Work Smarter, Not Harder – Giving Yourself Time Back During the Work Day

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The average American works for a standard 8.8 hours per workday, or 40 hours per work week – depending on your job, this can go up to as much as 116 hours of work per week!

  Whether you work for 40 hours or a hundred, one thing’s for sure – the number of hours you spend at your workplace on paper is never where your job ends.

   Think about all the time you’ve spent replying to emails from work at home, finalizing urgent tasks at night, or traveling to and from your workplace. We often spend ample time recovering from an exhausting workday all while worrying about work tasks to be completed the next day.

  Through all of this, our jobs take up a huge chunk of space in our lives. On average, you may be spending 2-3 hours every day on work-related stresses on top of your 8 hours on the job.

  It doesn’t end there either – just because you spend 10 hours of the day on work doesn’t mean the other 14 hours are entirely free.

Consider your responsibilities at home – cooking (or waiting in restaurant lines for take-out), shopping for groceries, cleaning, fixing and replacing broken appliances, grooming, hygiene, booking and attending doctor’s appointments, etc.

These chores can take up another 2-3 hours of your day, leaving you with only 11-12 hours. Out of those 11-12 hours, getting a good night’s rest – especially after the busy day you’ve had – requires a minimum 7 hours of sleep.

This means that, at most, you have 5 hours left to yourself. How much is this worth, and what can you really do with it?

Has It Always Been This Way?

Our definition of “work life” has changed over the years.

The concept of the “8-hour workday” originated from the Industrial Revolution. In the late 18th century, 12-16 work hours per day became the norm due to industrialization; businesses were booming, factories needed to be staffed 24/7, and cheap labor was readily available.

Factory owners could employ whoever they wanted, however they wanted – child labor was legal, as were grueling work hours and unfair working conditions.

  Even outside of factory jobs, people had to work throughout most of the day to earn enough to support themselves. Farmers would start plowing their fields at dawn and finish their work late into the night.

Retiring or resting on the weekends wasn’t much of a thought – as long as plants were growing, they would need farm workers to tend to them.

Modern machinery hadn’t been invented, so everything was manual. Workers worked day in and day out for minimal wages.

 These schedules were both unfair to workers and unsustainable for employers, because of which activists like Robert Owen advocated for shorter workdays.

It would take till the early 20th century, but more and more companies would cut down daily work hours and increase wages – and so the standardization of the “8-hour workday” came about. 

 Should we then grin and bear our current conditions, regardless of how anxious or burnt out they make us? Not quite.

How Much Should You Work In An Ideal Life?

According to a research study of full-time office workers, most of us are productive for less than three hours per day. Even with half your day spent on work, your output only reflects a fraction of this time.

Biologically, this makes sense; our circadian rhythm automatically makes us more productive, mentally and physically, at certain times of the day over others. Scientists actually agree that the ideal working time to maximize productivity and minimize burnout is 6 hours daily, especially in the morning.

Sweden is already putting the 6-hour workday into practice – and it’s given employees the freedom to optimize their work-life balance. They produce high-quality work when they are naturally most productive and focus on other everyday activities in the afternoon, which helps to ward off fatigue.

Ideas like this and the 4-hour work week aren’t new, but implementing them is a different story. After the Industrial Revolution, it wasn’t until Henry Ford – a giant in the automobile industry – took the initiative to change the standard work week’s structure for his employees that we normalized working 5 days per week instead of 6.

He realized that this change was necessary to increase his employees’ productivity and give them time to enjoy themselves (maybe by buying and traveling around in the same cars they were building for consumers).

Companies nowadays are also thinking about ways to make the work week more flexible, enjoyable, and productive for their employees. But what should we do in the meantime?

What Can You Do?

Prioritize parts of your life outside of work! Recognize that your hobbies, self-development, self-care activities, entertainment and socializing time are all just as important as your profession.

Stop thinking of yourself as a cog in the machine – as a human being, you’re designed to evolve with unique, diverse experiences.

Work can mean your 9-to-5 job – but it can also mean chores, off-work duties, or things you do for other people.

If you spend most of your day half-avoiding and half-obsessing over these tasks, put out unsatisfactory work as a result, you then compromise your ability to relax and just repeat the same cycle, you will burnout as that way of life is unsustainable.

Find ways to break the cycle. Fight to make time for yourself. Practice mindfulness. Be self-aware of your own emotional state.

Recognize what things are more versus less important to you. Set barriers that allow you to say “no” to others and learn to share responsibility.

With time, a conscious shift in mindset will lead to better productivity, an easier lifestyle, and a happier mood!

Picture of Dan McCabe
Dan McCabe

Long time remote worker with the dream of enabling everyone to join the remote workforce. Owner and Editor of

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