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Is This the End of the 40 Hour Workweek?

How do you approach your day to be more productive? Do you catch yourself looking at the clock rather than focusing on what you’re getting done? When you put in less than eight or 10 hours of work, do you feel a bit guilty? Possibly, this is the wrong way to think — not just for you, but for those who work under you as well.

Perhaps we can stop thinking about working set hours. Some people prefer to work late into the night; some people enjoy starting work early in the day — we all have different energy levels at different times.

There are occasions when you have to schedule time — meetings or answering the phone for instance. But our work schedules are rarely managed by a set number of hours; instead, they’re guided by our energy levels.

Small-business owners often say, “Working set hours is typically the norm for full-time professionals. I count on the 40-hour work schedule.” Okay, but where did it come from? The Industrial Revolution. Factories needed to be running around the clock, so employees worked between 10- and 16-hour days. In the 1920s, Henry Ford decided to try something different. His workers would work only eight hours, five days a week.

He wanted to give employees enough free time to go out and buy stuff. “Leisure is an indispensable ingredient in a growing consumer market because working people need to have enough free time to find uses for consumer products, including automobiles.”

Does it make sense for us to track our work by required hours? Maybe this makes sense for employees whose productivity is measured by the hours they spend performing a manual task. However, we’ve moved from an economy based on industry to one based on information. It no longer seems appropriate to measure productivity by hours worked. Instead it may make sense to measure productivity by tasks accomplished.  It makes the most sense then to work the hours that allow you to accomplish the most, whether this is early in the morning or late in the evening.

Light and genetics are two main factors that help your body tell time. Light creates a natural cycle of energy levels; genetics causes your particular cycle to be longer or shorter. Your cycle may be a bit longer, and you may have more energy in the evening. Shorter cycles give you more energy in the morning.

A typical workday for business owners and work-for-yourselfers starts at 7 a.m. and ends around 5 p.m. Great for the early riser, but for those who prefer working nights, you’re often stuck slugging away when your energy levels are low. So how do we avoid the clock and work productively?

A Better Work Plan

Most of us don’t run factories, where rigid shift schedules are the norm. Depending on the kind of company you work in, below is a possible plan employees can use to manage their time:

  1. Write a realistic to-do list. Decide on three to four major tasks you want to get done. Allocate the amount of time you believe this will take you to complete. This way, you’ll consistently complete your to-do list.
  2. Create cycles with your work. You probably have lots of different types of tasks to worry about. Try breaking up your day like this:
  1. Find a true metric to measure your task. Come up with a true goal for what you’re producing. Maybe you should track the sales that result from each blog post you write, rather than the number of posts you write, for example.

The important thing to remember is that it’s not about the number of hours you work, but what you do in those hours that counts.

Of course, every company is different, and some need more structure than others. But think of how different metrics and different ways of working can not only free your employees from rigid time policies, but even make your company more profitable.

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