in some fresh vegetables, and make a different salad dish for a couple of days to go with your chicken.

🥜 Seeds for snacks –  sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds are only some of the productivity-boosting snacks you can try.

🐟 Quinoa dish for dinner – light meals are great for dinner, and Quinoa porridge is an excellent choice that’s easy and fast to make.

🥤 And don’t forget to drink plenty of water – sometimes, the feeling of hunger is just thirst in disguise, and drinking a glass will help alleviate hunger. Plus, you’ll stay hydrated.

In the end, always make sure you eat at the same time – this way, you’ll build a subconscious routine to eat regularly.

Tip #7 – Take breaks 🧘

If you’re looking to churn out quality work, breaks are as important as the time you spend working.

One research claims that people’s productivity builds up for 52 minutes in one go, before it starts to dwindle down – afterward, it’s best that you take a 17-minute break.

During these breaks, you can:

  • Call your friends or family – chatting it up with loved ones is a great way to elevate your mood and energizes your mind.
  • Do something fun, yet intellectual – for example, Lumosity is a great website that offers fun exercises meant to improve your memory and problem-solving skills. If that’s not your cup of tea, you can always watch a short 5-minute TED-ed video and learn something new and interesting.
  • Use a coffee break to conduct a walking meeting – the coffee will refresh you, the walk will help elevate your computer hunch, and you might get inspiration from picking the brains of your colleagues.
  • Organize your desktop or laptop folders and files – we all know how the “Downloads” folder easily fills up, but if you use your breaks to organize, edit, and delete your files and folders regularly, it’ll be much easier for you to find what you’re looking for when in a hurry.
  • Be bored – it might sound odd, but taking some breather time in-between tasks is a great way to find new ideas, as well as rest and recharge.

Taking regular breaks helps you make better decisions, sparks your creativity, helps retain information longer, as well as keeps your focus on long-term goals.

💡 Clockify pro tip

Clockify for Mac and browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox allows you to define the time for your work sessions and your breaks with a Pomodoro timer – you’re then automatically reminded to take a break or start a new work session. What’s best, you can easily set your work sessions to 52 minutes and your break time to 17 minutes – and make the most of the scientific research.

Pomodoro clockify

Tip #8 – Use commute time well 🚌

Your one-way 1-hour commute time doesn’t have to be a curse – consider it as some extra time you can spend cutting down the long hours you’d spend working in the office or at home.

There’s plenty of ways you can go about it:

  • Record your thoughts  – you can use Alexa or Google Voice to compile your to-do list for today, or simply brainstorm ideas and record notes that will help you organize your work better later that day. 
  • Take that power nap – if you manage to pull off at least 20 minutes of sleep in your commute, you’re on an excellent start to feel fully refreshed when you arrive at the office.
  • Think about what you still have to finish – on your way home, you can reflect on what you did at the office, and what you still have to finish when you get home.
  • Catch up on your emails – if you travel by public transportation, you can use commute time to read and reply to emails.
  • Make phone calls – if you have a phone call scheduled during the day, why not make it in the car or bus?

If you make it your habit to do any of this, your commute time may become an integral part of your workday, and a great time saver.

Tip #9 – Ask for help 🙋

No one is capable of doing everything at once – although it often seems to be a necessity when you estimate you’ll have at least 12 hours of important work today.

To make the burden easier, the stress levels lower, and the results better, it’s best that you ask one of your colleagues for help in the right way:

  • Make sure you’ve already exhausted the simple solutions – there’ll be no point in asking someone for help if you’re the one who can finish the task within minutes.
  • Don’t wait around to ask – working on a task for days on end with no progress or solution is just a waste of time. Instead, ask your colleagues for help as soon as you realize you can’t figure it out on your own or find a simple solution.
  • Come forward with a couple of your own solutions – this way, you’ll show that you’ve already thought about the answer (and aren’t just expecting an easy way out of your work). Plus, your colleague may be able to transform your existing idea into an efficient solution – because two heads think better than one.
  • Asking for help shouldn’t just apply to your work – if you have to work long hours, ask a friend or family member for help around the house.

