Too Much Work?

For the last month I’ve been under going an interesting experiment: I’ve been working full time at my day job.  Why?  Long story, but the summary version is I knew March was going to be nuts at work so I offered them a deal.  I moved my three usual Friday’s off in March into April after the long weekend (which then gives me a week off *grin*).  Yet during March I have realized: I don’t think I can work full time anymore.

It’s only been a month and I’m like exhausted all the time, but this is likely from a good amount of my evenings have been busy with school board meetings.  So I’m running at full steam at two of my jobs and I can really feel it taking a toll on me.  So in some regards this month has proved again what I already know: I really can’t work full time at my day job while I do the school board thing.  It’s just too much for me to handle well, which is good since my usual situation is working at 90% of the time at the day job.

So this got me thinking about other people that talk about being tired so often and I wonder if it is just too much work?  Do people end up mindlessly on the couch in the evening because their bodies and minds just can’t handle 60 or more hour weeks?  Do we all have a right amount of work that we should be doing each week?

I have to think that could very well be a reason, but I think that concept is particularly interesting is I know my productivity at work has gone down this month.  I’m used to having a rather good energy level all the time so I tend to be fairly efficient at finishing tasks.  Now I notice that isn’t the case as much.  So while I’m at work more right now, I would rather doubt over the month that I am getting a lot more done.  I’m running out of steam now so this last day off worked I think will have diminishing returns.

In the end, I wonder how much more productive people would be if the standard work week dropped off by 4 or 8 hours?  Employees would be happier, employers would have less wage costs (not in all cases, but some) and I have to really wonder if nearly the same amount of work would get done in the long haul (short term it wouldn’t work as you likely already have too many employees in burnout).  So what are your thoughts on a reduced work week for everyone?

15 thoughts on “Too Much Work?”

  1. I’m all for it. It takes most of us a long time to commute to work as it is, so even if you have to work an extra 1.5 – 2 hours a day, it’d make the commute more worth it. Plus you’d have that extra day off!

  2. I really don’t understand how working an extra day a week can make you exhausted. I work abnormal hours in an office environment 530-230, study during lunch and after work, and go to bed around 11. Oh and I dont nap and I feel fine. Personally I think it has a lot to do with people’s mental strength. People find themselves in a position where they don’t feel like doing something or rather do something else so they find an excuse to put half effort in or just not do it.

    Yeah sure there are times when I am tired but I try to do things to counter act that. Your tired? Grab an apple and go for a walk or go for a run. It will relive tension, get you some fresh air and improve your health.

    The theory that employers could pay fewer wages is flawed. If you had 100 employees who worked 2 less hours a week you would have to make up for 200 hours of work. You would have to higher more employees to cover this, pay them and wage and then benefits. Employers labor costs would increase.

  3. France has a 35 hour work week and the general consensus is that it is not good for the overall economy, people need to be more productive and a job should be valued enough to put good productive effort into it without distractions. It would be better to drop the school board stuff. Let old retired guys handle that.

  4. I think it depends on your job. My husband and I work in a very stressful retail environment. It is the most exhausting job I’ve ever had. We absolutely get home and have nothing left for anything else. We are drained and probably not as productive as we could be at work. Now that I’m returning from mat. leave, I’m having a hard time just juggling an extra 8 hours of work on top of taking care of my kid… and it’s only going to get worse. 🙂

  5. I think we get used to whatever is demanded of us. If we reduce the standard workweek to 35, we will get used to it and desire a 30 hour work week.
    When my 2nd job starts or just have a lot on at one time, I get tired quickly at first, but then I adjust and it doesn’t affect me as badly.
    There is also the theory that any job will take as long to do as you allow it to, which explains why so many retirees I’ve heard wonder where they found the time to go to work.
    I’m OK with pushing my limits now knowing that I won’t have to do it forever.

  6. My construction job just doesn’t allow a cutback in hours… I am just resigned that I will be in the “rat race” for a couple of more years. My wife and I are saving about 6k per month right now, so it makes the 5am alarm clock routine go down a bit easier. Just dropped 30k onto our mortgage… our payments are now about $270 a month. Financial Independance draws ever closer.

