How many actual hours of work do you think you do in one calendar year?

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Because we love us some Temple of Busy-adoring target-hitters, most people would say “My 2019 working hours? Oh God, so many!” In reality, that’s not even remotely true.

How many working hours will you log? Let’s try and figure that out.

The math on working hours

This post is mostly about first-world, white-collar, office-driven work. (“Enterprise.”) It obviously varies by job, industry, title, and seasonality. There are your caveats.

Step 1: There are 8,760 hours in a year. Most full-time workers spend about 2,000 hours focused on their job. Now, in the U.S. there are only about 125 million full-time employees, so this doesn’t apply to everyone.

Step 2: McKinsey research estimates that people spend 28–35% of their time checking email. Let’s call that 30%. Thirty percent of 2,000 is 600; at this point, you’d be down to 1,400 working hours.

Step 3: Let’s factor in meetings. Research varies on this, but in general for a mid-level professional it’s about 31 hours/month. Multiply that by 12 (months) and you’ve got 372 hours of meetings per year. Subtract that from 1,400 (above) and you’re at 1,072 real working hours so far.

Step 4: Now take about 1 hour per day of being generally unproductive or ineffective, because most people do need those mind breaks. So let’s say 52 weeks x 5 days a week = 260 hours, minus 3 weeks of vacation (15 hours) and those weeks no one is really around (holidays). Let’s say 230 hours of putzing around Facebook.

You’re at about 842 real working hours now. If you work 200 days in 2019, that’s 4.21 productive hours/day — out of maybe 12 hours being tethered to work.

This math is flawed!

In parts, yes. But it’s based on studies, research, and averages — that’s how most stuff is calculated. You can also come at me about how you work 75 hours/week. Maybe that’s true, but — a-ha, research again! — 55 hours/week is pretty much a hard ceiling on productivity.

How did 2,000 hours become 842 working hours?

In short: meaningless bullshit like meetings and calls, where no one is really prepared, action items barely exist, and the ROI is absolutely crippling to any real value. Phrased a slightly different way: poor management aimed at control of a situation as opposed to genuine pursuit of business goals.

The dirty little secret of all this, of course, is that if you were to find other things to add — pointless hallway conversations, Uber rides, those off-task “work from home” days, etc. — the number would be a lot lower than 842. So for the amount of time we toss ourselves on the cross about work, we’re putting in less than half the real working hours we often claim.

Aren’t meeting and calls real working hours, though?

Of every 10 hours you spend in those two set-ups, I’d say maybe 1–2 are real working hours. Usually it’s just aimless, mindless crapola where people repeat the last thing someone said in an effort to please the highest-paid person in the room. Fun times. It’s definitely not real work, though.

How do we get better at using working hours?

Not really the point of this post, per se — the point was to showcase how many working hours you really use — but I’ll give you a start. One of the biggest messes at most jobs is priority alignment. It’s a giant game of Who’s On First? at most companies. Companies often make billions upon billions and have no sense of what matters and when it should matter. So start with some alignment of “strategy” (usually “make money, keep costs down”) and “execution” (what people do all day to get you there.) The alignment is key to the work and the roles making sense; it also helps to have the roles be necessary in the first place (they are often not).

Putting your work martyr self aside, what do you think about maximizing/increasing your 2019 working hours?

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money:

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