Podcast: The 15-Hour Work Week
The Busyness Paradox Episode #29: The 15-Hour Work Week
Imagine a life where technological gains make us so productive that 15 hours a week constitutes a “full-time” job. The insane ramblings of two would-be men of leisure? Indeed. But also the prediction of a famous economist. No not the movie guy, the other one: John Maynard Keynes. According to his 1930 prediction, not only is such a reality possible, we’re about 20 years late in achieving it. Was Keynes wrong or have we squandered our productivity gains on busywork?
People, Places and Things Mentioned in This Episode
15:11 – Medal of Honor Heritage Center
19:53 – The Thing About Email
Frank Butler 0:17
Hello Busybodies. Welcome to another episode of the Busyness Paradox. I’m Frank Butler here with Paul Harvey.
Paul Harvey 0:23
Frank Butler 0:24
And I’m now recording from UTCs campus in our special podcasting room, which is pretty cool. We have some fabulous equipment in here. And thanks to Sarah Canatsey for helping me get set up. She does listen. So I want to make sure she gets the plug there.
Paul Harvey 0:41
She’s one of the good ones.
Frank Butler 0:42
She is definitely one of the good ones.
Paul Harvey 0:44
I didn’t realize you had a podcasting room there.
Frank Butler 0:46
We do actually use we got instructions here, this is what…so Sarah has been hired on to, like learning instruction and development process, that kind of stuff. And so, and I apologize, Sarah, I’m butchering the heck out of that instructional design is their expertise. And, but she’s also into this technology stuff. So because we have her in the College of Business, she’s been able to really push for us to do some kind of, you know, really get us caught up to doing the things that we need to be doing to keep up with today’s trends for the students and even for the faculty so
Paul Harvey 1:17
Does she want a side gig?
Frank Butler 1:18
Paul Harvey 1:19
For our podcast?
Frank Butler 1:20
Yeah, I mean
Paul Harvey 1:22
A side hustle,
Frank Butler 1:22
Side hustle, exactly, no, but it is great to have her here. And I’m happy that she’s able to get this set up. And we have it here because it makes it easy, because I’m at work today, and we have this great room. So thank you, Sarah. But we got something to talk about today.
Paul Harvey 1:36
Frank Butler 1:37
Paul and I have taken the stance many, many times that we need to end the arbitrary 40 Hour Workweek focus on output, let them have flexibility with their time, let’s not know how this whole eight hour day type thing. And it has its drawbacks too, right. Not every job can function that way where you could give them you know, that slack, if you’re working on an assembly line, or
Paul Harvey 1:58
Really any job could potentially run into difficulties doing that
Frank Butler 2:01
Right. But there are ways to plan around it, especially the way things are going. And this kind of goes to the idea that John Maynard Keynes wrote about in the 1930s. And if you don’t know who John Maynard Keynes is he’s a famous economist; Kenesian economics or Keynesian, is it Kenysian? I think it’s Kenysian economics
Paul Harvey 2:20
Frank Butler 2:21
Yeah, Keynesian. It’s named after him. And he wrote a piece that is called economic possibilities for our grandchildren. In this discussion in this piece, there’s a little nugget in here that really stood out. And what he’s writing back in the 1930s, is that we can get so much more productive. The way productivity was increasing at that time, he basically calculated out that by seventy years later, something like that. Or he said, you know, our grandchildren will have the possibility to work a 15 hour week or three hours a day for five days, because of the huge monumental gains in productivity.
Paul Harvey 2:54
So he was saying that not only could people do that, but that’s like all the work that would be left to do. So we’d have to like spread it really thin, he’s…to use his term, so that people would have a job. You know, if some people were still working well, back then, probably 70-80 whatever hours a week, other people would have no job. There’d be so little manual labor left to do because of productivity gains, that by now we should be working 15 hour weeks.
