Why You Shouldn’t Work 9 to 5

9 to 5

It’s 7PM on a Monday night.

You have everything open from Facebook to TechCrunch on your browser tabs, except for the work you actually need to get done.
You return to your lists of to-do’s for the day only to realize that you didn’t finish a single task since 1PM.
Let’s face it, we’ve all been there.

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Why the 9 to 5?

The average American today works 8.8 hours per day (Bureau of Labor Statistics), but how effective are we really working 8 hours per day?
Before we dig in, I decided to do some background research about how the 9 to 5 came to be in the first place.
The answer comes from a man named Robert Owens, who started a campaign during the Industrial Revolution. Back then, 14-hour days were the norm in order to maximize the output of the companies’ factories. Owens bravely advocated the notion that people should not be working for more than 8-hours per day.

His famous slogan was:

“Eight hours labour. Eight hours recreation. Eight hours rest.”
-Robert Owens

The 888 rule soon became the standard when Ford implemented the 8-hour day with Ford Motors Company in 1914.
Despite the doubts he faced, the results were astonishing.

“With fewer hours worked by the employees and double the pay, Ford managed to increase his profit margins by two-folds. This encouraged other companies to adopt the shorter, eight hour work day as a standard for their employees.”

That’s right. There’s no scientific or a well-thought out explanation of why we work 8 hours per day.
It’s simply a standard that has been passed on over a century ago, used to run factories most efficiently.

Work Smarter. Not Longer.

Time has become a measure for productivity because it’s an easy metric to measure. We constantly try to jam in more hours during the day because we feel like we accomplished something by the end.
But time is a vanity metric when it comes to measuring productivity.

In today’s creative economy, how long we work per day isn’t what is important. It’s what you do with the time you have.
According to Sara Robinson, referring to various studies done by businesses, universities, and industry associations:
“On average, you get no more widgets out of a 10-hour day than you do out of an eight-hour day… [In fact], every hour you work beyond 40 actually makes you less effective and productive over both the short and the long haul”

Long hours, in other words, are often more about proving something to ourselves than actually getting stuff done.

Doing less, but getting more.

I’ve been on the hunt for ways to get more done during my day.
After experimenting with various tips and tricks, here are 5 things that’s been working for me:

  1. List your 3 most important tasks. Before you leave the office, list 3 tasks for the next day that will be the most impactful to what you are working on. Tip: If you already have a to-do-list, pick the task that is on the bottom of your list or the one that you have been avoiding the longest, and put it on the top.
  2. Work in 90-minute intervals, then take breaks. Rather than looking at your day as a 6 or 8-hour work day, break your day up into three or four 90-minute chunks (1 task per 90-minute interval). Take breaks in between to go stretch, run, flirt — whatever you need to get your mind off work for a period of time.
  3. Give yourself less time. Apply the Parkinson’s Law for everything you do during the day. As Tim Ferris puts it, “a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted to complete it.”Basically, if you have 8 hours to do something, you’ll take all 8 hours for something that can be done in less time.
  4. Branch similar tasks together. Whether it’s replying to e-mails, making phone calls, or sending out tweets, do them in bunches. Multi-tasking is the devil, and you do not want to waste your mental energy going back and forth on different tasks.
  5. Ask for help. Emphasize what you’re good at, but don’t waste time trying to correct weaknesses. If you’re stuck on something, take 5 seconds to ask a neighbour or phone up a friend who may know the answer. Start leveraging your network, and it could save you hours of stress and time.

I’ve personally felt much happier after implementing these few tricks, and as a result it has only improved the work I do in the office.

Hope this article was helpful in reconsidering the 9 to 5 worklife. I’d love to know how it turns out for you.

Feel free to recommend it to anyone that you think would find this useful.


