Nothing is Productive for Eight Hours a Day

Or fun, for that matter. Sleep is the sole exception I will allow for. A necessity, actually, so not comparable to what I discuss here.

Turmuhr Riva

Take my hobbies – the things I do even though nobody pays me to do them – intrinsic motivation par excellence:

  • Reading. Best thing to happen to us since sleep, but 8h a day five days a week would eradicate all the fun. No time to reflect and process, and a very sore butt. Sure, larger piles of books read, but my overtasked brain would jumble them and probably miss many valuable life lessons. Not quite the point of a once pleasurable activity.
  • Writing. Makes me feel incredibly accomplished, but my brain is drained after much less than 8h. It’s a complex activity – imagination, vocabulary, structure, research, editing. Of course I can’t do all that effectively for eight hours.
  • Running. Great way of connecting with my body, but if I tried it for 8h a day, I’d collapse long before the end of day one. Even a one-hour “lunch break” would contribute little to reaching that arbitrary goal. It would be the antithesis of sustainability, too, because as my running history predicts, I’d be out for months due to injuries. Probably starting on day two.
  • Coffee and chatting with a friend. Best thing to happen to us since books, but if I tried that for 8h, I’d be left with nothing to say, a stomach ulcer, and an introvert hangover. That is the best-case scenario.

Now think about your more externally motivated tasks, such as what your employer pays you to do – how much of your workday is spent doing these productively – in the sense that they lead to the results your boss wants? How much of your workday is lost in endless email threads, pointless meetings, procrastination, mindless organizational tasks, never-ending distractions?

Having more than one task makes things no more fun, either – I used to have a job where I researched scientific literature, organized a database, coordinated email communication, plus miscellanea. But boy was I glad that that was not full-time. Sure, the tasks differed, but all required brain capacity and focus of an intensity that I believe to be unsustainable if required for 8h+ every day.

Obviously, there are many things we could try to do for eight hours a day – most people with jobs do that every day. But that doesn’t mean we actually do them – how often does the internet distract you from a work task? Nor does it mean we should. If I knew I could work fewer hours, the work-procrastination ratio would improve significantly, possibly even making up for the “lost” hours. I’d probably be sick less, making up for more “lost” hours.

Working 8h+ days is not making us more productive, it’s draining us. It keeps us in a web of obligations with little room for creativity. It keeps us unhappy. So we seek instant gratification as soon as we finally get to leave – and the marketers of conspicuous consumption rejoice.

If we had more free time, we’d know how to handle it: how to spend it productively in the sense of fulfillment. Imagine you had two extra hours Every. Single. Day. – you could exercise regularly, nap, read, go for a walk with a loved one, repair something broken, volunteer, evaluate your life…

Minimalism is a tool to achieve not having to participate in the 8h+ rat race – you need less, so you work less. Less money means less stuff, but more time adds more to your life: fun, friends, love, exercise, creativity, learning, growth, sleep, more of whatever it is that you could almost do for 8h a day.

And if we radiate enough happy minimalist leisure, maybe, just maybe, the world will follow suit…

PS: The Environmental and Financial Benefits of Using Something a Year Longer + How to Unplug + 33 Things to do Other Than Shopping.

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6 thoughts on “Nothing is Productive for Eight Hours a Day

  1. You are so right! Doing our fun things for 8 straight hours day in and day out would be horrible! I would say I “work” my 8 hour obligation but there are trips to the restroom, chats in the hallway with colleagues, internet distractions. I also teach middle school, so my day has many interruptions with them wanting to “share” all kinds of things. I tend to think of this as work because I am still having to remind them of appropriate time, place, and person to tell.

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  2. I totally LOVE this post! You are absolutely right – working for that many hours just made me want OUT! I had to laugh at your wish for 2 extra hours per day. Back when I was still working full time, I decided that my problem was that I just wasn’t organized enough. So I figured I’d make a list of all the things I needed to do every day, how much time it would reasonably take, and then all I’d have to do was make a better schedule and stick to it. Soooo… I made my list, and when I added up all the hours it came to 36!! No wonder I was exhausted!

    I’m really trying to work toward balance in my life these days. Even though I “work” from home and for myself these days, it’s still easy to get overwhelmed – 36 minus 8 is still 28 hours per day after all! My aim is to work some, play some, clean some, relax some etc every day. It’s still a challenge though!

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  3. An idea worth pondering Sofia! You are quite right. I couldn’t even indulge my passions for eight hours at a time. And I certainly couldn’t sustain what I consider work for that long.

    The point you make about needing less is a crucial one. It takes conscious discipline to ask oneself ‘do I need that or do I just want that?’ Indeed, to even be able to identity the difference between needs and wants takes effort.

    But having made a practice of this I find it’s liberating. The unexpected benefit is a greater appreciation of what I do have. I’m empowered by the choice.

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