Six hour days: Can we really do more with less?

November 16, 2016

How would your boss react if you asked to work fewer hours for the same pay?

It might sound unlikely, but research is showing that – for certain types of job – shorter working days can improve employee performance, morale and even health.

Of course, these benefits will pale in comparison for most employers if output is affected. So is it possible to achieve a ‘full day’s’ work in just six hours?

I thought I’d give it a try.

The method

Our business uses a task management tool that lets users track time spent on major tasks, but doesn’t account for internal meetings, everyday admin, lunch breaks, discussing the Strictly results, or any of the other daily duties that fall into the ‘unproductive’ basket.

By dividing my ‘tracked’ time by the length of time I spent in the office, I was able to calculate the percentage of each day that was spent productively.

The results

Length of day Percentage of time spent on productive tasks
Control week 1 (Eight-hour daily average) 65 per cent (5 hours, 16 minutes)
Control week 2 (Eight-hour daily average) 70 per cent (5 hours, 39 minutes)
Control week 3 (Eight-hour daily average) 68 per cent (5 hours, 31 minutes)
Six-hour test day 92 per cent (5 hours 32 minutes)


While I’m the first to admit this experiment is far from comprehensive, the results are too striking to simply dismiss out of hand.

As the Swedish research had indicated, I found that having less time spurred me on to get things done quickly. Yes, there was time pressure, but there is on most days.

Since I finished work at 3pm I was able to go and collect my kids from school and spend some time with them at home before the usual bath and bed routine – a rare treat.

On the down side, I did opt to take a shorter lunch break and there were internal reports and updates that I chose to defer until the following day.

Can it work for you?

Working six-hour days won’t be for everyone. Jobs that involve working outside an office environment (not to mention people who are self-employed) will find it hard to break away from the eight-hour grind.

But for those working in internal communications, the idea warrants a trial period at the very least – providing you can demonstrate that productivity won’t suffer.

We asked Vanessa Kettner, Coach with productivity training specialists Personal Best, for some advice on how people can optimise productivity and achieve more with less time.

  1. Write down the things you need to and want to do; don’t keep them in your head.
  2. Stick to your list – don’t be swayed unnecessarily by latest and loudest, or by other people’s agendas (unless your role requires it).
  3. Do on a weekly basis what most people only do before they go on holiday – review all of your upcoming appointments and commitments. Getting all your ducks in a row will help you feel in control and more relaxed.
  4. Don’t ‘live’ in your email inbox. Visit at regular intervals that are appropriate to your role.
  5. Employ the two-minute rule: if you can do something in less than two minutes, do it now.
  6. Be selective about which meetings you choose to attend. Is going to a particular meeting the absolute best use of your time?
  7. Make sure you have all the tools you need in order to work productively and that your workspace is attractive to you.
  8. Take breaks. Moving around and getting away from your desk will allow you to focus better when you’re back in your seat.