Work is such a culturally bound concept isn’t it? Research into the work habits of other cultures always fascinate me. Why do the average Japanese work so much more than the average Western European? What is it about a culture that determines what is considered hard work and what is considered sloth? Due to labor laws established in the 20th century, here in the United States we are obsessed with the idea of the standard 40 hour work week. A job is only considered “full-time” if you are there for at least 40 hours a week, never mind if you are actually productive during those forty hours.
Once, I had a job where in a standard eight hour shift, I actually completed tasks related to my job for about two hours of that time, the rest of the time was filled with busy work to keep the supervisors off my back or entertaining myself, if I knew no one else was looking. Consequently, I had another job where I was constantly focused on work related tasks for over seven hours out of an eight hour day. Two different jobs that both required eight hours of my time and physical presence but inconsistent in terms of the amount of tasks I was given. When I started my own business, this idea of the forty hour work week was blown out of the water. At times I worked eleven hours days and other times I worked a four day, for the first time in my life: I was paid for the exact amount of time I worked. It was wonderful! Small business blogger Jacob Shriar questions the utility of the forty hour work week in his latest article for Yahoo Business. Shriar not only cites studies but discusses how various companies are implementing changes in their work scheduled, such as adding exercise and napping in the middle of the day to create more productive employees.
In my own case, I found I was most productive in my schedule when I created a “donut schedule”. This is a schedule in which I saw clients in the late morning/early afternoon time frame and then had a two hour break until my late afternoon/early evening commuter clients arrived for their counseling appointments. This allowed me to fully recharge by doing activities I loved: such as working out, taking a yoga class near my office or even just going for a long walk and grabbing a coffee at the local coffee shop. I felt more clear-headed, less stressed and able to fully attend to the needs of my clients. If you have the power to play with your work schedule, I highly encourage you to take a hard look at it and if possible experiment with it. I believe you will find you can become both less stressed and more productive if you shake the notion of being chained to your desk for long periods of time over the course of a work week.