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Are You Working Harder, or Working Smarter?: Looking at the 40 Hour Work Week

Are You Working Harder, or Working Smarter?: Looking at the 40 Hour Work Week

    So many people talk about boosting productivity, and making the most of their 40 hour work weeks. And yet, outside of the United States, not every country adheres to the “standard” 40 hour work week…which begs the question: should we be working harder, or working smarter?

    The History of 40 Hour Work Week (And the 8 Hour Work Day)

    As most people know, the 40 hour work week (and 8 hour day) both have their roots in the industrial revolution, when labor reformists began to push for shorter hours. At the turn of the 19th century, it wasn’t uncommon for some factory workers to be on the job for 16 hours a day, and so the 8 hour work day was quite a relief indeed. While some advances were made during the 1800s by workers who wanted shorter days, the 8 hour work day wasn’t widespread on a global scale until the first half of the 20th century.

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    In fact, it wasn’t until the International Labor Organization held its first conference in 1919 that the 8- or 9-hour work day was somewhat firmly established. In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed into law. This established the five-day, 40-hour work week as the American standard for working hours.

    Criticisms of the 40 Hour Work Week

    MIT’s Eric Rauch noted in his paper “Productivity and the Workweek” that “An average worker needs to work a mere 11 hours per week to produce as much as one working 40 hours in 1950.” Additionally, “polls and surveys have shown that people in countries with the standard of living that the US enjoyed in the 1950s are no less satisfied than today’s Americans.”

    Elsewhere in the US, some states are switching from a 5 day week to a 4 day week. For example, Iowa’s state employees made just such a move in order to cut energy costs, as have Hawaii and Washington state.

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    One 2010 study actually proposed that a 21 hour workweek might be the best of all. According to the UK’s New Economics Foundation, “A much shorter working week could help to tackle a range of urgent and closely related problems: overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life. It would enable many more people to join the workforce and allow for measures to reduce damaging levels of inequality….We’d have more time to be better parents, better citizens, better carers and better neighbours. And we could even become better employees: less stressed, more in control, happier in our jobs and more productive.”

    Compared to Other Countries

    Looking at other countries around the globe, it’s clear to see that the 40 hour work week is anything but standard.

    For example, the average work week in South Korea is 44 hours, while France has a law that states that 35 hours per week is the maximum allowable. European Union member countries have all agreed to cap the maximum hours worked per week to no more than 48. The work week in the Netherlands and Norway is 27 hours long, while workers in Australia and New Zealand work an averages of 33-34 hours per week.

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    Conclusion: Work-Life Balance

    More and more, those Americans who are still employed are working longer hours, either to stay in the good graces of their bosses, or because they are overwhelmed by increased workloads due to layoffs. Either way, it seems like many Americans are working long hours to endear themselves to corporate supervisors, without guaranteeing additional job security.

    According to Forbes, “To get ahead, a 70-hour work week is the new standard…Just how bad have things gotten? 1.7 million people consider their jobs and their work hours extreme, thanks to globalization, BlackBerries, corporate expectations and their own Type A personalities.” In fact, some experts say that a BlackBerry can extend your working week by as much as 15 hours.

    That data is backed up by a similar study conducted by the International Labour Organization, which found that “one in five workers around the world – or over 600 million persons – are still working more than 48 hours a week, often merely to make ends meet…an estimated 22 per cent of the global workforce, or 614.2 million workers, are working “excessively” long hours.”

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    While many Americans are just happy to have a job, it seems that during a recession, it is even more important to work smarter, not harder. Long hours do not always equal greater productivity, and indeed it seems that working excessive hours can actually diminish productivity and quality…which is a problem that will affect both the worker and the employer equally.

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    Tucker Cummings

    Writer and social media professional sharing productivity tips on Lifehack.

    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It? The Pomodoro Technique: Is It Right for You to Boost Productivity? How to Diagnose the “Phantom Cursor” Issue on Your Mac Extreme Minimalism: Andrew Hyde and the 15-Item Lifestyle 6 Easy Tips for Living with 100 Items or Less

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    Last Updated on March 13, 2019

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

    You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

    Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

    1. Work on the small tasks.

    When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

    Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

    2. Take a break from your work desk.

    Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

    Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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    3. Upgrade yourself

    Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

    The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

    4. Talk to a friend.

    Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

    Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

    5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

    If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

    Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

    Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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    6. Paint a vision to work towards.

    If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

    Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

    Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

    7. Read a book (or blog).

    The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

    Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

    Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

    8. Have a quick nap.

    If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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    9. Remember why you are doing this.

    Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

    What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

    10. Find some competition.

    Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

    Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

    11. Go exercise.

    Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

    Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

    As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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    Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

    12. Take a good break.

    Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

    Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

    Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

    Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

    More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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