Everyone on Twitter has their opinion on working hours. Here’s my story. There’s very little data, but the nice thing about self-experimentation is that you can be fairly sure you’ve found something that works for you.
The current standard for office work in Europe is eight hours per day, including time for lunch, five days per week. This has been fairly common in many jobs for over a century now, down from 12–14 hours, 6–7 days per week in the worst case.
Many people would say that the current status quo is fine, but increasingly there are calls for a shorter, four-day week, or an even more drastic reduction in hours to 21 hours per week (sometimes pitched as 3 hours, every day, but I think the exact configuration is debatable). What’s the deal?
Well, I tried it. And I loved it.
To be fair, I did four hours, not three, over six days, not seven, but I figure it was close enough. It wasn’t intentional. I started a timer, worked until I felt like a break, then stopped the timer. 15 minutes later, I repeated it, and it came to approximately four hours.
I then repeated myself for six days straight, usually in the morning, from about 09:00 to 13:00, waking up around 08:00. I felt far more productive than I ever have during an eight-hour workday. Partially, it was because the work was solo, and I was tracking my time to the second, and so I never had the desire to get up and have a long conversation with a colleague. But to be honest, those conversations are often very fruitful. It’s the planned meetings that are usually completely pointless.
One of the great things about working relatively fewer hours per day is that sleeping on something is easy. When I got stuck on a couple of things, it inevitably happened close to the end of my day, which is a very convenient signal that it’s probably time to take a break. And so the solution wasn’t to bash my head against them, but stop work for the day, do something else. Every time, the solution revealed itself within minutes after a good night’s sleep. And I was sleeping well, because I could actually get things done during the day and wasn’t rushed in the evening.
This doesn’t work for everyone. If you have fixed working hours, good luck persuading your higher-ups to change them. If you pair regularly, you’re going to at least have to convince everyone you might pair with to do the same thing. And if you have a partner or a family with a specific schedule, making the switch is going to be orders of magnitude harder. But if you find yourself in the situation I was in last November, on a one-person project with a flexible client, working remotely, experiment with your working hours (and sleeping hours) to figure out what’s best for you. I think you owe it to yourself.