Time for Work


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My apprentices and I were reviewing their work schedules when it struck me: are they putting in enough time? How much time is “enough time?”

Like most questions I don’t know the answer to, I asked my friends:

I expected a handful of answers and opinions but was instead bombarded by a wealth of great thoughts, questions, and resources.

Here are a few interesting things that I learned, in no particular order:

  • I certainly couldn’t share the full context of my questions within 140 characters, but I was originally curious about the minimum number of hours it takes to be productive as a designer. Most of the replies I received seemed to assume that I was asking about the maximum amount of hours we should be working. Though I’m not sure about the particular conclusion to draw from that, I can’t help but think it’s related to the cult of overwork that seems to be so pervasive within our agencies and shops.
  • Many suggested the fact that it’s less about a minimum or maximum amount of hours and instead about protecting your productive times (thanks Jason, Charles, and Dave!). I certainly agree; my most productive time tends to be between 5am and 7am. But, I discovered that sweet spot after many years of trying many different things. My apprentices don’t have years of experience to reflect on. Even though I suggest a lot of trial and error, we have to start somewhere. So what’s a good starting point?
  • For knowledge workers like us, performance declines after 35 hours (thanks, Shaun!).
  • Lots of data points to the fact that working more than 40-hours a week is often a waste. For example, Stanford economics professor John Pencavel found that after 50-hours a week, output rises at a decreasing rate (thanks Paul!). According to his research, “output at 70 hours of work differed little from output at 56 hours.”
  • Interesting historical tidbit: The eight-hour day was first suggested by socialist Robert Owen in 1817. He proposed splitting the typical day in thirds: 8 hours for sleep, 8 hours for recreation, and 8 hours for work. A century later, the Ford Motor Company adopted a 40-hour work week (thanks Kyle!).

My conclusion, so far: I think I’ll start by suggesting and shooting for 35 hours a week, certainly not much less and probably not much more. How do you handle your work week?

Further reading