A RECORD number of people are working more than 40 hours a week, with northerners more likely to be hit by the UK's long hours culture, according to a new report.

A survey of 2,500 adults found that more than two out of five were putting in a working week of longer than 40 hours.

But the figure was 55 per cent in the north east compared with 43 per cent in London and 40 per cent in the south west, according to the regional breakdown by American Express Insurance Services.

Chris Rolland, of American Express, said: “Despite the long acknowledged stereotype of long working hours in the south, the research gives evidence to suggest that increased working hours are spreading throughout the country.”

Long hours can take their toll on your health, and your family and personal life – not to mention your ability to perform your job properly.

But if staying late and coming in early are all part of your company's culture, how do you change things?

The first thing to do is to look at your time management skills. Keep a detailed account of everything you do for every minute of the day, for a typical day. You could find the results startling.

How much time are you wasting responding to non-urgent emails? Answering telephone queries, which, again, could wait or be dealt with by someone else? What about meetings about meetings that generally go on far too long and that you don't necessarily need to attend anyway?

Once you’ve looked at all the activities in your typical working day, next start to prioritise. You can do this by marking things as urgent and/or important – the latter should be used to describe all those tasks that really get to the heart of what your role is about, essentially what you are being paid to do.

Just because something is urgent, does that mean it's important? Likewise, something may be important but can it wait?

The rule of thumb is that you should tackle important and urgent tasks yourself as soon as you can and schedule time for important, but non-urgent activities.

Everything else, no matter how urgent it is, can either be delegated to another member of staff, if possible, or potentially avoided all together if good systems are in place.

Once you start to prioritise your day better, you might find it easier to leave on time. However, if your boss is still hanging around the office until 7pm and it’s very difficult to make your move earlier without losing favour, you could feel under pressure to stay.

It’s worth remembering that stress and tiredness all impact on your ability to do your job. Those who start and leave work on time, and who take regular breaks and holidays, perform much better.

Why not bite the bullet and simply start leaving on time for a change and see what happens? Your boss is bound to appreciate a happier more enthusiastic member of staff and you may find that you can start to turn things around from within your organisation.

If others remark on your timekeeping, explain that you conducted a time-management study and have found a much more efficient way of working.

Parents can make a formal request for flexible working and your employer has to find a very good business reason for turning this down. This can help to address your work/life balance.

If you’re stuck in a 40-hour week no matter what you do, at least make sure you take regular breaks and eat healthily and at intervals throughout the day – don't rely on caffeine to prop you up, but drink plenty of water.

It can be tempting to stay up late to make the most of your leisure time but try to get eight hours sleep if you have another 10-hour day ahead.

Try to unwind when you get home with a hot shower or bath and make an effort to leave the day behind.

Making a list at your desk of everything you need to tackle when you return the following morning should free you from niggling worries and reminders as you are trying to go to sleep.