Why You Should Reduce Your Working Hours

The sea is like work: There’s enough for everybody.
—Farin Urlaub, Am Strand (“At the Beach”)

The term transition originates in the 16th century and is derived from the Latin verb transire, “to go across”. On the one hand, this seems adequate as I “went across” to live on an island this summer. On the other, it describes pretty neatly what I’m talking about when using the word transition in the context of this series: It means going across from one point in life to another.

Specifically, you enter a transition when you experience a fuck it moment. You decide to quit your life’s default mode and not seek the easy way out anymore. Take your work: You opt out of a stalled career, a dull profession, a bad workplace. Broader, you step away from a credo, a conviction, a belief system. Then, you start building something better. ((Yes, all of this is closely related to my first book, Beyond Rules, and may well result in a new edition at some later point.))

But why is work my focus when writing about the transition? Couldn’t it be just as well about something else? Why not focus on the transisitions in personal relationships, health, or travel? Where does this obsession with work and jobs and productivity come from?

Why work is the decisive factor

From an idler’s perspective and someone living life at his own pace, the focus on work is by design. Work (as in drudgery, not self-directed work that happens, as they say, in the flow) is the crucial factor in most transitions – not just when you’re making one that concerns your work directly, but also when you aim for other changes in life.

The reason for this is simple: For many people, work dominates their life, eating up about half of the time they are awake – maybe even more, depending on their commute, the emails they write at the breakfast table, and the time spent on things like shopping for workwear.

The thing with our daily time is that we’re stuck in a zero-sum game: Wins on one side will directly lead to losses on the other. We’ve all got only got 24 hours in a day. This leaves us with three options whenever we need more time to pull off a transition:

  1. Cut back on sleep.
  2. Cut back on leisure (or become more “leisure-efficient”).
  3. Cut back on work (or become more “work-efficient”).

The first two options are bullshit: Cutting back on sleep is unhealthy, cutting back on fun makes us miserable. You’ve probably heard about the guy who decided to stop eating food in order to save time. While I applaud his drive to experiment, that’s exactly what I mean with “leisure efficiency”. By the same logic, we could all become high-speed masturbators in order to avoid “losing time” with making love. I’d rather not to. In my world, time spent on good sex, good conversations, good novels and good food is never wasted. Becoming an efficiency nazi is not the answer, especially during leisure hours. Which leaves us with option number 3: Work.

Here’s the thing with work: We can optimize it and become more efficient, provided that our employer or client isn’t concerned with face time. But: No matter by how much we manage to reduce its share, we always win. Any hour that we can free up (and spend on leisure, sleep or the kind of work we care about) is a step into the right direction.

This is why the transition series is about work, even though lessons from it may be applied to other areas in life.

As I decided to create this series as an experiment in public thinking, I’m always open for suggestions, questions and ideas. This post was inspired by some questions I got, and we’ve had some great discussions on the posts so far in the comments and by email. Please keep them coming and feel invited to think along.