Why Sweden is thinning down the work week
Who fancies moving to Sweden? Those crazy Scandinavians have been trialling a six-hour work day, and early indicators suggest that employees have more energy to complete the same tasks in less time and are happier as a result, further boosting productivity.
Let’s be honest. How many of us are at the top of our game for long stretches in the office? Answer: we’re not. Remember those exhausting three-hour exams at university? That’s concentration. And it’s not possible for indefinite periods. What most of us do is work in unregulated bursts, punctuated by web browsing, unfocussed meetings and non-essential emails. This doesn’t drive businesses forward; it fills in time while summoning the energy to focus properly again.
The Swedish experiment only confirms what behavioural studies have long suggested: you’d be far better having a strict routine, doing a smaller number of important, clearly defined tasks, and then getting the hell away from your desk to spend time with the kids or see what midweek sunshine actually looks like.
Who made these rules anyway? (That’s a rhetorical question; I just browsed the internet to find out). A Victorian social reformer named Robert Owen coined the slogan, “eight hours’ labour, eight hours’ recreation, eight hours’ rest.” Fair enough, right? What he didn’t factor in was lengthy commutes, out-of-office messages and the fact that most of us stay way past 5pm.
Another question: how can it be that everyone’s job takes 40-hours a week to complete? That just has to be an arbitrary calculation proving Parkinson’s Law: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Tim Ferris has made a career of challenging these false constructs on the fourhourworkweek.com. He’s one of a groundswell of people who suggest tricks to improve productivity, cut non-essential tasks, outsource as many tasks as possible, and create large uninterrupted blocks of time so your brain can declutter, think and innovate. Ferris calls this the “maker’s schedule versus manager’s schedule.”
These processes can help all of us fast-forward our careers, pursue hobbies, or just free-up time to loaf on the beach more often. It’s also part of a wider theme, self development, that we spoke about in the last issue and continue here. This is a topic that deserves repeated attention, given the state of our global economy. In such an environment we all need to keep learning, so in the pages that follow we have more great tips from business leaders, and not just about how many hours we spend chained to our desks. Yogi Mehta has previously told us: “We are in a hostile economic landscape and we have to be smarter, more disruptive and willing to reinvent ourselves, because if we don’t then we won’t survive.” Meanwhile, Harmeek Singh says: “Fifteen years back, everyone would automatically follow the senior person in a business, but that has changed. The most junior person is learning things that you need to follow.”
Heed these words for they will serve you well. Question everything, starting with your daily routine. Or just move to Sweden where they’re already know this stuff. Sounds like a nice set-up to me.