Thinking out of the box (or working two hours per day)

A few days ago, Swedish Professor Bodil Jönsson caused a bit of a stir in Swedish media. In an interview, she stated that, considering our technological developments and how productive we have become during the past decades, we should really be working much shorter days. She even goes as far as to say that two hours per day could be sufficient. Yes, you read correctly, two hours.

Now I think that is fantastic. I don’t know if I agree with the two hours, I still need to think about that, but I greatly admire what Jönsson is doing. She is questioning the status quo; she is thinking out of the box.

The working culture and career models that dominate today haven’t always been standard. They are a result of industrialization, and were developed after the Second World War. In the history of the world, 70 or so years is not a very long time, however, it is long enough that we have difficulties imagining an alternative. Since this is the only working culture we know, it has become a ‘truth’ – and it seems like the only right way of working and living. Imagining other truly different models or ideologies is difficult, and if we can imagine them, they may seem silly, unethical, or simply wrong.

Two-hour workdays may sound crazy, but that is assuming that being busy, efficient, competitive, and constantly striving for greater profits is something to aim for. And this is exactly what Jönsson is questioning. She is calling for a re-examination of the ethical and moral reasons for working the way we do. In our current working culture, we are defined by what we do, and advancing in our careers provides us with power and a sense of worth. Jönsson is asking why we still live according to these ideals, considering what we have achieved. Who really benefits from them?

At the same times she argues that we need to re-evaluate what is considered real and valued work. But this idea of two-hour workdays doesn’t only entail less work. Jönsson argues that we need to think about how we work; we need to find different ways of working. And let’s be honest, eight hours in an office doesn’t necessarily mean eight hours of efficient work. On the contrary, I think at a certain point energy levels just go down the longer we stick around cooped up in the office.

I might still be undecided regarding whether or not two hours is what we should strive for, but I do know that the hectic pace we have today is not doing us any favors. This need to stay lean, flexible, and competitive, combined with the downsizing and constant streamlining we’re seeing in organizations today, is stressful. And negative stress can have dire effects on health. It is simply time to create and adopt more sustainable ways of working. And this doesn’t mean we should achieve less, we just need to achieve it differently, and yes, maybe re-evaluate what’s important.

I admire Jönsson for her creativity and audacity, and her courage to voice opinions that may be outside of people’s comfort zones. More of us should try to come up with ideas that question the status quo and completely contradict what we know as ‘true’. And while you’re doing that, please ignore anyone that says that this is not the way things are done, because only then can we instigate real change.

As some wise person once said, “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”

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2 thoughts on “Thinking out of the box (or working two hours per day)

  1. If you are effective you might be able to compress the whole day into two hours. But today it is not acceptable to go home after two hours, not at work, not by others, not by anybody. Some are creative and know exactly what to do with the spare time but most are not I believe. Somebody has to come up with meaningful ideas of what to do during the spare time in order to fill up the empty space and that empty space utilization has to be accepted by the society. The time used in life has to have a meaning.

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  2. That’s the thing, it’s not considered acceptable. And you’re right about meaningful time, I agree. But I think Jönsson is also trying to make us think about what we define as work and as meaningful. Many activities that we do aren’t considered real work or meaningful in today’s society and maybe they should be? For example care or household work, or other non paid labor, which isn’t valued as highly as paid work. Or perhaps other creative outlets like art or music, as Jönsson herself suggests in her interview.

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