When Henry Ford set the 40hour work week precedent in the 1920’s the math made sense. The automotive plants needed to run 24 hours a day to keep up with demand and 12hour shifts were too long for anyone, given the manual labor (work that is physically demanding) he expected from his employees; Notwithstanding the fact that during the industrial revolution there didn’t exist the many distractions of modern day life, dividing the workday up into three equal, 8hour parts made good sense.

Any compensation plan based solely on the number of hours worked is wedded to this idea: Wedded to the idea that no individual can work faster or more efficiently than the worker in front of him, and that everyone is or isn’t distracted throughout the day for the same amount of time. Although this may be true in the context of the assembly line (where you quite literally are waiting on the person in front – or behind you – as it were), we can all agree that no two individuals produce the same quality of work at the same pace given the same duration of time.

There is however, a real and measurable difference between cognitive work and physically demanding work. As you would expect, workers performing physically demanding tasks get fatigued and lose their attentiveness the longer the workday is extended. When you look at cognitive work however, not only is there no ‘perceived’ difference in workload with a 12hour vs. 7hour workday, but subjects actually perform better on tasks as they work more hours (Macdonald, Bendak, 2000)! Additionally, as far as scores on ‘discomfort’ are concerned, they are not significantly different for cognitive work from a 7hour to a 12hour workday either.

Speaking of 40hours per week, the average American (although it varies by age group as you would except) watches between 37-40hours per week of television! Even if you are on the low end, chances are you spend an additional 7 hours per week surfing the web.

When you look at the average individual’s priorities in any given week and couple it with Cyberslacking (see also ‘Goldbricking’), which according to Salary.com is the leading source of wasted time on the job, the results are even more shocking. A 2007 survey found that companies stand to lose 435 million dollars a week (yes, that’s per week) during football season from employees playing fantasy football alone!

The majority of employees report spending between 2-5 hours per week surfing the web or otherwise Cyberslacking (think smartphones too). There are many reasons given as to why this occurs, but ultimately they are all rationalizations for the pre-existing behavior, behavior that is counterproductive in the workplace and costly for employers.

Think about that for a minute, with a 40hour a week schedule, the average person is only working 35-38hours per week!

A 40 hour work week is a 20th century idea, that’s the point I’m looking to make. If you are a salary or commission employee ask yourself the following question. Do I only work 40hours a week? If the answer is yes, are you satisfied with your results, is there nothing more you would like to accomplish?

This blog is not an attempt to discredit every employee who works 40hours per week; certainly most people are hard-working individuals which is how they got to where they are. The idea rather, is to bring attention to priorities and distractions. The goal is to shed light on what makes one individual more productive than the next, more profitable than the next, more successful than the next. Working more hours is only a piece of the puzzle. Distractions are another. If your job dictates that you can only work 40hours a week, then spend more energy focusing on reducing distractions and making the most of your time. If, on the other hand, you can work more than 40hours a week, then you should. In doing so, focus equally on reducing distractions and increasing your time investment, and get more out by putting more in.

Here’s what I hold to be true and I think my fellow cohorts at American Profit Recovery would agree. If you want to make more, then work more. If you want to be seen as a leader among your peers, then work harder. If you want to both make more and have the leadership title, then work more and work harder while you work more.

Parting words: Be grateful for what you earn and have the ambition to accomplish more. Revel in your achievements, but dismiss the demon of complacency that is comfort.

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security…all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.”    – Jon Krakauer