Conquer the world in 40 hours a week

photo-401I’ve been somewhat obsessed lately with the idea of “maximum sustainable progress.” Some people’s careers are not just productive but prolific. How do they structure their time to sustain productivity over the long haul?

I suspect they work long-but-reasonable hours, and use those hours incredibly well. This got me thinking about what I would include in my perfect 40 hour workweek. A few ideas:

Strategic thinking/planning (2.5 hours) — We always hear the entrepreneurial advice to work on your business, not just in your business. A little bit of thinking and planning goes a long way. This could be done as half an hour a day, or a long session once a week with a few minutes each day spent planning the next day.

Core production (20 hours) — This is the “stuff” of the job. In my case that’s ideally researching and writing articles and books. I’ve been doing less of this lately because I’ve been doing…

Visibility/”broadening my scope” (5 hours) — This is the promotion and networking element of the job: media interviews, professional events, possibly some social media. Anything that expands influence.

Skill building/speculative (5 hours) — This is the playing around part of the job. You dabble in potential work you’d like to do and practice your skills too. I’d put my fiction and book concept pondering in here (and maybe practicing speeches). Sending out proposals for new work could go in here.

Existing relationships/social (2.5 hours) — catching up and water cooler type chit chat (online as well) with colleagues/friends.

Open space (5 hours) — just unclaimed — available for serendipitous stuff that comes up, and for the ability to expand other categories should I wish.

If you looked at the breakdown of your week, how do you think it would tally up? What other categories should I include? There’s obviously some overlap (is blogging about core production or visibility? Probably some bit of both! Likewise, when I interview people for articles — the core stuff of my job — it often becomes networking too.)

Photo: Brothers in the morning, checking themselves out in the mirror

19 thoughts on “Conquer the world in 40 hours a week

  1. This breakdown made me realize that I’m only counting my “core production” hours as “work” and this must be why I’m so frustrated that I can’t get above 20 hours of “work” and have no idea where the rest of my time and energy is going. (I’m a new and inconsistent time-tracker, and a late-stage PhD candidate, so “core production” is basically dissertation writing/revising and drafting academic job application documents.) I’m going to try applying categories more like these and see if the result is more encouraging.

    I’m a newish reader, no kids, working only very part-time while I finish the degree, but I basically function like a self-employed person and I like your approach to the stories we tell ourselves about our time use and how to adjust them to reality.

    1. @Dana- welcome, so glad you’re reading! Yes, I suspect that a lot of people don’t think about the idea that work is not just the “core production.” You can do just that, but in the modern world we’re often better off with some strategy, some feints at thought leadership, and some networking too. Otherwise, no one knows what you’re doing in that core production time. In your case, you obviously want to finish your dissertation, but you need leaders in your field to know about what you’ve discovered.

  2. Interesting concept – I love your categories! When I think about the breakdown in my job (engineer), I am always trying to balance long-term improvement projects and short-term fixes/hot topics. The temptation, of course, is always to work on the hot topics, in which case you never make any big improvements. So my ‘core production’ would be broken down further in that way. Maybe 10 hours each?

    1. @Byrd- that could be a good breakdown for long term vs. short term. Probably some of the speculative time might overlap with the long term as well.

      I think I’ll track my time with these categories in mind over the next few weeks and see how I do…

  3. I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot! Like Dana, I’m also a late-stage PhD candidate and since I had my (now toddler) son, I’ve been doing only the absolute bare minimum of work–dissertation writing and nothing else.

    We’re planning to hire an au pair in the upcoming months, and while I don’t want to work full-time (and we are privileged that I don’t have to), I realized that I have to get back in the routine of doing professional development work and self-promotion as well.

    So last night, I submitted a conference proposal to a big national conference, and moving forward, I’m going to try to work the following hours (once the au pair starts):

    20 hours/week on dissertation writing
    5 hours/week on CV development (revising articles for journal submission, writing conference abstracts, building a website for my research, etc.)

    And I’m also going to spend 5 hours/week on alt-ac plans (my field is swamped, so there’s no guarantee of a job at the end of this degree). I’m working on developing a business plan for a consulting business that combines my past work experience and my PhD training, and even just 5 hours a week should give me lots of material to work with, as well as opportunities to network and test the waters with this idea.

  4. I like this idea a lot. What I wonder (and struggle with) is how many hours total it’ll take to get this 40 hours of efficient work done. How many breaks, meals, etc in between or errands/calls/appointments NOT related to work but that must be done too often during core work hours. 40 hours of “real work” seems totally reasonable but it is so hard for me to eliminate all those other things in between and plow through work. I’m sure that I’d need to build in purposeful breaks *and* waste less time to achieve that.

    1. @ARC- yes, that is the dirty little secret. Getting in 40 hours of solid work requires a lot more than 40 hours potentially there. My lunch is roughly 45 minutes all together. I wind up doing at least some kid thing every day on average. Let’s say that’s another 30 minutes, plus I like to exercise as a break. So to hit 8 hours in a day, I’d need to have roughly 10 hours available. And since I no longer have Fridays readily available, I can maybe plan on 4 hours then. Which means I’d need closer to 11 hours available M-Thurs. An 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. schedule isn’t the “40 hours” mindset — but that’s what it clocks out to!

  5. I think “conquer the world in 40 hours per week” could be my motto!

    I love your break down. I think I need to do something like this once I’m past the hectic period I somehow created for myself over the next month or so. I think I’m short-changing skills-development/growth, and possibly some other aspects of what I should be doing to achieve what I want to achieve.

  6. I love your breakdown & suggestions. I suspect for me I need to work on better including the non-core (for me non-billable) hours. I’d also include some regenerative time into that as well (.ie meditation to prevent burnout). I’m also aware that I need to look at ways to better use the incidental time (a cancelled appointment for example) for better effect.

    1. The billable vs. non-billable divide is another thing that’s hard for me to manage too. If I’m doing “work” things, I want them to be billable. But that means I’m in the weeds, checking off tasks, and not looking at the bigger picture like updating my resume and LinkedIn, networking, continuing ed to maintain my certification, etc.

  7. A great article! The categories are well thought out and I think can be applied to most any type of job. I was mentally applying each category to my job as a paramedic as I read it this morning. Im drawing it up today!

  8. Great post Laura! It’s always nice to get a glimpse of how a productivity and time management PRO gets the job done. I really like the inclusion of “open space.” Because as much as we want to map out our entire week down to the last detail, situations come up and adjustments need to be made – and that’s what the “open space” is for.

  9. I know this is an older post, but I’m curious if you have any tips for those of us in the billable hour world? Where we’d ideally like to bill out 40 hours a week, so the “open space” or time for more creative thinking is compressed/non-existent.

  10. I work in a small team, and this article makes me realize that we run into many of the same challenges as someone who is self-employed. We have to be completing client work (keeping them happy) while still doing all of the things it takes to get new clients.

    I’m going to bring this to my team and see how we can apply this concept!


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