Research shows that five work hours a day can improve productivity and bolster wellbeing. There’s only one thing holding companies back
The description says it all. I’ve been trying to carve out time to write every day, but sometimes I’m going to fail. So, in lieu of any meaningful commentary, check out this interesting story from Wired UK about the ideal workday I read this morning. It serves as a useful meta-commentary on why my output will be less today.
Spoiler alert: the headline reports that the ideal workday is about 5 hours. The actual story and research it summarizes is far less conclusive. It does seem that in some industries, particularly creative and knowledge-based ones, productivity and happiness peaks around 5 hours. That seems to check out. Many creatives, most famously Ursula K. Le Guin, have reported working similar schedules before diminishing returns set in.
But the findings are hardly universal. In fact, some companies found that shortening the workday led employees to cram the same amount of work they currently manage into less time, leaving them more stressed and less able to bond with coworkers over time. To me, it sounds like an echo of the paradox of workplace digitization I discussed a few weeks ago. We’ve thrown a ton of technology at the workplace and managed to eliminate jobs like secretary, file clerk, and switchboard operator in the process. But it’s not clear that we’ve actually eliminated the work. Instead, folks like Cal Newport argue, we’ve redistributed that work to fewer workers.
My own pet theory is that the 5-hour workday would probably work very well for a range of knowledge and creative industries if workers were also freed from having to manage the overhead of their schedules and correspondence. As it is, the 8-hour workday still seems crammed for most knowledge workers, because they’re probably engaging in 4-5 hours of deep work and 3-4 hours of logistical overhead per day. I think we may have made some rare progress at eliminating some of that overhead at my workplace by implementing tools like Remeet that truly do automate, rather than redistribute the responsibility for, tasks like scheduling.
Unfortunately, though, we still have a long way to go before we can afford to compress our days to only take time for deep work. And that’s why, sometimes, I’m not going to be able to write as much as I want to.