The eight hour day. Everyday #82

Proving that those who don't know history are destined to repeat it, I found a plan for managing my days while reading about the history of the eight hour day. I don't work in a factory, and I don't have a boss, but I've had a difficult time balancing everything -- work, mothering, and getting enough sleep.

Turns out that the solution to my problem lies in the industrial revolution. The more you know! (Stay in school, kids.)

I was reading this excellent article in Salon about the 40 hour workweek and how it affects us all -- knowledge workers included -- and even though I have incredibly flexible hours and also incredibly unpredictable hours, it applies so much to what I do. You should read it, but if you don't have the time here is the key for me:
After WWII, as the GI Bill sent more workers into white-collar jobs, employers at first assumed that the limits that applied to industrial workers probably didn’t apply to knowledge workers. Everybody knew that eight hours a day was pretty much the limit for a guy swinging a hammer or a shovel; but those grey-flannel guys are just sitting at desks. We’re paying them more; shouldn’t we be able to ask more of them?

The short answer is: no. In fact, research shows that knowledge workers actually have fewer good hours in a day than manual laborers do — on average, about six hours, as opposed to eight. It sounds strange, but if you’re a knowledge worker, the truth of this may become clear if you think about your own typical work day. Odds are good that you probably turn out five or six good, productive hours of hard mental work; and then spend the other two or three hours on the job in meetings, answering e-mail, making phone calls and so on. You can stay longer if your boss asks; but after six hours, all he’s really got left is a butt in a chair. Your brain has already clocked out and gone home.

The other thing about knowledge workers is that they’re exquisitely sensitive to even minor sleep loss. Research by the US military has shown that losing just one hour of sleep per night for a week will cause a level of cognitive degradation equivalent to a .10 blood alcohol level. Worse: most people who’ve fallen into this state typically have no idea of just how impaired they are. It’s only when you look at the dramatically lower quality of their output that it shows up.

I'm guilty, guilty, guilty.

I was guilty of this when I worked in an office, and I'm guilty of this now. I leave my laptop open way past the time I'm actually getting work done, I stare at the screen hoping that the words will magically type themselves (they never do) and I end up losing sleep and recreation time in the process. HOW STUPID.

I think I have to be honest with myself and accept that I can be creative (ie write and work) for 4-5 hours max. Then 3 hours can be used for household/managerial tasks. And eight hours can be spent just having fun. My goodness! Eight hours to play with the kids, read a book, screw around on the internet? And then, to get eight hours of sleep consistently -- delicious, life-affirming sleep? Sounds revolutionary.

Of course, they're the same 24 hours I've always had, I just never looked at them that way.