For example, kindly ask your siblings to help you out with the dishes or ask your best friend if he can drop off a delivery for you.

Their 5-10 minutes may save you much more time than that. And no one can really tell when they’ll need help in return, so make sure they know you’re more than happy to return the favor in the future. 

Tip #10 – Find inspiration in others ?

In the end, when the workday seems never-ending and you just want to give up, crawl into your bed, and stay under the covers forever, remember all the famous and successful people who often work long hours – and take inspiration from them:

✨ Tim Cook, CEO of Apple

“Let your joy be in your journey — not in some distant goal.” 

Tim Cook had some big shoes to fill when he took over from Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple – to keep the company on top, he starts sending emails at 4:30 a.m.

He’s the first to arrive at the office, and the last one to leave.

✨ Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors

“If you do every job like you’re going to do it for the rest of your life, that’s when you get noticed.”

Mary Barra got a job at General Motors when she was only 18 – her dedication and swift decision-making helped her go from Pontiac parts inspector in 1980 to CEO in 2014.

During her career, she has built her reputation by having the habit of arriving at the office first, and still replying to emails as late as 11 p.m.

She’s the first female CEO General Motors ever had.

✨ Serena Williams, tennis record holder

“I always believe I can beat the best, achieve the best. I always see myself in the top position.”

Serena Williams used to arrive at the tennis court at 6 a.m. since the time she was 7 years old – she’d also go to the tennis court after school. Most of her life has revolved around tennis.

Her hard work and long hours of dedication brought her 23 Grand Slam singles titles – today, more than 20 years since her first Grand Slam, she’s still one of the best tennis players around.

These examples only serve to prove how dedication, hard work and long hours can bring exquisite results – If they can do it, surely, you can find a way to do it too.

Just think of that when you’re crushed over the thought of having to work another late night.

Those are your life-saving tips… But, should you work long hours every week?

Well, in short – no.

Working long hours every week without taking longer breaks or holidays will eventually reflect badly on your health, no matter what you do.

So think about why you’re working long hours – and how justified your reasons are.

  • Do you have a project deadline closing in, so you need to work harder in order to meet expectations?
  • Have you fallen behind with your work, and want to clear some backlogs?
  • Are you trying to land a promotion?
  • Are you trying to impress your colleagues and bosses?

For example, working long hours to meet a deadline is usually fair game – you’ll likely just need a couple of days of prolonged work to deal with loose ends until you’re free to go back to a normal pace.

The same goes for falling behind with your work.

Now, the other two items on this list are double-edged swords.

Working hard in order to land a promotion is an understandable reason, for the most part.

And, trying to impress your bosses and colleagues when you’re new at work is an admirable impulse.

But, both hint at a continuous workload in the unforeseen future – if you’re working long hours now, your bosses may come to expect certain unattainable standards from you, and you may be stuck working long hours every single week.

Of course, there is a 5th reason – and that’s working in a company where almost everyone is expected to work long hours.

When that’s the case, if you like the job you do, there’s usually nothing you can do about the long hours – but learn how to keep up to the best of your benefit, while making the most of your breaks and time off.

No matter what your reason is, if you decide you need to pursue working long hours, remember this:

  1. Don’t work more than 10 hours per day for longer than a week or two in one go – otherwise, you risk burnout.
  2. Take care of your health – eat when you’re hungry, drink when you’re thirsty, and take a nap when you feel like you absolutely can’t function anymore.
  3. Make a schedule – when you know what you have to do, how long you’ll spend doing it, and how you really need for the task, you’ll feel more in control of your time, as well as less stressed about your work as a result.

Good luck!

Author: MarijaKojic

Marija Kojic is a productivity writer who's always researching about various productivity techniques and time management tips in order to find the best ones to write about. She can often be found testing and writing about apps meant to enhance the workflow of freelancers, remote workers, and regular employees. Appeared in G2 Crowd Learning Hub, The Good Men Project, and Pick the Brain, among other places.

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