The four-hour work day: cutting hours to increase productivity

by Jun 25, 20193Plus, 3Plus online e-Gazine for professional women, Wellness, Work-Life Integration, Workplace

Why we should consider cutting hours to increase productivity


Maybe instead of looking at having more meetings or innovative new desk-arrangements, we should look at cutting hours to increase productivity.


Let’s be honest: how much of your time at work do you actually spend working?

It sounds counter-intuitive, but working fewer hours could actually result in more output. So much of our work day is spent being busy rather than productive. Instead of doing the core elements of our job we’re checking emails, returning phone calls, and sitting in long meetings. We’re in the building, but we’re not really doing anything important. Today, most white-collar work can be done at any time of day. Automation deals with time-consuming tasks like data entry. And yet we still believe we need to be in the office for eight hours a day. Why do we persist with this idea?

cutting hours to increase productivity

Some companies have tried cutting hours to increase productivity

A handful of ground-breaking organisations have reduced worker hours while maintaining pay. Of these companies, most have reported that output has stayed the same, or even slightly increased. Tech companies, online retailers and even the Swedish government have experimented with this radical move to improve work-life balance.

You would expect productivity to follow a roughly linear pattern, with more hours generally resulting in more work. In fact, productivity follows a curve. If you increase your working hours from 10 hours a week to 20, you will get a lot more done. If you increase your working hours from 50 to 60, you’ll probably do about the same amount.

To improve productivity we need to make full use of our entire available workforce, which means women too. Here are 12 key steps to attract, recruit and retain female talent.

There’s only so much work our minds can take

Whether it’s physical or mental, high-level work demands a lot of energy. Your body can only sustain it for a few hours at a time before needing to rest. Estimates vary, but the general consensus among researchers is that people can only do around 3-4 hours of hard work a day. Ever wonder why you get that mid-afternoon energy slump? By that point in the day, you’ve literally done all the work your body can handle. You need time to recuperate.

When you work for a more limited time, you give every task your full focus. The counterpoint is also true: when you work hard, you can’t sustain it for long. There’s a saying that a task will expand to fill whatever time you have available. This means an hour of focused productivity can create as much output as a whole morning of half-hearted idling. But if you’re stuck at your desk until 5pm no matter what you do, you might as well have another 15 minutes on Instagram and then get on with that spreadsheet after lunch.

Make your workplace more inclusive with our Unconscious Bias Training Workshop.

Alice Bell Contributor
"Alice writes online about business, popular science, and women's lifestyle. After a few years working her way around the world, she has settled in the north of England and taken a day job as a maths teacher. Her life's ambition is to earn enough money to start repaying her student debt."

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