Internet Productivity Self Improvement

How Just 4 Steps Can Help You Enjoy a 5-Hour Work Day

Rob Nightingale 11-08-2016

It’s pretty rare to meet someone who wishes they could work more.


I’m guessing you’re not one of those people either. In fact, a traditional 8-hour work day is hugely outdated and rarely helps productivity compared to a shorter workday. Provided you’re smart with your time.

Provided you’re smart with your time.

With that in mind, here’s why spending long hours on work isn’t necessary, and how you can use some proven methods and tools to help you achieve a 5-hour work day.

The Curse of the Eight-Hour Work Day

When the Industrial Revolution was in full swing during the 19th Century, 12+ hour workdays were the norm. This kept the factory wheels turning, and productivity growing.

8 Hours Labour


It wasn’t until some time later that activists such as Robert Owen campaigned heavily for a more humane work schedule. His slogan was:

“Eight hours’ labor, eight hours’ recreation, eight hours’ rest”.

This was a dream for most workers. But when other organizations saw the success being achieved by Henry Ford after he introduced an eight-hour workday to his factories in 1926, others followed suit.

Six years later, social critic and political activist Bertrand Russell penned his famous essay, In Praise of Idleness. He argued that,

“If the ordinary wage-earner worked four hours a day, there would be enough for everybody and no unemployment — assuming a very moderate amount of sensible organization”.

Leading economist of the times, John Maynard Keynes more scientifically echoed Russell’s thoughts in a 1930 essay titled Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren. In that essay, Keynes hoped that due to technological progress, by 2030, we would have to work no more than 15 hours per week.


Today We Work 8.9 Hours Per Day

In reality, according to the OECD, the average American now spends 34.4 hours per week at work. This is an average of full time and part-time workers. The real figure for full-time workers is more likely to be 44.5 hours (8.9 hours per day), as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Ironically, over the past few decades, we’ve seen productivity continually increasing. But our workdays have stayed largely the same length. This disconnect between hours worked and productivity achieved is shown by the chart below (OECD).

Work Day vs Productivity

What we’re seeing here is that productivity (GDP per hour worked) decreases as the number of hours worked increases. This is a point that Adam Smith made clear in On The Wages of Labour way back in 1776.


It’s also a point that’s been consistently proven correct by people implementing ideas found in Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Work Week. When energy is focused on what we do, rather than how long we spend on it, time can be leveraged for disproportionate results. Results that may enable us to break free of the 9–5, and actually achieve a five-hour work day (or less).

“Focus on being productive instead of busy.” (Tim Ferriss)

This is particularly useful to the millions of knowledge workers whose apparent work can expand to easily fill eight hours. But, it may not be practical for people who are paid to literally be present for a certain number of hours (nurses, police officers, etc.).

Get to a 5 Hour Work Day

If you’re working hours are 9–5, reducing this to five hours per day is a 37.5% reduction. That means for every hour you spend at work, you need to eliminate 22.5 minutes, while still completing your essential tasks to a high standard.

Germany manages to be more productive than the U.S while working less, so this shouldn’t be too hard, right?


A good heuristic for working toward this goal is TERA: Tracking, elimination, reduction, and automation. This is an evolution of Ferriss’ DEAL heuristic (definition, elimination, automation, liberation)

Step 1: Tracking

Before you can understand where to save time, you first need to know how your time is being spent. Spend at least a week tracking any time you spend working. Note what you were doing, and how long it takes.


To do this manually, use a free Excel spreadsheet or Google spreadsheet. This is the method I would recommend as you’re able to much more accurately categorize your tasks.

Alternatively, use a cross-platform tool like RescueTime to automatically track how long you spend on specific apps and websites (other time tracking tools are available for Windows How to Stop Wasting So Much Time by Tracking Your Windows Usage Do you actually know how much time you waste on your computer? Using some free tools, you can account for every second squandered on Facebook and the like; here's how. Read More and for Mac The Best Time Tracking Software for Mac OS X Where does the time go? Find out with these Mac time trackers. Read More ).

Once you’ve built a picture of how your time is being spent, you’ll start to notice inefficiencies. In most cases, you’ll be shocked by how little time you’re actually working.

If you want to take your tracking a step further, follow this method to figure out which hours of the day you’re most productive Discover Your Most Productive Hours with This Simple Method Build your perfect workday around your energy levels. This simple Excel spreadsheet and a few seconds of work each day could help you change your habits and get more done. Read More and focused, and plan your days around your findings.

