So if you are working in a factory, making something, and hitting some production quota, maybe a 40+ hour workweek is still necessary. Or maybe if you are a skilled tradesman working on project deadlines where you physically have to complete the tasks, then I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and say a normal work week may still be needed. But for many, we don’t need this arbitrary number to hit productivity goals. I loved this quote from Office Space, when Peter was meeting with the Bobs (consultants evaluating people’s roles in the company, and if they were valuable or not):
Peter Gibbons: Well, I generally come in at least fifteen minutes late, ah, I use the side door – that way Lumbergh can’t see me, heh heh – and, uh, after that I just sorta space out for about an hour.
Bob Porter: Da-uh? Space out?
Peter Gibbons: Yeah, I just stare at my desk; but it looks like I’m working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch, too. I’d say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work.
Big Dick Chronicles (on my blogroll) talks about how efficiency trumps brute strength. While he doesn’t come out and say it, if he get’s his work done, it sounds like he’s got time to do what he wants, at least when he’s on the road:
At the end of the day, these things only matters because I push myself. I’ve learned to be proficient with my computer skills, knowledgeable in my field, and willing to work as much as needed to get the job done. But what sets it all apart is learning to be outrageously efficient with my work flow, to the point that it looks like I’m not even trying.
For many of us white-collar people, we have to be chained to our desk for 40 hours whether it’s productive time or not. There are a few times a year where 40+ hours a week are really needed to crank out stuff, get deadlines completed, and make sure shit gets done, but most weeks, like Peter Gibbons above, I spend much less time doing actual work. And like Adam from BDC, I’m good at my job, am efficient and often make it look easy. Captain Capitalism talks about this as well in his book Bachelor Pad Economics, where he recognizes us drones are trapped in an antiquated system but we should use our downtime for good: for learning, for developing a business plan, for something productive at least instead of reading Reddit and simply being entertained.
The United States is particularly good at training worker bees to accept the hive mentality. Nowadays our time away from work is still encroached by work through smart phones and e-mail. It sucks, and most days I don’t check work e-mail at home. While I disagree with working until 80, this professor at a Danish Research Center thinks a 25 hour work week is ideal. If you aren’t in a blue-collar, physical production world, many jobs simply waste time on busy work that doesn’t provide much value, taking us away from our passions, kids, hobbies, and things that really matter.
Workers in the Netherlands average 29 hour work weeks (and 4 day work weeks are nearly mandated). In Norway and Denmark, the average work week is 33 hours. Japan and the U.S. among others still remain very high, near or above 40 hours. But this isn’t necessary productive time. There has been a 63 percent increase in online shopping and a 31 percent increase in running errands since 2011 according to a 2013 study by the Captivate Network. Yet worker productivity remains high, or even continues to climb.
Tim Ferris in his book The 4-Hour Workweek talks about how to slowly get your boss to start letting you work from home. Lifehacker also talks about it in this article. They have some great comments after the article from regular people that ring true to me, like this one: