The Information Age represents the biggest business world shift since the Industrial Revolution. But despite the fact that family structures have also changed dramatically since the early 1900s, the standard eight-hour workday unfortunately remains entrenched.
The nine-to-five grind is great if the goal is to create a cult of workaholics. But the idea that workers can be productive being forced to endure 70 per cent of their week at work so they can enjoy the other 30 per cent seems to me to be a clear case of collective insanity.
Too many workers still get in their cars every morning and clog up the freeways trying to make it in before 9 a.m. Rush hour is then repeated at night as everyone lucky enough to avoid overtime fights each other to get home, hoping to relax for at least a few hours before hitting the sack. No wonder Mondays are dreaded. After all, while Wednesdays are known as “hump day,” actual relief doesn’t come until the weekend.
And that is why my company moved to a five-hour workday.
I run Tower, a San Diego-based company that sells stand-up paddleboards and other beach-lifestyle products, so a shorter eight-to-one workday that freed employees’ afternoons for extraordinary living was a natural fit for our brand. Simply put, the results have been astounding.
Our employees don’t get paid less, but I can now expect them to be twice as productive. Last year, we were named the fastest-growing private company in San Diego. This year, our nine-person team is on track to generate US$9 million in revenue. And by eliminating lunch hour, we actually only reduced work time by 120 minutes.
When I tell people my team only works five hours a day, the response is always, “That’s nice, but it won’t work for me.” The nine-to-five mindset is so engrained that most employers can’t imagine anything else. But you don’t have to run a paddleboard company to reduce hours by 30 per cent and still maintain productivity.
The five-hour day is about managing human energy more efficiently by working in bursts over a shorter period. Keep in mind that humans are not machines. So just because you see employees at their desk for eight hours doesn’t mean they are being productive. Even some of your best employees probably only accomplish two to three hours of actual work over the standard work day.
Having more time to pursue passions, nurture relationships and stay active also gives workers more energy emotionally and physically. That’s why studies show that happiness improves productivity.
Furthermore, a five-hour workday bakes in time management by forcing employees to prioritize high-value activities. As noted in Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, a book by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir, having less time to do work creates periods of heightened productivity called “focus dividends.”
Unfortunately, if a worker’s job looks the same as it did during the Industrial Revolution, a five-hour day may not work. Professions that require a 24-hour presence — such as law enforcement, emergency response and nursing — are also not good candidates for shorter shifts. Other exceptions include jobs that require working in unison with a large number of people, such as film production.
But for the vast majority of knowledge workers, clocking fewer hours that generate higher productivity is very manageable.
In my book, The Five-Hour Workday, I detail how to unlock productivity by reducing office time. Below are some quick tips on how to get started:
- Read The 4-Hour Workweek. This book by serial entrepreneur Timothy Ferriss, which discusses the 80/20 Rule or Pareto Principle, is required reading for anyone looking to adopt a shorter workday. Read it and then evaluate your employees’ workday to identify productive activities so you can eliminate the rest.
- Shift to a production mindset. People who dismiss the five-hour workday outright usually think it’s impossible because they measure work in hours rather than output. However, most knowledge workers aren’t paid by the hour. They’re paid a flat salary. To help my team shift to a production mindset, I rolled out a profit-sharing plan where 5 per cent of company profits are doled out to employees who demonstrate exemplary productivity.
- Nix the “always available” attitude. Understand that even in our instant-gratification society, being available all day isn’t necessary. You just need to communicate when you are available. One of my biggest objections to moving to a five-hour workday was reducing our customer service department’s hours. I worried that we’d lose 50 per cent of our business if we cut “open hours” in half. But then I realized we didn’t run a convenience store. Our customers bought new paddleboards maybe once every five years, so it really didn’t matter when we were open as long as our customers knew our hours. And after we made the switch, nothing fell apart. We still get roughly the same number of calls each day, while emails are still typically answered within hours.
- Use technology to boost efficiency. One of the unexpected benefits of the five-hour workday is that it exposed weaknesses in our company that had been hidden by man-hours. To allow our warehouse and customer service employees to work 30 per cent less (without growing our staff), we had to figure out how to serve the same number of customers in less time. The obvious solution was leveraging automation. In the warehouse, we reduced our packing and shipping time using software. In customer service, we overhauled our frequently asked questions page and created video tutorials to help customers help themselves. Once you put a time constraint on work, it forces you to consider how you can get technology to do the heavy lifting to increase your output. Make use of email auto responders, set up automatic trigger-based tasks, and learn to use keyboard macros.
- Don’t restrict yourself to a 25-hour week. My employees know they can always walk out of the office guilt-free. And when you can leave at 1 p.m. (to go surfing or pick your kids up from school or whatever), work is no longer as separate from home life. But top performers still put in the occasional 12-hour day because we run a business and everyone recognizes that there will be times when people need or want to put in an extra-long day.
Moving my company to a five-hour workday was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, but my employees are happier and more productive as a result, not to mention now seriously invested in the business.
It really is possible for many other businesses to make the leap, too. Shift your mindset and let go of the fear. When you stop mindlessly punching the clock, you’ll be amazed by the productivity and freedom that can be achieved.