9 to 5 Culture

The Fallacy of 8 Hour Workdays

Take a look back and the last time you had a week off (or more) and didn’t actually go on vacation. I’m assuming you didn’t just sit around the whole week getting absolutely nothing accomplished. You probably did some cleaning, did some chores, or fixed something at least once. You were productive for a bit of the time, right?

Right. Now, take a look at the amount of time you were actually productive. Did you work straight through the entire day for hours at a stretch consistently? Did you rigidly compartmentalize your work into huge chunks of time that ate up your entire morning, afternoon and early evening? Of course not. You probably worked for an hour or two at a stretch, relaxed, and then worked some more much later. Or maybe you worked pretty hard for two days then took three off.

My point should be pretty clear by now. Human beings do not naturally work well in “8-hour 5-days-per-week stretches.”

This is why many people at work get tired and end up being truly productive for only half the day or less.

This is why two of your co-workers will sit on their desks chatting about the NCAA March Madness tournament for hours (and why there are office bracket tournaments anyway.)

It’s because people are BORED, TIRED and they are trying to PASS THE TIME. They aren’t getting anything done because they can’t concentrate for that long. People have natural cycles where they will be more inclined to work hard and work productively.

The rigid 9 to 5 schedule destroys this, and hurts the quality of work and life for millions of people.


1. Be your own boss. This is self-explanatory. Now if you are a restaurant or store owner you’ll probably have to work within a set structure as far as time goes. Even in this case you’ll have more flexibility. However, one of the greatest advantages to being self-employed is that you can set your own hours.

Hate getting up early? Work evenings. Hate rush hour traffic? Start early, end early. Or work from home. Either way, your natural cycles will thank you ceaselessly by providing you with more energy for doing your work. And more work energy equals higher quality work!

2. Cheat. This is easier said than done, because it requires you to be sneaky on the job. But hey, it’s a heck of a lot of fun too, and the only alternative if you have to continue your desk job for the time being. First, you will need to determine which of the following categories you fit into first:

  • The “Chunk of Time Worker.” You tend to be most productive in spurts. You might work incredibly hard for a couple of weeks, only to find yourself incapable of even brushing your teeth the next. No, you aren’t bi-polar. You are a “Chuck of Time Worker” or COTW for short. All stupidity and extremism aside, you function best with spells of hard work followed by a spell of relaxation.
  • The “Consistent Worker.” You tend to work hard for a few hours each day, sometimes in succession, sometimes not. Long periods of idle inactivity scare you, but so does tons and tons of hard work with no break in sight.

So which one were you? Once you become aware of this, you can be sneaky at work. If you fall into the first category, you need to get your work done ahead of time when you are on one of your “hot streaks.” Be the most productive person in the office and then some. The further you work ahead, the better. This way once you crash and need some time off, you can “pretend to work” for a week while everyone else is catching up. Just sit at your desk eating cookies and e-mailing friends all day while you are temporarily “burned out.”

If you fall into the second category it is a little bit trickier. You probably will need to pick a time of day where you will put in the most effort, and then take breaks without your superiors or coworkers knowing. It’s similar to the first idea, but more spread out.

I know this all sounds a bit childish, but it actually is very mature. You’ll be far more productive, energized, and ready to move on to a better place than you would have been before. Plus, you are actually HELPING your company by functioning at your optimum capabilities. Who cares what the clocks say?

Remember: We are human beings, not machines. In this connect-the-dots, cookie-cutter, time-obsessed world we live in sometimes makes us forget that.



  • Annette March 26, 2008 at 10:42 am

    Right on! We are human beings NOT human doings!


  • Sarah March 26, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    Agree 100%. I hate schedules, but I don’t mind work.

    I think a 25-hour work week would be just as productive for me as a 40-hour week because frankly I waste 15 hours a week just trying to survive emotionally at work.

    But they pay me to do it, so… there you have it.


  • Mike March 28, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    I know how you feel, Sarah. And the funny (and tragic thing) is, you are actually more productive at work than I would say the average office worker is (most people only work about 40% of their days.)

    I love your quote, Annette, by the way!


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