There is no doubt about it – we work hard here in North America. And we often pay a big price. Long work hours translate into less personal time, less exercise and less sleep. The obvious challenge is that we even when we love our jobs, we don’t always love the associated sacrifices.

It is always a good idea to gain inspiration from others – especially those that seem to have figured out some of our biggest challenges. In this case, let’s look at some other countries.   county

In a recent multi-country productivity study, Germany and France ranked as the top two countries for productivity. They also had some of the shortest average work weeks. Interestingly, overall productivity and disposable income seemed to increase as annual work hours decreased according to this study.

Many of the world’s most productive countries appear to embrace shorter workweeks. For example, Germany averages 35 hour work weeks. Workers are known to be quite focused while at work – but to leave work at work. The Germany labor ministry (in addition to German firms BMW and Puma) introduced a ban on work-related emails after hours. Sweden is another country taking steps in the right direction with six-hour workdays and invigorated employees.

Lesson: Commit to being highly focused at work and reward yourself with a break from work after hours. Come back to work the next day, refreshed and ready to focus.

While it might be logical to assume that more vacation time translates into lower productivity, this does not appear to be the case. Many countries with high mandated vacation days rank quite favourably for GDP and low unemployment rates. This includes Austria (35 holiday/vacation days), New Zealand (30 holiday/vacation days), Germany (34 holiday/vacation days). According to economist John Schmitt “paid vacation and holidays don’t appear to have any meaningful impact on macroeconomic outcomes.”

Lesson: Taking time to recharge helps to boost productivity.

While we cannot always make direct comparisons to other countries, it is inspiring to see others doing a better job of containing their workweek. After all, research has shown again and again that sleep, exercise and regular breaks boost our productivity, regardless of where we live. Overall work-life balance and boundaries seem to be the driver of productivity rather than the result.

On that note, what are your best tips for managing work? As we head into summertime, we could all benefit from learning more.