How many of us work more than 40 hours per week?

survey from EY shows that at least half of us are regularly working over 40 hours per week.

Excerpts from a recent talk given by Jane Piper of Pipsy at the Ignite Zürich event on 3rd July 2015. Also watch the video

In many countries on the 1st of May we have a holiday – celebrating Labour Day and the 40 hour work week. During the industrial revolution our great grandparents fought for 40 hours per week, a reduction from the typical 10-16 hours per days worked by, often children, in the new factories where owners tried to get the most work out of their expensive machines. By dividing the week in 40 hours work there would be 8 hours a day rest, 8 hours for recreation and 8 hours for work.

Now instead of the industrial revolution we have the digital revolution and along with it we seem to have lost the 40 hour week. Work has changed. Routine, repetitive tasks can be left to robots and we are knowledge workers. Our job is to think for a living – solving complex problems, coming up with new ideas and being innovative. But why does that mean that it now we spend more time working?

One reason, and only one of many reasons, is technology. Technology is a double edge sword. Technology makes our work easier. We can work from anywhere at any time. We can amass huge amounts of information much faster. We get answers from the other side of the world in an instant. We can take work home in our pocket on our mobile phone. But the downside of this is that it causes us stress. A survey showed that while 83% thought that technology made us more productive, 53% also believe it is leading to great stress.

There are three main reason why technology increase stress

  1. Extending the working day
  2. Blurring the boundaries
  3. Increasing the speed and pace of work

Extending the work day

I’m sure you think that you are being efficient by checking your email on the commute home, after dinner when the kids have gone to bed, then while you eat breakfast (I used to too). And it looks good to be responding to your boss at a late hour. But it means that the work day gets longer and you never have any time where you are “switched off” from work. Work is always in your mind and on your mind.

Blurring the Boundaries

They say your home is your castle – your retreat from the hassle and hustle of the world. But we now bring our work into our home, so home does not become the place to restore your energy, to play and enjoy. The laptop on the on the dining table means we are quickly doing some work here and there during evening and weekends. The boundaries become blurred between work and home.

Increasing speed and pace of work

Imagine, or think back, to the days of the interoffice memo going through the internal mail. This took at least 24 hours if you were in a big office block and even up to a week if you were corresponding with an office overseas. It didn’t matter if you responded today, or in a few days, and you certainly don’t need to respond immediately. Technology has increased the speed that a message is delivered and now the expectation is the speed of responding is faster. But do all issues really need to be responded to that quickly?
While people think it is being more productive to be on-line 24/7 it is not usually the productive value adding knowledge work that is being done. It is fast response to quick issues such as setting up meetings or similar. It is not the value added work we are supposed to do above a robot with our creative and innovative thinking. For creative work you need headspace – some clear uninterrupted time to think, to seeing things from new ways, to get a new perspective.

Three Tips

Here are three tips I’d like to share to help you reclaim something closer to a 40 hour work week and be more innovative

  1. Allow yourself time to disconnect – you don’t need to be online all the time, much of it will wait. During that time clear your head of work and think about something else.
  2. Set the boundaries between work and home. Carve out the time of the weekend that you will you work, what physical space you will use in your home to work. Then leave the remained of the time and space for rest and recreation.
  3. Block times to concentrate. Plan when you react to emails, IM, chats and block times out for thinking and concentrated work.

Make sure you are using your smart phone to work smarter, not harder!