The 8-hour workday and why it does’t work for knowledge workers

By Wednesday, 31, July,2019 0 No tags Permalink

How long do you think you spend working each day? Do you put in a solid 8 hours from start to finish? And, if so, how productive are you during those eight hours?

If we take one element of modern productivity – working on a digital device – it might surprise you to hear that we only spend around 5 hours each day using it productively. And, with an average productivity pulse of 53% for the year, that results in just 12.5 hours a week to do productive work. That admittedly only accounts for digital work, but with analogue work less of a focus for most people, you probably can’t add much more on top of that for pen and paper-based stuff.

In 1914 Henry Ford shocked everyone by cutting working hours and doubling wages. The result? Increased productivity.

He was ahead of his time; as it turns out, the standard 8-hour day is a bit of a misnomer – particularly if you’re a knowledge worker.

Where does the 8-hour workday come from?


The 8-hour day is something most people who have worked a standard Monday-Friday job will have encountered because, typically, it accounts for the number of hours for which you’re paid to work.

However, for anyone who has experienced the world of freelancing, independent or flexible working, the alternative is rather surprising.

As it turns out, you really can get more done in half the time – particularly if you’re a knowledge worker. The trick lies in identifying when you’re being productive and when you’re simply ‘busy’, because productivity and busy can be two completely different things.

How many hours can you be productive?


As a knowledge worker, your time is precious but also highly valuable. If you’re assigning that knowledge to a strict 8 hours each day, how sure can you be that they’re being spent productively?

Feeling like you’ve had a productive day doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have needed to work a full 8 hours. In fact, you might find that just three hours is all you need tomorrow to achieve all of your goals for that day.

To put this into some context, we need to consider the mechanics of a typical 8-hour working day in an office. Sure, you’re paid for those 8 hours, but are you paid to talk with colleagues about last night’s episode of Love Island? What about the endless cups of tea you make each week, or the WhatsApp message groups you tend to every now and then? Are you being productive then?

Track your time (see last section), and you might find that you only spend three or four hours each day actually working. Therefore, knowledge workers who avoid the traps and distractions of modern office life by working from home or remotely really can get more done in half the time.

Can you have an 8-hour workday and good work-life balance?


No. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

Is it possible to stay productive for 8 hours? Another “no” here, I’m afraid.

Parkinson’s Law states that ”work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”, and it really does have a point. If we’re given 8-hours to do a job, we’ll fill those 8 hours either by procrastinating or being inefficient. And this leads to much longer office days, extreme tiredness and, as a result, a pretty exhausting life outside of work.

No one wants that. A great work-life balance is absolutely achievable, providing you can be honest with yourself and identify why you are being ‘busy’ rather than ‘productive’. Once you know that, you can isolate the issue behind it – and make changes.

Final tip: try tracking your time


If you think tracking your time is only needed if you’re paid by the hour, think again.

Try tracking your time with one of the many apps available for your smartphone and you’ll quickly start to see where you are (and aren’t) the most productive. It’ll be transformative – I promise.

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