Step 2: Elimination

Now you have a pretty detailed picture of how your workdays are being spent, there are probably a number of things in your routine that don’t need to be there. When you’re trying to save three hours per day, there’s no room to be precious.

If you’re in the fortunate position to leave work once your day’s work is done (if you’re self-employed, huzzah! If not, talk to your manager about this), start to ruthlessly go through your time tracking sheet, removing anything that doesn’t need to be there.

If you’re in work for only 5 hours, do you really need that lunch break? 45–60 minutes saved.


If you’re checking email far too often, bring in some self-discipline, and set strict rules for your inbox. We’ve covered avoiding email with no negative results How to Delete Your Email App with No Negative Results Ban email from your life and get more done. Is it a practical solution to delete the email app from your device and not live in the inbox anymore? Read More in detail. Use auto-responders, or place a note in your signature letting people know you only check email a couple of times per day. If it’s urgent, make people call you.

Many people will also see their tasks scattered throughout the day. Calls are taken at all hours, and you are sporadically reacting to things landing on your desk. To combat this, use time-blocking Time Blocking -- The Secret Weapon For Better Focus Are you looking for a more efficient way to organise your work-days? Try Time Blocking. This time management tactic can help keep you on track while keeping distractions, procrastination, and unproductive multitasking at bay. Read More . This is where you batch similar tasks together, helping you maintain focus throughout the day.

If reading is part of your job, squeeze it all into a 30-minute window.

If people want to schedule a call, let them know you only take calls between 1–2pm.

Set periods of uninterrupted time to focus on an important project with no distractions. Wear headphones to deter your colleagues from interrupting you.

And sometimes you’ll get distracted by sites like Facebook or Reddit. Use tools like Stay Focusd (Chrome), Leechblock [No Longer Available] (Firefox), or ColdTurkey (Windows) to block these while you’re at work. In fact, why not turn your entire computer into a distraction free machine? How to Get a Distraction-Free Computer in 10 Easy Steps Your attention is consumed by distractions. Remove them to increase your focus and productivity. We show you the most common computer-related time suckers and how to disable or block them. Read More

Step 3: Reduction

You’ve now removed the superfluous tasks that were unnecessarily forcing you to spend longer in work than you needed to. Out of the remaining tasks, there’s still some wasted time.


For instance, if your calls average 15 minutes in length, try to get these down to 10 minutes. This can usually be done by letting the person you’re chatting with know at the start of the call that you need to be off the phone in 10 minutes. It’s that simple. This introduces a sense of scarcity, and therefore the conversation will be more efficient.

If your meetings drag on for too long, send these rules for efficient meetings Fed Up Of Inefficient Meetings? Send These 8 Rules To Your Boss If a meeting is well organised, there's no reason it can't enhance productivity, sense of purpose, and morale. Here are some rules to follow for effective meetings. Read More to your manager. You could even send them anonymously.

When it comes to email, stay two steps ahead of your recipient, so you can reduce the number of emails you have to get through. In other words, anticipate their reply, and try to cover all bases in your original email. This means you will send slightly longer emails, but they will contain more detail, avoiding the annoying, alternative back and forth approach.

Step 4: Automation

Finally, take a look at your remaining tasks and figure out which parts of these can be automated.


On the extreme end of the spectrum, you could start outsourcing How To Become Super-Productive By Outsourcing Your Day-To-Day Tasks Get more done in a day. By learning what you can outsource, plus a few 'best practice' tips for delegating your day-to-day chores, you too can become super-productive. Read More unskilled but necessary tasks (only advisable if you’re self-employed). These tasks could include filtering email, arranging appointments, research, data entry, etc.

If there are routine tasks you need to perform over and over again, see if these can be at least partly automated. If you perform these tasks in Excel, learn how to create Excel macros 4 Mistakes to Avoid When Programming Excel Macros With VBA Simple code is vital for Microsoft Excel power users. But how can you make or safely exit a for loop using VBA in Excel? Read More to perform these tasks for you. If you use a range of web apps, see if you can connect those apps with IFTTT or Zapier so you no longer have to perform them yourself.

