The Optimal Number of Hours You Should Work Every Day

Have you ever wondered about the optimal number of hours to work per week? Perhaps you are one of those people who brags about your 70-hour workweek, or maybe you are on the other end of the spectrum chasing the 4-hour workweek dream. Who really has it right, anyway?

Whatever your particular appetite for work is, know that there’s plenty of evidence that putting in more hours doesn’t necessarily equate to higher productivity. Research tells us that productivity falls sharply after 50 hours per week, and drops off a cliff after 55 hours. Additionally, not taking at least one full day off per week leads to lower hourly output overall.

It turns out that the number of hours you work affects not only your productivity but also your happiness and perception of how much time you have. Our non-stop lifestyle has resulted in 48 percent of working adults feeling rushed for time, and 52 percent feeling significant stress as a result. That’s probably why the four-hour workweek is such an enticing dream, even if it’s not entirely feasible for many of us.

So how do we get everything done without feeling like we’re in a constant relay race?

Optimal Work Hours Per Day

Time management expert Laura Vanderkam conducted a study to determine how the number of hours you work affects how much time you think you have.

Of the 900 people included in the study, the average person worked 8.3 hours per day. And the results showed that there was only a one-hour difference between the people who felt like they had a lot of time and those who felt time-pressured. Those who felt like they had the least time overall worked 8.6 hours, whereas those who felt like they had the most time worked just one hour less, or 7.6 hours.

So to not feel starved for time, aim for a 7.6-hour workday. That would equate to a 38-hour workweek.

Work Hours & Happiness

A 38-hour workweek is remarkably similar to the number of hours worked in Denmark, consistently one of the world’s happiest countries (Denmark has placed among the top 3 happiest countries on the World Happiness Report in each of the last 8 years). People in Denmark work hard but rarely put in more than 37 hours a week, often leaving the office by 4 or 5pm. Other Scandinavian countries enjoy a similar work-life balance and similar happiness rankings.

Happiness expert Dan Buettner takes it even a step further. Buettner has reviewed the research on more than 20 million people worldwide through the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index and has conducted extensive on-the-ground research in the world’s happiest countries. “When it comes to your work, try to work part-time, 30–35 hours a week,” he said.

Buettner also recommends taking six weeks of vacation per year, which is the optimal amount for happiness. If that isn’t possible, he says at the very least you should use all of your allotted vacation time and keep negotiating for more until you’re getting six weeks.

A 2018 Expedia Vacation Deprivation survey says that Indians are the most vacation-deprived nation in the world followed by South Korea and Hong Kong. Americans are not taking half of their vacation days, and two-thirds of Americans report working even when they are on vacation. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the US is down at #18 in the World Happiness Report.

Maybe 30 work hours per week and six weeks of vacation are not practical for you. But that’s okay. If you want to achieve the perfect blend of productivity, happiness, and time affluence, a more realistic goal is to work slightly below 40 hours per week. The research shows that even shaving an hour or two off of the standard 40-hour workweek can have huge benefits, both at work and at home.

Less than 10% of workers are able to achieve that schedule. A good goal is to be one of those people. Here’s to the 38-hour workweek!


This article is contributed by Andrew Merle, Director – North America Brand & Consumer Marketing at New Balance. Andrew writes about living well, including good habits for happiness, health, productivity, and success. His writing can be followed at AndrewMerle.com and on Medium.

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