  7. My experience is that you are right. There is a law of diminishing returns on all hours of work after the optimum productive hours. The optimum number of work hours is most likely different from person to person, and job to job. But, there is a limit to the amount of time someone can dedicate to any one task before they need to refresh their brains.

    I went to school in a very competitive field and my fellow classmates would pride themselves on how many sleepless nights they spent working on their projects. I worked consistently through the semester – woke early and worked until I went home for dinner – achieving better results. Exhausted people just aren’t productive.

  8. I wish we could tailor the work week to the demands (within limits). So – if, I am just unmotivated and have nothing pressing to do, I can knock off early. But – if something really needs to be done, then I stay late (or work on it from home).

  9. I just read a fantastic article about this ( (hopefully that link is allowed to show up. If not, just google “why we have to go back to a 40 hour work week”. The upshot of the article is that decades of research have proven that anything over 40 hours a week leads to diminishing returns and productivity falloff. For knowledge workers, it’s even lower (around 35).

    At my last job at a videogame company, we spent the better part of a year working 60 hour six-day weeks, to finish a major project. After only a month of that, I could tell my productivity was less than during usual 40-hour 5-day weeks. By the end of the year, I was good for maybe a couple hours of productive work in the mornings before I felt totally fried, and most of my teammates were in similar shape. But someone higher up the food chain mistakenly believed they were getting more work out of us that way… I don’t work there anymore.

  10. I always considered my long and sickening commute along with the hour in the morning getting ready to leave for work the worst 3+ hours of my day, so I always included those technically nonwork hours as part of my overall day.

    When I worked full-time, my overall day gradually grew from 10 hours to nearly 12 hours due to a lengthening of the commute and a lengthening of my work hours (with no pay raise) and that burned me out after 16 years. Switching to part-time reduced the number of days I had to work, and later, the overall number of hours back to 10. Those reductions also came with a nearly total elimination of my benefits, as they were tied to the number of hours per week I worked.

    But it was still too many days and too many hours, so zero days and zero hours was the only solution and I finally achieved that goal in 2008. 🙂

  11. @miles,

    Thanks for the ideas to recharge. My issue wasn’t per say the extra day by itself, but rather the extra day plus the type of work I’ve been doing in the last month. Detailed oriented, abstract problem solving on a massive database. I find I balance out better in a week if I have a mixture of work some easy and others more challenging, but not all challenging all the time.

    @ David,

    Thanks for the link and your story. That was the point I was trying to make. I suspect several industries have a similar issue that we do big pushes for deadlines, but only get diminishing returns for doing it.


    I think your right that we do adapt a little bit, but it depends how far you shift it. I know when I did 80% time, I found after a while I didn’t need that much time off anymore to balance my other interests (I suspect I fully recovered from my burnout). So that is why I went to 90% time in my current day job.

    Thanks for the comments everyone.

  12. I’ll see your 60 and raise you 10 or 20. BUT… nowadays I leave after 9 hours a day – except during the busy parts of the month – and no, I don’t get burnt out unless it goes on for a year at a time. That’s what happened with my burnout a couple of years ago – two jobs for too long. I really think it depends on the type of work it is. It seems like if I see it as an investment (ie. process improvement) vs. a never-ending grind, I’m capable of herculean effort. If it’s just a grind, it’s somehow different.

    It may also be a gen-x vs. gen-y thing? I find us gen-x / cusp people to be freakishly committed where the gen-y – mmm, not so much.

    I like working with inherently lazy (paradoxically hard-working) people like myself though. They always find the best ways to do things to minimize the work yet aren’t afraid to put the time in when it’s necessary.

  13. @Tim
    That article is actually just a reprint of the one that I originally mentioned. 🙂

  14. A reduced work – sign me up! There are many nights I go into Zombie mode after work; especially if I end up working longer than my standard workday hours. Coffee (a lot of coffee) helps!

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