  • Priyanka Singh
    I read a book titled, "Power of Less" by Leo Babauta a few years ago that reminds of #1. I list 3 MIT (most important tasks) for the day and knock each one out, and it seems to set direction for me. I've also applied #3, Parkinson's Law. But what really helps is the Pomodoro technique, ever tried it? I'm sure you must have heard of it. These are all great tactics! What's been working for me is pure, undistilled focus. Lately, whatever I am working on, I set the intention to make that one task my "world". I find myself trailing off quite a bit, but perhaps you may agree, the more you practice your focus muscle the stronger it gets.
    • No I haven't. Can you tell me more about the Pomodoro technique?
      • Hi Sean. I apologize I didn't reply but I didn't see this until now. Can you believe that I'm on the verge of being self-employed? All thank to many people, including you. The Pomodoro technique was invented by an Italian man (unsure what his name is) who purchased a kitchen timer that looked like a tomato. He set the time for 25 minutes at a time and focused completely on one task for that time. When the timer rang, he would it again. Essentially, you set 25 minute intervals and focus on your work. Of course it's the practice that matters, not the tomato timer. I just use an app on my iPhone. It's great. It's releases resistance. You're less likely to think about the difficulty of the task and just entrench yourself into doing it. It's an awesome way to get into flow of life, in my opinion. :-) Cheers! --Priyanka
      • bespectacledreader
        The pomodoro technique allows you to work for 25 minutes followed by a 5 minute break. I've found it helps me to focus and know I can come back to a difficult task after resting my brain, stretching my legs and it really works! It means for every 6o mins I work hard for 50 and let my mind actively rest for 10 minutes. There's also a pomodoro app for mac and I'm sure there's one for PC, it helps for work and home life!
  • Folwart
    “On average, you get no more widgets out of a 10-hour day than you do out of an eight-hour day… [In fact], every hour you work beyond 40 actually makes you less effective and productive over both the short and the long haul” So 40 is the magic number for everyone, that's where the line is drawn? I have doubts that it's as tidy as that. I'd imagine it varies from person to person and the average is probably not 40 hours. I read some information that suggested we have somewhere around 4 to 6 hours of our highest productivity, that's where most of the work gets the done. If one worked every day that would land around 28 to 42 hours per week, which averages out to 35 hours. A technicality, but the message is essentially the same. There's a point for us all when we're just not as effective and productive, and it's rather tedious.
  • I like the valuable info you provide to your articles. I will bookmark your blog and test again right here frequently. I'm fairly sure I'll learn many new stuff proper here! Best of luck for the following!
  • Abigail Renee Thorpe
    Great article sean! I'm not sure if you got my invite, but I sent you one via 10k coffees. If you would have the time to chat even via email, that'd be so awesome. Thanks! Ps, loving the newsletters.
    • Hi Abigail, I don't think I have or it might be in my spam folder. Could you send me an email at sean@thegrowthlist.com? Looking forward to it!
  • Louis Lee
    I disagree with the 8 hour shift, 5 days per week. I used to do it, and 8 hours goes by way too quickly. I also don't think the trade of 2 days off for 5 days working is great. I currently work 10 hour shifts, which isn't bad at all. 2 hours is not a lot of time, but to make your shift an extra 2 hours long, you won't be as rushed to get work done so you can work at a slow, steady rate. Plus, I get a 3 day weekend every week! I still work 40 hours per week, but the difference is I have an easier workshift as well as a longer weekend to relax. 4 days of work for 3 days off is a much better balance than 5 to 2
    • Sean Kim
      3-day weekend... let's trade jobs!
  • kb100
    I typically work 9 to 5 (read as 9:15 to 4:50), but actually take a one hour lunch break. I never get why anyone would want to spend a full 8 hours inside a stuffy office, five days a week, never leaving during the work day to refresh their body and mind. As it is, quantitatively, I probably total 28 hours of actual work per week. Maybe that is even a stretch. The only time I work more than that is when I'm working on something really juicy. I can tell you, there are few that can match my productivity, yet I don't believe I'm working that hard. I can only assume either I am that much keener because I take ample breaks, or others are that less capable. I like to believe the latter is true, but who really knows. Thanks for mentioning that hours worked is a "vanity metric". The poor curmudgeons working 45+ hours a week are busting to break-through to higher positions, but the odds are stacked full stop against them. Only one may make it, or they all will get outpaced by an external candidate.
  • abhinandan singh
    Amazing and insightful piece of article.Worth spreading guys.:)
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