How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man? According to Douglas Adams, the answer is 42. This quirky answer from a science fiction novel caught the imagination of readers familiar with this Bob Dylan song. It’s much like the attention triggered by a recent statement on working 70 hours a week. So how many hours should you really work? Unlike Adams’s response, there are multiple answers from people who have actually put in such work, from an eye-popping four hours a week, to an eye-watering 100 hours. Which one is yours?
70 hours a week
This became a hot topic when N.R. Narayana Murthy, the well-respected Founder of Infosys, suggested it as a work ethic. That’s 10-14 hours a day, 5-7 days a week. Sounds tough? Yet, we are surrounded by people who routinely put in these hours. The cab driver, who picked you up at the airport, may nap in the parking lot and then work long days to clear his car’s EMI. He may, perhaps, deploy a second cab while feeding many mouths at home. Likewise for the e-commerce delivery boy, who gets paid per package and is juggling part-time graduation. Your colleague is, perhaps, moonlighting as a part-time accountant, or teaching on weekends, or completing online tasks, or working in the family business. Those 60-70 hours add up quickly if you are on an hourly rate, or work on an outcome basis, like an electrician, a farmer, small shop-keeper, startup founder or self-employed professional. Time is a resource that you deploy for income whether out of necessity or willingly. If this does not work for you, look to leverage skills or money instead.
4 hours a week
Made famous by Timothy Ferriss in his best-selling book, The 4-Hour Workweek, the author shares ideas from his own entrepreneurial experiences. He suggests designing your lifestyle to free up time and location. Identify current strengths. Define the income levels required and plan to generate cash in lesser time. Apply Pareto’s 80-20 principle to focus on the most productive actions. Eliminate, or delegate, and automate the rest. Remove time wasters, especially news and media consumption. Apply Parkinson’s law to boost productivity by limiting the time you allocate to each task. You can make this work by automating / delegating as a business owner, or as a creator/ blogger, or as an accomplished speaker or consultant, or as an investor putting your money to work. Before you do this, like Ferriss, you need to first build a business or investment to automate, or grow your skills as a creator or consultant.
48 hours a week
The Factories Act, and various Shops and Establishment Acts, limit weekly hours to 48, with a 10-and-a-half-hour daily working period, inclusive of break. Meanwhile, an ILO study says Indians are working 47.7 hours on an average every week. Traditional office roles, factorybased roles, and most roles in government, public and private limited companies lie here. These jobs work best when you need a secure monthly income, predictable working hours, and already have the skills required. If you are in another category and want this life, the straight path is to acquire skills and certification that will get you hired. Upskilling in your domain and seeking new skills to switch careers are the two options to explore.
100 hours a week
This was a topic for public debate in 2021, when complaints of 100-hour work week for associates surfaced from a top Wall Street investment bank. This industry is extremely demanding and pays very well to the select few who make it through tight competition and burnout triggering hours. There are other professions, too, where you will work 80-100 hours, or be available 24×7. Emergency workers, surgeons, military personnel on the borders, sailors on ship, fishermen on boats, and security guards in your building working a full shift in a second job are all doing it out of necessity or industry demands. Unpaid roles with a similar time commitment include the sportsperson, artist and entrepreneur aspiring for greatness and financial success in the least possible number of years. Think Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule of correct practice to achieve true expertise in any domain. If you are a 100-hour person, figure out nutrition, exercise and sleep to save yourself from breakdowns.
4-6 hour workday
There are other experiments in the world of work. One is the 9/80 schedule, where you work a total of 80 hours in two weeks, but complete these in nine working days. Simply put, every alternate Friday is a holiday, where your employer and you have created the flexibility of working longer hours on nine days to free up one Friday every two weeks. Consider it like a step towards a four-day week.
Another innovation is a 4-6 hour work day from the principle that you can focus and produce the same outcome in fewer hours without collateral damage in the form of reduced collaboration, communication or customer service. Here, the hourly rate of payment goes up from higher hourly productivity. If this sounds attractive, discuss the possibility with your employer. Alternatively, if your life circumstances do not allow you to work eight hours a day, then seek part time or hourly employment for four hours daily.
No single formula from the above works best for everyone. Also, no single path is meant for you throughout your professional life. In your early stages, you might work more hours to build up savings or study and work without pay to acquire skills. Elsewhere, you may prioritise time and independence, and leverage skills and investments instead. Find a schedule that works today, along with a good employer and co-workers. Then adapt and adjust, as needed, to achieve more from work and enjoy more in life.
MANAGE YOUR ENERGY, NOT TIME
How well you take care of your body makes a world of difference to your energy and the way you deal with work and life. To gain physical energy, plan out your sleep and rest, diet and nutrition, as well as your exercise schedule. Use an annual medical check-up to make sure there are no lurking health issues.
This is the quality of your energy and it affects how you feel and deal with others and yourself. You enhance emotional energy by investing in positive emotions, including gratitude and optimism, and manage negative ones, including anger and grief. Learn to express emotions appropriately and seek professional support, if needed.
This is about how well you use your cognitive or mental faculties, and depends on your ability to focus and prioritise. To enhance mental energy, seek new learning and skills, keep yourself challenged and improve your problem-solving abilities. Reduce distractions, media overload and multi-tasking.
This is about direction and purpose. To improve this, identify your values and goals. Use this to find meaning and purpose in the work that you do and align it with your professional goals. Develop the habit of mindfulness or meditation and take time to reflect. Aspire for authenticity in all your pursuits.
(THE WRITER IS FOUNDER & CEO, SALARYNEXT.COM, A JOB LOSS ASSURANCE COMPANY.)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)