Why the four-hour workday might be just right


The 9-to-5 workday may be a thing of the past but for contemporary knowledge workers, the answer might not be to work more but actually to work less – specifically for 4 hours a day.

That’s the idea that Oliver Burkeman explores in a recent Guardian column, discussing Alex Pang’s book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less which makes the case for getting more done via concentrated periods of focus over the course of the day.

Pang cites examples ranging from Charles Darwin and Thomas Jefferson to writers John le Carré, Leonard Woolf and Alice Munro, all of whom worked for several short periods during the day, coming to a total of just 4 hours. To add rigour to anecdote, Pang includes the findings of K. Anders Ericsson (the psychology professor whose work studying violinists was the basis of the “10,000-hour rule”), which also supports the principle.

While lawyers, computer engineers, scientists and writers all face different challenges in the workday, the argument goes that roles that require creativity also require rest. If that downtime isn’t there, it’ll become a case of diminishing returns and will quickly lead to exhaustion. Furthermore, it has been suggested that the “workday” of ancient hunter-gatherer might have only lasted three to five hours – indicating that a short working day may not be so alien to us.

Let’s hear it for the four-hour working day

Image: Unsplash/Nik MacMillan