Why We Don’t Work More Than 40 Hours Per Week

Working hours is an important topic in startups (and in the business world). The preconception is that the more hours you work, the more productive you are, but studies and our own data show that it’s not the case. Here is why.

The productivity of knowledge workers, i.e. everyone using their brain for work, is not indexed on how many hours they work but on how much output they deliver. This output can be making good decisions, training colleagues well, coming up with new solutions to a problem, designing a project properly, writing an amazing article, convincing a customer in only one demo… All these outputs depend on the quality of your thinking/brain, not on how many hours you spend assembling a car.

Data shows that overwork actually makes you less productive. John Pencavel of Stanford University published a study showing that working more than 55 hours will decrease your productivity. Basically, the productivity loss you have per hours above 55, don’t compensate the additional time you’re working. So you don’t produce anymore when you work 70 hours instead of 55. And that’s without counting the benefits you could have obtained by spending those additional hours relaxing or having fun.

Some studies show that the ideal number of hours to work every week could be even lower than that, comprised between thirty-five to forty hours.

Chris Bailey, author of the awesome book ‘The Productivity Project’, did actually test over several weeks how much he got done versus how many hours he worked, and the results are surprising: “I accomplished only a bit more working ninety-hour weeks than I did in my twenty-hour weeks”.

Some go even further. Tim Ferris, author of the best-selling book ‘The 4 Hour Week’ suggests, well, 4 hours per week.

Why are you not working less?

Bailey shares his answer: “In the middle of my twenty-hour weeks, I couldn’t help but feel guilty that I wasn’t as busy as I thought I should be. Because I was working a shorter amount of time, I perceived myself as less productive, and I became unnecessarily hard on myself because of it — even though I was spending a ton of energy and focus on what I had to get done, and I was accomplishing about the same amount of work. This is a trap almost all of us fall into

This sense of guilt can be even higher in corporate environments where appearances, i.e. coming early at your desk and leaving late, are more important than getting things done. It’s made worse when the performance of employees are based on working hours instead of each employee having their own KPIs and objectives.

Lowering working hours also forces you to be more productive, by using tactics such as focusing on your most important tasks, removing noise, arranging deep work slots, managing interruptions, and many many more, including those 10 tricks I shared earlier.

As Jason Fried, co-founder of Basecamp explains in the great productivity book ‘Deep Work’ from Cal Newport: “Very few people work even 8 hours a day. You’re lucky if you get a few good hours in between all the meetings, interruptions, web surfing, office politics, and personal business that permeate the typical workday. Fewer official working hours helps squeeze the fat out of the typical workweek. Once everyone has less time to get their stuff done, they respect that time even more. People become stingy with their time and that’s a good thing. They don’t waste it on things that just don’t matter. When you have fewer hours you usually spend them more wisely.”

As we believe in this data and have experimented with working hours, here’s what we encourage every member of the team to do:

  • don’t work more than 40 hours per week
  • optimize your time to an extreme level
  • performance is based on objectives and KPIs, not working hours
  • nights, weekends and holidays are made to rest, not work
  • don’t feel guilty for leaving early
  • these guidelines for working hours apply to everyone, from intern to managers to founders

Building a startup is a marathon, (and a damn hard one) not a sprint. You have to be productive every week over several years, and working the right number of hours is key to reaching the finish line. Do you agree? Let me know what you think.

P.S. If you like our approach to working hours, feel free to apply, we’re always looking for great talents 😉

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