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Embrace the Future by Ditching the 8-Hour Workday

Posted December 12, 2012

With all due respect to Henry Ford, the 8-hour workday he pioneered so long ago may have lost its relevance for many workers in today's information economy.

The 8-hour shift was a great thing for the factory workers, who up until then worked something like 12 hours a day back in the day.  But things have changed -- and a warm body in a chair at a computer for eight hours doesn't translate into increased productivity, and technology can unchain us from the workplace.

Mobile offices are sprouting up everywhere. Major companies allow telecommuting at least some of the time. For instance, 80 to 90 percent of Cisco and Accenture employees are  regular telecommuters, according to Fortune. Many tech experts are convinced we won’t even need offices as we know them in the future!

But the fact remains that, in many cases,  if you’re not at your desk during traditional working hours,  you risk people raising questions about your work ethic -- even though more than half of 777 respondents to a recent CareerBliss poll said the 8-hour workday is obsolete and all that matters is results.

Here are three reasons to consider ditching the 8-hour workday and thinking in terms of results, rather than time served.

1. Measure Energy, Not Hours   

“It's not just the number of hours we sit at a desk that determines the value we generate. It's the energy we bring to the hours we work,” says Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project in an article for 99u.

Schwartz is an all-around productivity mastermind and says that our mind can only spend energy as much as it receives. The only way to feed our minds is to take breaks and rest (full disclosure: I am partial to any study that favors nap-taking!).

He says it’s called the law of diminishing returns and offers this analogy: Bill is working 10 hours straight with only one hour break, and Nick paces himself by working 90-minute stretches with 15-minute breaks and one 45-minute lunch break. In his experiment, Nick actually got more done than Bill, even though Nick technically worked less than Bill (without the burnout). He was more rested, rejuvenated and alert during work.

2. Flexibility Means More Availability

For client service businesses, for instance, you generally have to be available and flexible throughout the day, according to Jennifer Finke, CEO of marketing firm Red Jeweled Media.

“For me, I can deliver great results to my clients, be flexible enough to take their calls or emails when they need me, but still take an hour off to read at my son's school in the middle of the day,” Finke says. “The key is to regularly communicate with my clients at all hours of the day - they know I'm generally free - and they don't even know or care if sitting at my desk.”

For these types of round-the-clock jobs, taking breaks at your leisure is more important than ever. Follow your natural productivity cycle, suggests Erin Falconer, editor in chief of PickingtheBrain.com.

“[The 8-hour workday] makes sense for physical labor and manufacturing work, but with information workers it doesn’t account for the mental energy cycle. … Nobody does their best work 5:30 p.m. after they’ve been sucking down coffee all day to stay awake,” she says in a blog post.

3. Everybody Works Differently

“My role as an employer is to set clear expectations of desired outcomes, then make sure my employees or outsourcers have the tools to do what they need to do,” says Colin Clapp, chief thinking officer at Accountable Business Progress.

The rest, for Clapp, is up to the employee to make sure they are not only efficient but also effective. “Efficiency may get the job done well, but it does not guarantee it was the right job to do!” Clapp says.

If your current work schedule doesn’t exactly mesh well with your personal style, consider discussing your schedule with your boss.  If your productivity peaks in the morning, can you come in a few hours earlier than everyone else? Even if that’s out of the question, above all, take breaks. Be clear about target goals and highlight your achievements.

And let’s take a lesson from Schwartz, and do away with the outdated mentality that underscores hours in your chair more than your energy, efficiency and effectiveness. After all, Ford would have wanted us to steer toward maximizing productivity in less time!

photo of Ritika Trikha

Ritika Trikha

Ritika Trikha is passionate about scoping out top-notch job advice in the career-sphere to help you find a job you love. Ritika has 99 problems but an unhappy career isn’t one! She’s a writer and an optimist (and Jay Z’s No. 1 fan). When Ritika’s not writing stellar advice articles, she’s obsessing over social media. Connect with her via CareerBliss Tumblr, Pinterest and Google+! Contact Ritika at ritika.trikha@careerbliss.com.

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