40-Hour Workweek For More Vacation Time

40-Hour Workweek Book (if it existed)While I’m a big fan of the widely read book “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Timothy Ferriss, it’s time to bring the work-life balance debate back down to earth. 99% of us are cannot earn a living by working a measly FOUR hours per week.  Maybe if we win the lottery. Plus if everybody worked just a few hours a week, our economy would probably collapse. Today’s jobs are designed for full-time work, so what can we change?

The reality for the overwhelming majority of workers not just in the U.S. but around the world is a 40 hour (or more) workweek. So why are so many of us putting in more than 40 hours? Is it the demands of our boss or the demands we put on ourselves? Can’t we all learn to be at work for 40 hours and not a minute longer? Quick answer: yes we can! 😉

Why Am I Working More Than 40-Hours?

Most full-time jobs are designed to be worked by one person and paid at a rate of 8 hours a day or 40 hours per week. If you are like many overworked Americans, you probably put in 45, 50, 55 or even more hours on a busy week. Is this your predicament? Is there anything you do to free up more time for life and more importantly, for vacation?

First give yourself permission to take a short break in your workday to think about the work-life-vacation balance issue. Ask yourself:

  1. How many hours you are giving to your job? Calculate your average work week not including commute or unpaid lunch breaks.
  2. What does it mean to be employed full-time in your line of work? Are you working more or less than average for your field?
  3. How many hours does it really take to get your job done? Are you really productive every hour or do you waste a lot of time?
  4. How can you take back your time (a term coined by TimeDay.org) for good? What are your next actions for a true 40-hour workweek?

Before you jump ahead, first ask yourself this one question. If you were able to stick to a 40-hour workweek, what would you do with all those extra hours?

You Can Be Successful Working Normal (only the ones you get paid for) Hours

Working 40 hours or 35 hours per week, whichever is considered “full-time” by your employment contract, is your right. If only it were enforceable in the U.S. we’d all benefit from more free time – time in which we’ll not just enjoy life more, but also spend more money which stimulates the economy.

> Aside: History of the 40-hour workweek and why it should be brought back (Salon)

Oh well, let’s get back to reality. We’ll save the debate about why the workday has not gotten shorter as predicted by the start of the 21st century in a separate blog post. Let’s just say that employees have been tricked into feeling guilty about not putting in extra hours (everybody else is!).

Working Around the Clock for SuccessFor most working people I talk to, who we are (our identity) is tied to our careers. We are what we do for a living and success on the job means that we are successful in life. Hmmmm… Is that the right set of priorities?  Think again!

We need to get past the notion that the only way to be successful in life is to be successful at work. Have pride in freeing up more time for family, travel, and enrichment (and not working more hours than the person sitting at the next desk).  When you finally reach retirement age will you regret working more hours than is necessary?

Can’t We All Just Work and Get Paid for 40 Hours?

It makes perfect sense why so many of us put in extra hours of work. It is the easy decision to make when you are already at work. Maybe you’re in the zone and just keep on working.  Alternative, do you often get the nagging feeling that you didn’t get anything done that day? Is there pressure to work hard or risk losing your job?

Not leaving the office doesn’t take a lot of decision-making energy. It takes more motivation to tell yourself that you’ve worked hard enough.  Tell yourself that you’ve put in the time you are being paid for, you haven’t left anyone in a lurch, and you have better things to do with your own time than to keep on working!

Hourly employees have it easier in one important way – paid overtime. An hour of work equals an hour of pay. If you have to put in more hours at your job, you should be getting paid overtime. All is not perfect though. If your boss is constantly asking or demanding that you work more than full-time, you end up in the same situation as salaried employees. At least you are getting paid for putting in more than 40 hours a week.

Work 8-Hours - Get Paid for 8 Hours

Regardless of whether you are paid by the hour or paid a fixed salary per week, the goal is the same – working full-time hours and not a minute longer. Every bit of overtime or extra hours you give up, the less time you have to enjoy life.

