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The Myth Of The 8-Hour Workday

As we redefine what a working day looks like to us as online business owners and entrepreneurs, there is a lot of pushback from the business community at large on working 8 hours a day. 

Today, we’re going to discuss the myth of the 8-hour workday, how you can see where you’re really spending your time, and why the 8-hour workday should be left in the 19th century, where it belongs. Ready? Let’s get started.

In this episode: 

  • Where the 8-hour workday came from 
  • Why you don’t need to work 8 hours a day to be productive
  • An easy test to cut out hours from your workweek

Listen to the podcast here:

The Myth Of The 8-Hour Workday

Hello, hello. 

The 8-hour workday. It’s such a common thing at this point in history that so few people actually question it. But recently people have started to push back on it and ask…is it beneficial? Are we really required to work 8 hours? Are we even operating at peak productivity if we try to work 8 hours?

The answer to all of these questions is no.

The 8-hour workday is a holdover from industrialization and although Henry Ford gets credit for establishing it, it was something that workers and labor unions started asking for in 1866. That’s 60 years before Ford ever did it for his auto factories. 

Workers went on strike, protested, and demanded 8-hour workdays become law for factory workers that were subjected to working 10-14 hour days and six or seven days a week. A Chicago demonstration that turned violent in 1886 made 8-hour workdays a national issue.  

Then Henry Ford came along and in 1914 instituted the first 8-hour shift and raised wages for his employees. Despite these improvements, the workweek was still 6 days long and company inspectors were required to visit workers’ homes to make sure they “deserved” the pay raise. It wasn’t a law at this point, so he could’ve dropped it any time he felt like it.

In 1916, the government finally passed an act that granted 8-hour days and overtime for railroad workers but it still didn’t apply to the rest of the American workforce until FDR signed the Fair Labor Act in 1938 for a 44-hour workweek. By 1940, it was down to the 5-day, 40-hour week we know today. Special thanks to the Unions and not Henry Ford, by the way.

After that refreshing history lesson tangent, we’re still left with a 40-hour workweek/8-hour workday rule that was great when you were doing hard manual labor on a factory floor but is hardly applicable to the large majority of the workforce that sits behind a computer most of the day.

More than 80 years and a whole lot of technology later, 8-hour workdays are no longer necessary. But they’re still the yardstick corporate bosses are measuring things with. Things like commitment to the job, work ethic, productivity, worth, value, and so much more.

More than 80 years and a whole lot of technology later, 8-hour workdays are no longer necessary. But they’re still the yardstick corporate bosses are measuring things with. Click To Tweet

And since we bring what we know into our own online businesses, we bring the 8-hour workday and all of it’s fucked up thinking with us. 

The myth? That we NEED 8 hours to be productive. We don’t. Don’t believe me? Spend just 5 days tracking your time for everything you do during your workday—even if you open your phone and check Facebook for 10 minutes—track everything. Then at the end of your 5 days go back and look at where you are spending your time. 

How many of your 8 hours are you actually working and how many are you giving your brain a break (or procrastinating) by surfing Facebook or answering emails?

This exercise isn’t meant to make you feel bad about what you’re doing during the workday either (I see you, my perfectionist type A peeps). It’s meant to show you that you do not have to sit at your desk or be in your office or even log 8 hour days 5 days a week to be considered legitimate or be your most productive. 

For instance, I stopped working Mondays in June of 2020. I work Tuesday to Friday every single week from about 11am to about 6pm and I take a one hour break every day for lunch. I rarely work on my days off and only if I really feel like it. 

After working for myself for almost six years, I slowly figured out the hours where I’m most productive and awake (11-2) and the hours where I can get some good behind the scenes work done that doesn’t require a ton of brainpower but will still drive my business forward (3-6). It’s not exactly the same every day but it’s pretty damn close. 

I’m not lazy and I don’t want my business to fail. My 4-day, 24-hour workweek works perfectly for me and for my business model. Click To Tweet

The biggest hurdle I had to overcome was not the time it took to figure out which hours worked best for me or how best to structure my day. It was the nagging voice in my head that if I didn’t push myself to work 8 hours a day, then I was just a lazy slob who wanted my business to fail.

I’m not lazy and I don’t want my business to fail.  My 4-day, 24-hour workweek works perfectly for me and for my business model.

Look, I know not all businesses are created equal. Some people like getting up at 5am (I don’t know why but they do). Some people like working so they work a lot but this episode is for the type-A perfectionists who feel like you HAVE to work 8 hours because someone somewhere said so or because it’s the norm in the corporate world you’re still detoxing from. I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to. You can figure out what schedule works best for you, for your family, for your life, for your body clock, for your mental health.

Studies actually show that 4-day workweeks and/or shorter working days make people more productive. When Microsoft experimented with a 4-day workweek, productivity jumped by 40%. Humans tend to fill whatever time they’re given to complete a task, so odds are that you’ll be able to finish the same amount of work in 5 or 6 hours that you would in 8, within reason of course.

If the 8-hour workday doesn’t work for you then I really encourage you to track your time to see what your day looks like. What’s sucking up your time? What tasks are you able to hire someone to do for you so you can shorten your workweek? Then create a schedule that works for you and your unique needs. 

Stop killing yourself working an 8-hour day because you feel like you should. You probably don’t need to and you’re just burning yourself out while you try (if you’re unsure if you’re burnt out, check out my previous episode to learn about the warning signs). People who are burned out and wishing for the weekend can’t do their best work. I promise. 

Alright, that’s it for me today. Bye, y’all. 

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