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A 40 Hour Work Week

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Business Insider posted an article on why we have a 40 hour work week. The author blames big business for why we’ve not dropped below 40 hours per week. He thinks that if America became less consumer-driven, our economy would collapse.

He’s got the wrong starting assumptions about what is good and bad for an economy, but he’s right that a 40 hour work week is unnecessarily strict, and counter-productive. Many full-time office workers would love to work “only” 40 hours, and once you tack in the occasional nine hours of work, plus lunch, plus commuting, most of us spend 11 hours a day getting ready for, traveling to and from, or existing at, work.

One way to gain control over your life is to reduce commuting time. I’m obviously a fan of working remotely, at least part of your work week.

Beyond this, though, is the idea that work only gets done in forty hours a week, and between the hours of nine and five. Jason Fried, founder of a very successful, privately held, fully remote company argues that work doesn’t happen at work. I agree. Work also doesn’t happen in the intervals we think it does.

Time and time again it has been found that constraints improve workflow. Timeboxing is enormously effective when trying to complete specific, well-defined bits of work. RedGuava, a SaaS company in New Zealand works just 30 hours a week. We could call them lazy, but isn’t that confusing effort with result?

They’ve built a fantastic product, and do so while living their life, rather than deferring everythinguntil retirement.

I would love to see more experiments with shorter work weeks, to see how it affects work that gets done. You could do half-day Fridays, or seven-hour days. Both of these would trim a workweek from 40 hours to 35. What an experiment!