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I read a couple of fascinating articles this weekend exploring the history and rationale behind a 40-hour workweek. My main takeaway (from these articles in Salon and Inc.) is:

Your workweek has a drop-off point where an additional hour of work no longer equals an extra hour of productivity.

While I was working on the book Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements with my friend Jim Harter, we explored the effect of hours worked, based on whether an employee had a chance to use his or her strengths every day. While there is more detail in the book’s opening chapter, the important learning for me was that the number of hours we can work productively varies greatly based on whether we have a chance to use our strengths or not.

If you don’t get to use your strengths in your work, productivity is likely to drop-off after 20 hours of work per week.

If you do get to use your strengths, chances are you can work at least 40 hours a week before there is a major drop-off in productivity.

Think about this for a moment. Many of us are going to be at work for at least 40 hours a week. If you are not in a job that allows you to use your strengths, you start to burnout after just 20 hours. But if you can find a way to use your strengths every day, it could double the number of high-quality work hours you have per week.