Five Reasons the Five-Hour Workday Works

By Stephan Aarstol

The work world has fundamentally changed, and the workday needs to evolve. Work is not the purpose of life. Living is. And it’s time our workplaces reflect. The eight-hour workday is now outdated and irrelevant. Today’s knowledge workers have the power to be massively more productive, but also to waste an extraordinary amount of time. The reality is these workers are only doing 2-3 hours of real work a day, yet clock 9.4 on average. Widely available productivity tools are not being used. Switching to a five-hour workday empowers and incentivizes employees to use these tools and work at a more intense pace. Here are five reasons why:

1. Five-hour Workday

Welcome to the information age. Productivity levels of knowledge workers have massively shifted. It’s similar to the dramatic shift in productivity brought about by the industrial revolution. But this time the sea change in productivity gains are being seen for knowledge workers, not factory workers.

The type of work that knowledge workers do today is learning, idea generation, idea execution, and communication. The assembly line of today is how quickly ideas, learning, and communication turn around. All of these things can be done in a fraction of the time they took to do just five, 10, or 20 years ago.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, since 1947, our output as a nation is up nine fold, yet man hours to achieve that output only doubled. In the past 40 years, productivity across all work in the US (knowledge workers and other workers) is up 80%. Yet, we’re working longer hours, not shorter, and in the past 40 years real wages have only gone up 11%. This is leading to another separation of the classes no dissimilar to what happened with robber barons during the onset of the industrial revolution. All the productivity gains are going to the top.

In the early 1900s, as machines massively shifted productivity of workers yet the workers still worked the same long 10-16 hour days, over 500,000 people were being killed or maimed at work each year. This was over 1/2% of the workforce. People were being physically overworked to death.

The solution? Henry Ford ushered in a new 8-hour workday that made better sense for a world with these newfound levels of productivity. That changed the world.

Today, there are symptoms all around us that we’re being mentally overworked. Prescription drug abuse and illegal drug abuse are on the rise. Obesity is too. So is mental illness. Burnout is increasingly a problem. Stress is killing us. A rising divorce rate is another problem, and kids in the US rank shockingly low in happiness in relation to children in other developed nations. Productivity tools now empower us to work at a much faster pace and achieve a magnitude more than we used to. For no good reason, we still work the same long hours, and we’re being worked to death, but this time mentally.

It’s time to change the workday again.

2. Increased Productivity

Businesses regularly use constraints to increase efficiency and drive innovation. Start-ups are good at this. It’s why three guys in a garage can disrupt a massive corporation. Their constraint of money and manpower forces them to find creative hacks and innovative solutions to compete or they die. Big corporations just throw money and people at problems because they can. It’s easier. They don’t have to find hacks. It’s the same thing with governmental organizations. But those creative hacks and innovations disrupt things, and they create sustainable competitive advantages.

The big lie of the knowledge working world is that we are really doing 8 hours of work in our 8 hour days. The truth is we’re doing about 2-3 hours of real work. It’s just taking us 8 hours to do it. We’ve become lazy because technology has allowed us to. The overwhelming majority of workers aren’t even using the productivity tools that are all around them. They don’t need to. Output is up, even with them dogging it for 8 hours (or really it’s 9.4 hours on average) at the office.

The five-hour work day is about applying this same constraint theory to a company’s workforce. It forces the whole team to independently identify and use productivity tools. When I rolled it out at my company, I made it clear that we’re shortening our workday to 5 hours a day, 8am-1pm, but made it clear that the expected level of productivity hasn’t changed. I told my staff they just need to figure it out. If they can’t then they need to stay as long as it takes to maintain and ideally increase productivity. If they can’t figure it out, I’ll fire them.

What happened is that the staff identified and started using productivity tools that have been around for over a decade. Time wasting largely fell by the wayside. The pressure to perform efficiently was ratcheted up. They began process of teaching themselves to become highly productive. They are still learning and improving month to month, and we’re steadily erecting a competitive advantage. We can still work 60 hour work weeks when need be, but now we’ll do a months’ worth of work in a week.

3. Happier & Healthier

Doing mental work is about managing energy. Happiness is actually the ultimate productivity tool in the knowledge working world. The five-hour workday is about giving employees their life back every weekday from 1pm until they go to bed. That’s like 9-10 hours of free time every day, and more on weekends. It’s a 10x change in their quality of life. It lets them refocus on other important areas of living. The quality of their relationships is given time to improve. The quality of their health is given time to improve. They can pursue their passions beyond their career. It makes their workweek better than most people’s vacation weeks. And when they are working, they’re working fast and efficient as they’re well rested, and in a healthy state of mind.

4. Retaining Talent

One of the biggest benefits of the five hour work day is that it is a tremendous recruiting and retention strategy. In the knowledge worker world with our access to massively powerful productivity tools, the difference between one worker and another has never been more dramatic. This is why CEOs get paid like 300 times the salary of the average worker. This is why the Google’s and FaceBook’s of the world can start kids out of college at $200,000/yr salaries. It’s a war for talent, and the top talent is not just a little bit better than average talent, they are a magnitude better. Bill Gates famously said, “A great writer of software code is worth 10,000 times the price of an average software writer.” It may have been a slight exaggeration to make a point, but this is the world we live in.

What we’re proving with the five hour work day is that knowledge workers have now moved into a world of abundance, not scarcity. Beyond a certain level you can’t really enhance your life with more money. You can, however, massively shift you quality of life by getting more of the only scarce thing left… free time to do with as you choose. The key here is you still get their brilliant brain working 24 hours a day 365 days a year in the background to solve problems to move your company forward.

5. Test-drive Experience

When I rolled out the five-hour workday in June of 2015, I phrased it as summer hours for a 3-month experiment. I made clear that it was temporary. I started we’ll now be working only 5 hours a day, but you are all expected to keep the same level of productivity or more, or you will be fired. That was the renegotiation. You get less hours and really get your life back, and you give me the same level of productivity. This incentivizes every individual to find creative solutions to do more in less time.

In just doing that 3-month experiment we identified many productivity hacks. We didn’t go back to an 8-hour workday, but if we did, we still would have walked away with the knowledge of how to be more productive and the tools that we adopted to get there. That by itself would have been a huge benefit. That temporary experiment is risk-free. There is only upside.

Stephan Aarstol is the author of The Five-Hour Workday: Live Differently, Unlock Productivity, and Find Happiness. He is CEO and founder of Tower, a holistic beach-lifestyle company. For more information, please visit and and connect with Stephan on Twitter, @stephan.aarstol.