Four Hour Work Week: Realistic in 2023?

Oren Todoros
By Oren Todoros, Updated on December 10, 2023, 6 min read
four hour work week

One of the popular books from the early 2000’s was The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss as it gave people hope they could escape “the rat race” of working the 9–5 life and living for the weekend. Thirteen years later, how realistic is the idea that you can go from a 40-hour workweek to a 4-hour workweek? What does a four hour work week look like in a world with most people working remotely? Is the 9–5 now 7 AM to 10 PM?

 

One of the things that Timothy Ferriss wasn’t aware of when he wrote that book was how mobility would change the way we work and how a global pandemic would finally make his “live anywhere” idea a reality for almost everyone who does knowledge work. The global pandemic has created a “reset” for many industries, and it forced companies to rethink how they hire, how their teams operate, and how to judge success. Is it realistic to have a four-hour workweek in 2021? Probably not, but depending on your financial needs, you can likely live anywhere, work the schedule you want to work, and have more flexibility than ever.

 

Remote work has become the norm for many companies, but how does it affect team productivity? It’s a topic that has been debated for years, and there are many opinions on the matter. 

 

Some say that remote work is a great way to increase productivity by allowing employees to work from home or wherever they feel most comfortable. Others believe that it has no effect on team productivity at all. However, some say that remote work lowers productivity because employees don’t get to interact as much with each other in person.

 

We think it really depends on what kind of work you do and how your company handles remote workers. We’ve all heard the stories: remote work is great for achieving high amounts of team productivity because it eliminates distractions and forces people to focus more. But how do you get the same level of collaboration over digital tools that you can get in the office? 
 
 

Can You Do All This While Working Fewer Hours?

The answer is yes, but it takes some getting used to. In fact, there are tangible benefits to team productivity brought on by remote work that may not be immediately apparent. Remote workers tend to be more productive than their office-bound counterparts because they don’t have to worry about getting stuck in traffic or being held up by weather conditions. They also tend to have a better work-life balance—which means they’re happier and more motivated!

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Time Zone Madness: A Benefit?

Remote work has shown the strains that time zones can put on an organization, but instead of looking at it as a negative, you should look at it as a positive. Instead of being frustrated that you have demands on your time all throughout your  day, take a second to reframe and recognize the benefits. You aren’t required to work twelve hours a day. You don’t let others control your time; you own your time.

 

You may have coworkers working across multiple time zones and numerous continents, so recognize that you can work with your manager to work in a time zone that is flexible for you. If you are based in the Pacific Time zone, but happen to be an early riser, you could easily work Eastern Time hours and then be done working by 2:00 PM. If you live on the East Coast but like to have a long run in the morning and work (possibly battle) with your kids on virtual school, you could start working at 10:00 AM, skip a lunch break, and finish up by 6:00 PM. In a traditional 9–5 environment, you’d be tied to your desk at the office. In a remote work world, you can spend your lunch break catching up on laundry or grabbing a quick workout without needing to take a shower at the gym afterward (showers are still recommended, however pants are optional).

 
 

Working on Vacation: A Good Thing?

four hour work week

 

In 2007 when the book was released, there was a clear distinction between vacation and work. Now, work time and vacation time can be mixed. You can work on your holidays! Before you throw your device in frustration with the fact that you have to work on vacation, consider the following: You can travel multiple times a month without your company ever realizing you’re on vacation.

 

If you wanted to take a trip to Europe for two weeks, you could do that and take your laptop with you. You could work your regular work schedule while still enjoying all Europe offers without taking “vacation time.” If you want to travel to the beach for Spring Break with your family, you could easily stay up on all of your work while still enjoying the beach. You could work a couple of hours with the sunrise, enjoy the beach for a few hours, work some more during lunch, and then head back out to the beach. Once your family is asleep at night, you can finish up with your work for the day. While that sounds depressing if you only take one vacation a year, if you’re taking multiple vacations, you still get to make memories while on vacation while never missing a beat at work. Instead of your kids remembering that one vacation a year, they’ll have memories of traveling as much as your finances will allow.

 
 

Is a Four-Hour Work Week Realistic In 2023?

While the concept of a four-hour workweek has captivated readers for years, its feasibility remains a subject of debate. In 2023, with a rapidly evolving work landscape, we revisit Timothy Ferriss’s vision and assess its relevance in today’s context.
 

The Enticing Vision of a Shortened Workweek

Ferriss paints a picture where individuals can achieve professional success while working significantly fewer hours. This translates to freeing up time for personal pursuits, travel, and family, all without sacrificing career goals.
 

However, achieving this ideal seems elusive in 2023. Several challenges continue to impede the widespread adoption of a four-hour workweek:

  1. Persistent “Always-On” Culture: The expectation for constant availability remains deeply ingrained in many workplaces. This creates immense pressure on employees, particularly those with families or personal commitments, and hinders their ability to disconnect and recharge.
  2. Lack of Flexibility: Many companies still discourage or even penalize employees for utilizing flexible work arrangements like remote work or compressed workweeks. This fosters resentment and disengagement, ultimately impacting productivity and employee satisfaction.
  3. Technological Advancements: While technology can facilitate efficiency, it often creates new demands and distractions. The constant influx of emails, notifications, and instant messaging can blur the lines between work and personal life, making it difficult to truly disconnect.
  4. Socioeconomic Trends: The increasing cost of living and economic uncertainties often necessitate longer working hours for financial stability. This reality makes the idea of a four-hour workweek seem impractical for many individuals.
  5. Industry-Specific Challenges: Certain industries, such as healthcare or customer service, have inherent 24/7 operational needs, making it difficult to implement a shorter workweek model across the board.

 

The Evolving Landscape and a Cautious Optimism

Despite these challenges, several encouraging trends indicate a potential shift towards a more balanced work-life dynamic:

  1. Rising Awareness of Employee Wellbeing: The pandemic has highlighted the importance of burnout prevention and prioritizing mental health. Companies are increasingly recognizing the need for flexible work arrangements and employee well-being initiatives.
  2. Technological Advancements for Efficiency: Automation and AI are rapidly changing the nature of work, potentially freeing up human time for higher-level tasks and strategic thinking.
  3. Redefinition of Work Culture: Younger generations are placing greater emphasis on personal fulfillment and work-life balance, leading to a cultural shift towards valuing productivity over presenteeism.
  4. Rise of the Remote Work Model: The success of remote work during the pandemic has demonstrated its viability and potential for increased employee autonomy and productivity.
  5. Experiments with Shorter Workweeks: A growing number of companies are experimenting with shorter workweeks with positive results, showcasing the potential for increased employee satisfaction and productivity.

 

To sum it up, The four-hour workweek is probably a myth in the sense that you only work four hours in a given week. What’s not a myth is that work is now what you do rather than where you are. Instead of being required to sit in a chair from the hours of 9–5 each day at a specific location, you now can work when you’re the most productive, where you enjoy being, with the flexibility to respond to the needs of your family and household.

Oren Todoros
Oren Todoros Oren is a strategic thinker with over 20 years of experience in the marketing industry and is the current Head of Content Strategy at Spike. He's also the proud father of 3 beautiful daughters and a dog named Milo.

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