Here's How To Tell If You're Working Too Much, According To Career Experts

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If you have any control over your schedule, you may have wondered what the ideal number of hours per week to work is. With entrepreneurs like Tim Ferris advocating for four-hour work weeks but others like Elon Musk working up to 100 hours a week, it can be difficult to discern what does and doesn't spell success. The truth is, it's different for every individual. Rather than choose a specific number based on advice others are giving, it's best to figure out what works best for your goals, preferences, and lifestyle.

"If you love what you do and you have enough time to take care of your social, emotional, and physical needs, then you can work a zillion hours with no fear of burnout," career counselor and executive coach Roy Cohen tells Bustle. "It also helps to have a little secret time that no one knows about, where you can disappear and not be worried about discovery. The problem for many of us is that there is never enough time for what we want and need to do to enrich our souls and ensure that we stay healthy both physically and spiritually. If that is the case for you, as it is for me, then look to the people you most admire for insight and as a reference point. Ask them how much time they devote to work and if they are productive and fulfilled. If it works for them, it should work for you, too."

Not sure which work hours best suit you? Here are some questions to ask yourself, according to experts.


Are You Taking Breaks?

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In addition to the number of hours you spend working each week, you have to think about how you're distributing that time, board certified clinical psychologist and executive coach Kristina Hallett tells Bustle. For example, make sure you're taking breaks throughout the day. In fact, Hallett recommends taking one every hour. "Getting up for a quick walk around the office or to do a few stretches will refresh and revitalize your brain so you can be most productive," she says.


What Time Of Day Are You Working?

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Two people may work the same number of hours, but they may not be equally productive if these hours take place at different times. If you're a morning person, you should be working in the morning, and if you're a night owl, you should be working in the evening, says Hallett. Still, it's best to avoid late night shifts because that can mess with your circadian rhythm.


Do You Leave Work In The Office?

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Even if you work from home, it's vital for your mental health to leave work behind at the end of your workday. Otherwise, your free time is not really free. This can mean not checking email, leaving behind your devices, and scheduling activities you enjoy. "Protecting your personal time is vital in order to maintain a high- functioning well-balanced life," says Hallett.


Are You Burnt Out?

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Different people have different thresholds for getting burnt out, but you'll know when you've reached yours if you're constantly exhausted for no reason or can't seem to muster up enthusiasm about anything anymore. If you're facing work burnout, it's best to take a vacation ASAP, prioritize your health, and change your life so whatever caused the burnout won't be in it anymore.


Are Your Long Hours Getting You Somewhere?

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It may be OK to work long hours temporarily as long as they're serving a purpose. "Early on in our careers, there is often a steep learning curve," says Cohen. "It may take additional hours to learn a new software application, become an expert in a cutting-edge marketing process, or learn how to perform in-depth and rigorous financial analysis. Boundaries may not be possible if you are ambitious and focused on advancing professionally. If that is the case, then you have no choice but to suck it up. It may also be the industry standard as it is on Wall Street, in law, and for medical residents." If your hours are messing with your mental or physical health, though, make sure there's an end in sight.

All that said, if you're looking for a rule of thumb, Hallett suggests not working more than 50 hours a week. You may find you're able to tolerate more, but you also might find you're even more productive if you scale it back.