A picture of wall clocks.

4 Steps Toward A 40-50 Work Routine

A handful of people have asked me about my daily and weekly work routine. Some people just want to know what philosophers do all day. Others are looking for ways to impose structure on their work week. In this post, I will share four (probably predictable) steps that have increased my productivity and lowered my stress.

Step 1: Test Out Work Routines

I’ve tried a work-when-I-feel-like-it routine, a work-all-the-time routine, a noon-to-evening routine, and a morning-to-afternoon routine. I find that the latter work routine (e.g., 8am to 5pm) is optimal for productivity and wellbeing. Of course, optimality is contingent. For example, if my spouse’s schedule and/or my collaborators’ schedules changed, then my optimal work routine would probably change.

Sometimes workload requires that I arrive a bit earlier than 8 and/or stay a bit later than 5. The two most common examples of this are when multiple deadlines overlap, and when someone cannot meet between 8 am and 5 pm. Also, I sometimes leave campus during the middle of the day to do family chores that can only be completed during my working hours.

My 8-to-5 looks like this: I am on campus Monday through Friday from about 8 am to about 5 pm. I relocate a few times a day for classes, presentations, and meetings. But when I am working on my own, I try to find an office space where I can read, write, run a study, analyze data, prepare a presentation, grade, email, etc.

Step 2: Don’t Work From Home

Like some other professions, I have the freedom to work from home. But I find that I am significantly less productive and happy working from home—perhaps because it is easier to work when the thoughts and feelings I associate with being at home are not distracting my work-related thoughts and feelings.

Although I have thoughts about my research while at home, I don’t typically give them much time and energy. If something particularly important occurs to me, then I send it to my work email address (which I check only at the office). So if I get work done at home, then it is usually unintentional.

Step 3: Don’t Work In The Evening

Another rule of thumb is not working at night. During my first few years in grad school, I worked most evenings. But I eventually realized that working into the evening resulted in lower quality work and sleep. Those negative outcomes can be self-reinforcing, yielding less and/or worse work than a standard 40-50 hour week. So, working into the evening is usually not worth my opportunity costs.

There are three exceptional circumstances that might keep me working into the evening. First, some weeks simply require more than just 40-50 hours of work. Second, some days I am experiencing flow at the end of the workday. Third, some events are scheduled in the evenings (e.g., classes, meetings, etc.).

(I doubt that this is terribly useful to you, but) Here’s what I tend to do after work. I exercise, go home, eat dinner with my spouse, hang out with my spouse, and/or do chores until bedtime. Since I relish going to bed early, I usually don’t have a lot of time between getting home and going to bed. I can usually only fit dinner, some conversation, a TV show, and/or a chore before it’s time to settle into bed.

Step 4: Don’t Work On Weekends

The final rule of thumb is that I won’t work on weekends. The reason is basically the same as the reason for not working at night: it’s not worth the opportunity costs.

The most common exceptions to this rule are conferences, which often occur on weekends.

(Again, I doubt that this will be useful to you, but) On the weekends that I am not conferencing, I try to do three things. First, I go on a date with my spouse. About once a month we do a day-long date. Second, I do the chores for which I do not have enough time or energy on weeknights. Third, I try to rest. Rest can take many forms. For me resting means doing whatever I feel like when the rest period arrives. So I try not to make rest plans that I can’t change at will. When resting, I often do some combination of the following: walk, jog, read something, listen to something, watch something, make something, nap, or window shop.

Disclaimer

Some people will not be able to apply all of these steps, given their situation. For example, I had multiple part-time jobs when I started grad school. I went to one job from 4am to 12pm, another job from 12pm to 5pm, and then seminar from 6pm to 9pm. On days off, I was frantically, reading, writing, coding, etc. Sleep was poor and short-lived. I struggled to keep up with the work. I could never make it to office hours to talk to a professor. I’ll never forget the relative ease that characterized my final year of my M.A., in which I had the privilege of an assistantship replete with a tuition waiver.

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It took me years to realize that overworking does not usually produce more or better work. So now I follow a few rules that prevent stress and optimize productivity.

Published by

Nick Byrd

Nick is a cognitive scientist at Florida State University studying reasoning, wellbeing, and willpower. Check out his blog at byrdnick.com/blog