Would you rather spend an extra 2 hours at the office or would you prefer to take that time how you choose. I know you’ll agree that 2 hours at the park, theater, restaurant, museum, for a good cause, being artsy, or simply hanging out with family and friends is where you rather be.

Can You Really Have a 40-Hour Workweek?

Committing 40 hours of work (or 35) for 40 hours of pay is the result which we are all seeking. Are we kidding ourselves or can this work-life balance be put into practice?

First you have to believe that working more than 40 hours per week isn’t likely to lead to greater productivity at work. We get tired and our brains require a rest after 40 hours.  Inc magazine agrees as do countless other studies that “Working More Than 40 Hours a Week is Useless.”

Yes there are some jobs that require long working days but is yours one of those? Understandably working for a start-up company is grueling, but it is your own choice to work in that type of environment. Most jobs aren’t like that.

As I’ve said, some jobs by definition are not going to allow you to have a 40-hour or less workweek. Maybe you’ve chosen the wrong career if work-life-vacation balance is essential and you work at a startup, or as a doctor, lawyer, an investment banker for example. If you are stuck in that situation you have two choices… either 1. put up with it; 2. find an employer in the same field that believes in the benefits of time off; or 3. change careers completely.

Juggle Time for a 40-Hour Work WeekFor the rest of us, making a 40-hour workweek a reality is going to involve a plan.

Just like you negotiated for vacation and time-off benefits when you started your job (you did, didn’t you?), you need to negotiate for an 8 hour day. Here is the VacationCounts how-to advice on reducing overtime and making a 40-hour workweek happen for you!

8 Top Tips to Making Your Week a 40-Hour Workweek

1. Use time management techniques to make every hour of work fully productive

2. Pinpoint work responsibilities that are nonessential (80/20 rule) and eliminate or offload them

3. Get yourself excused from irrelevant meetings where your attendance will not be missing

4. Schedule activities for immediately after work so you are not tempted to stay past that time

5. Talk to your manager or HR representative for advice on how to avoid overtime work

6. Remind your co-workers at what time you are leaving work so they do not assume you are working late

7. Put up a motivational poster to remind yourself to work 40 hours per week (you’ve earned it!)

8. At the end of each workday (or week) write down your list of accomplishments so you never feel guilty about not getting enough done

Plan to Leave Work for a Bit of Vacation Time

At VacationCounts.com, the best part of working a fixed 40-hour full-time week is the opportunity to take more vacation time off. Remember that a vacation does not need to involve travel or even take you far from home. A few hours is all it takes to experience the vacation mindset.

Leap Overtime for Vacation TimeThink about what you can do if your working day did not get stretched beyond normal so frequently. Once you have a few ideas in your head about how to spend this free time (time you earned and deserve), you’ll feel less guilty about not working overtime.

It’s key to make a conscious decision to leave work on time and know what you are going to do with that time. Make a plan!

If you simply head home and waste away that extra hour or two, you are missing out on the opportunity for time off work. For that reason, plan your mini-vacation in advance.  Make a list of everything you want to do when you are not at the office and not at home taking care of life’s responsibilities.

You don’t have to make reservations or even stick to your plan. Just having an idea of what you want to do is enough. Whether you plan every vacation hour or point yourself toward spontaneity, your work-life-vacation balance will thank you.

Next Steps

Bookmark or save this article so you don’t forget the important lessons on how to have a 40-hour work week. Do you struggle with limiting your workday to 8 hours and plan to put these tips into practice? Or can you offer your over-worked colleagues personal advice on how to make this a reality?

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  • Jennifer says:

    A 40 hour workweek is something I’ve been trying to discipline myself toward in the last 6 months. My work life vacation balance has definitely gotten better during that time. The key thing I did was to notice the hours I was working. I add my arrival and departure times each day to my calendar and add them up at the end of the week to keep me honest.

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