Templates are also a great way to automate parts of your duties. Whether they’re Evernote templates How 6 Simple Evernote Templates Boost My Daily Productivity Create custom templates in Evernote. With these templates, you can boost your productivity at work and in your personal life. Let's see how you can make your own custom Evernote templates quickly. Read More , Google Drive templates 24 Google Docs Templates That Will Make Your Life Easier These time-saving Google Docs templates will help you finish your documents instead of struggling to put them together. Read More , or Office templates Use Microsoft Office Templates to Captivate Your Audience & Efficiently Deliver Information A template is like a virtual billboard, visually reinforcing text or data. Here we offer a basic overview of Microsoft Office templates and your options. Read More , each of these will allow you to dive into your main duties without wasting time on formatting documents.

You can even save time by learning helpful keyboard shortcuts for your most-used programs. We’ve created lists of some of the most productivity-enhancing shortcuts for Outlook 25+ Outlook Keyboard Shortcuts to Make You More Productive Outlook is one of the most popular desktop email clients in use today. If you're one of those many Outlook users, the following keyboard shortcuts are sure to save you lots of time. Read More , Excel 35 Everyday Microsoft Excel Keyboard Shortcuts for Windows & Mac Keyboard shortcuts can save you a lot of time! Use these Microsoft Excel shortcuts to speed up working with spreadsheets on Windows and Mac. Read More , and any web browser 32 Keyboard Shortcuts to Speed up Your Workflow in Any Browser Browsing faster is not an elusive goal, nor does it need drastic changes to your workflow. Adopting a few simple new habits like keyboard shortcuts should do the trick. Here's how. Read More . Every little helps, after all.

Enjoying an Extra 3 Hours Per Day

Undoubtedly some of you reading this post will claim that even if you saved three hours per day, you still couldn’t reduce your work day to five hours. Your manager would simply flood you with more tasks. In that case, negotiate a pay rise! You can thank me later.


But for many people, whether you work flexi-time, are self-employed, or have a more understanding manager, utilizing these tools and strategies will be able to save you a ton of time.

As quoted earlier, with “very moderate amount of sensible organization”, you should be able to complete your daily tasks in a fraction of the time it’s been taking you up to now. This not only includes removing, reducing, and automating tasks as above, but also spending some time planning how you need to spend your time each week How to Prepare for Your Perfect Day With Free Apps The perfect day is when you feel energized and breeze through your To-Do list with time and energy to spare. We show you the apps that can help you get into the zone. Read More in order to minimize time spent in the office.

If you’re still dubious, check out how Sweden introduced a 6-hour work day during 2016, and how this $9 million per year company introduced a 5-hour work day.

By how much do you think you could reduce your workday using the information in this article?

Image Credit: 20150613_woc538_0 via The Economist, girl using smart phone by Maridav via Shutterstock, laying on the bench by Marjan Apostolovic via Shutterstock

Related topics: Productivity, Time Management.

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  1. chutipong roobklom
    August 23, 2016 at 1:23 am


  2. Bryan Wolfe
    August 22, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    Interesting list, thanks.

  3. Anonymous
    August 14, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    OTOH when just before previous president elections in Russia one of liberal candidates offered pretty "liberal" busyness(-owner)-friendly project of 'allowing 60 h. workweek' (it is not that overtime is not allowed by russian law , it's just by law overtime hourly rate basically must be double of normal 40 h. a week one, while he offered to make it legal to be written in contracts for set monthly wage ) - his already hald-dead rating plummeted throught the bottom as hired workers (i.e. majority of voters) rightfully feared they'll be scr..ed by owners (who they feared would offer only those 60hr job contracts - and definitely for less money than 40h plus 20h overtime).

    As for banks and basic infrastructure - well, that's why working in shifts was invented in first place.

    • Rob Nightingale
      August 21, 2016 at 4:12 pm

      I'm not quite sure how this relates to the article, Dmitriy?

  4. lordmogul
    August 14, 2016 at 11:27 am

    Still doesn't help if you are employeed and have to work those 8 hrs a day.

    • Rob Nightingale
      August 21, 2016 at 4:10 pm

      True. I did mention that in the article... but the same tips could be used to help you get more work done in a shorter space of time.

  5. Anonymous
    August 11, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    "check out how Sweden introduced a 6-hour work day during 2016"

    Introduced ? A nice word for state-mandated ? I personally don't know the situation. But state mandated associations violate our civil right to freedom of association and are inherently involuntray.

    I'm not sure I saw it mentioned, but productivity also involves serving others which may not be reduce-able in hours without more workers.

    No one wants a very "productive " bank that is open just 3 hours a day. I question how productive it really is in those situations.

    • Rob Nightingale
      August 21, 2016 at 4:10 pm

      Hi Howard.