How Many Work Hours are Enough?

June 17, 2011

Fortune 500 magazine recently reported on research conducted by Harvard Business School, the London School of Economics and others on how much time CEOs spend at work. Entitled CEO Time Use Project, this study is headed by Raffaella Sadun, an Italian academic at Harvard who released the first findings of Italian CEOs in a pool of over 200 from around the world. On average, Italian CEOs work 48 hours a week.

What researchers have found is people themselves tend to stretch the truth about how much time they spend at work, a finding that places John Robinson’s Time Use Survey research into question (the next one is due to be release later this month). While many of his respondentsclaimed to work up to 80 hours, many of them really only worked 60. Even back in 1998, the self-reporting methodology was called into a question.

This finding drives home a point The Power of Slow makes, well, time and again.

Time is a subjective thing.

But the folks at LSE, Harvard and elsewhere believe they can translate time into money by quantifying productivity through hours work and profits made. The point of diminishing returns is an important one to make. And I’m relieved to see they’ve factored that into the equation.

The underlying motivation for looking at how CEOs spend their time (as reported by their assistants who have a stronghold on their calendars) is to find the correlation between how CEOs spend their time and firm performance.

Reconstructed from their time use diary, researchers were able to determine what they did when:

• Activities type (meetings, phone calls, travel)
• People they interact with (e.g. function, links with the firm)
• Physical location (e.g. HQ vs out of firm)
• Scheduling (e.g. planned vs. unplanned)

And they found that there is indeed a point of diminishing return. But for one percentage point rise in work hours translated into a 2.14% increase in productivity (as defined by revenue per employee). Interestingly, however, researchers dissected how they spent their time and the ability to translate that into direct productivity. For instance, meeting with employees brought more productivity than meeting with consultants or other outsourced personnel.

So how you spend your time really does matter.

According to Jason Fried and David Heinemeir, authors of Rework, “[workaholics] don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done. (page 26)”

So there is power in slow. Working less, and smarter, can translate into higher productivity.

The question is where is your pivotal point? Does working 20 additional hours to an already heavy workload really give you 20 hours’ more productivity? I think not.

Throwing money (consulting hours) at a problem won’t necessarily result in a higher return. There is a balance.

And that’s when you need to push yourself away from your computer, take a walk down the hall, snap off the lights and call it a day.

Or go on vacation, like we are tomorrow. How many work hours are enough depends on you. Research shows we all have our pain point.

And remember: there are only 168 hours a week. What will you do with yours?

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One Response to “How Many Work Hours are Enough?”


  1. […] How Many Work Hours are Enough? (powerofslow.wordpress.com) […]


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