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What is the 40 hour week lifestyle actually doing to you?


I came across a very interesting article (via BoingBoing), which although not new, I’d not seen before. It’s called Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed by David Cain and it touches on a lot of the things that I’ve experienced for myself since quitting the rat race.

Particularly striking was Cain’s pithy insight into what the effect of the 40 hour(+) work week lifestyle actually is on the people who live and breathe it:

But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.

We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.

Buying shit keeps the western world turning, so that’s why the system wants to keep you strapped to your cubicle chair.

Another interesting factoid is that “the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours”. This does not surprise me in the slightest, and it has nothing to do with Facebook – that has just made procrastination easier. That’s where The Four Hour Workweek encourages people to start – start actually doing your three hours of work in three hours and dedicate the remainder to executing your plans for financial independence.

When I posted this today on Facebook, I got an interesting comment from someone who asserts that they like the structure that their 40 hour week gives them – and that’s fair enough. But regardless of whether you enjoy it or not, being aware of what the effects on your own life might be – and if not on you, then those around you, your family and coworkers – must surely pay.

Personally I’m pretty happy with my decision to opt out of that particular norm.


  1. It’s true. I’ve recently turned my back on the exhausting and stressful life of working for someone else, and one of the key things you learn very quickly is that nobody in an office actually works. If you crammed that three hours into an actual three hours, then you’ve earned your crust and should be able to leave.

    However, the industry that I was in also makes you realise that these places continually create things that “require” attention. They’re like bushfires that create their own thunderstorms. If things worked properly to start with, there would be no storms and certainly no fires. And it very often comes back to working mindfully and efficiently and knowing where you’re going.