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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.