Frank Butler 3:18
Exactly. And you know, technically He’s not wrong. Really, you know, if we go back to the the example, way back when when we talked about spreadsheets and doing them on paper versus using Excel, right? That alone, I think embodies the essence of what Keynes was really getting into
Paul Harvey 3:32
What were we saying that very first episode, maybe the second episode, about out of a typical eight hour day, something like three of it was spent idle or something like that.
Frank Butler 3:43
It was it was spent on wasted activities, right? Checking Facebook, or you know, social media playing solitaire, right, you know, three hours a day, on average,
Paul Harvey 3:50
Based on whatever study that was, but well right there, you can almost chop your eight hour day in half. And then you figure all the things that aren’t waste, quote unquote, waste of time, like unnecessary meetings and stuff that count as work but aren’t really accomplishing anything. Yeah, you can get down to three hours pretty quickly if you if you try
Frank Butler 4:06
The whole meeting thing, right. I mean, we talked about this the added levels of bureaucracy, and people needing to feel like they’ve got to do something. So therefore they get staff and then it’s like, we’re tracking new stuff. Hey, you take away all that. unnecessary burdens. And yeah, I mean, you’re spot on right? We’re looking at that now. Are we saying that we can get the job done in 15 hours a week? Probably not, because some of the jobs have changed, you know, as a result of the productivity shifts, but I mean, there’s some benefits to that though, there’s some, some added value that you get, because of the way that the jobs have changed, the productivities have changed, that’s changed the expertise required in some of these areas. And so there creates value but I guess still, the point is that we could work less and expect
Paul Harvey 4:46
We could… there is just to cover all our bases. I think we should keep in mind there are jobs, like ours really, that don’t really have set minimums or maximums and might still choose to do more like say an artist, you know if you you’re a painter, you might paint more than 15 hours a week just to kind of draw some boundary conditions, we are talking about a sector of jobs that can be economized and made more efficient. It’s not something that applies to every type of work.
Frank Butler 5:19
Right, exactly. So this was sort of interesting. It was really triggered by this article I came across on Reddit, it was the 15-Hour Workweek, Keynes and AOC. And AOC, being Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, and don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily always agree with her politics, per se
Paul Harvey 5:37
Not so much.
Frank Butler 5:37
But I certainly do appreciate what she was trying to do in this message, bringing Keynes’ message to the forefront and having that conversation. Now, the author of this article, Bill Conerly, on Forbes, he was basically was saying that we can work it out to figure out that a person could work basically a 15 hour work week, and have a the ability to live comfortably. Now. This is the argument he made, although I think we came across in the article
Paul Harvey 6:07
Back up. Sorry, what was AOCs argument in this article?
Frank Butler 6:13
I was so focused on the Keynes element that
Paul Harvey 6:15
I know, right? I realized I was doing the same thing myself.
Frank Butler 6:18
I think she was basically saying that. Oh, that’s what it was that AOC, I think was saying that Keynes, had said that we could do a 15 hour work week, but we don’t pay people a living wage at 15 hours. So they could survive, right? I mean, just people couldn’t survive working 15 hours.
Paul Harvey 6:34
She says the gains of productivity have come but have not been distributed to the workers doing the more productive work. She implies that a working person cannot support a family working just 15 hours a week.
Frank Butler 6:45
Exactly. And so the way this guy was calculating it out, he’s basically saying, Yeah, you could do that, following a minimalistic lifestyle, find cheap housing, close to public transportation. And this is the one that stood out to me, he’s like buying cheap housing close to public transportation, while in the United States, not a lot of places necessarily have good public transportation. And in some cases, in some places, the cost of living near that public transportation can be significantly higher, just because of the ideal location being close to the transportation. So that stood out.
Paul Harvey 7:16
I think he was kind of grounding this in England, in British society since Keynes was British. So yeah, it makes more sense if you’re in Europe. But yeah, in the US, that’s probably not something that’s going to help with this minimalistic lifestyle.
Frank Butler 7:30
Exactly. And you know, what he says here is like, you know, you could have a minimalistic lifestyle work 15 hours a week, and it’d be fine. And you know, it says here, find cheap housing close to public transportation. So no car, or one older model for the family, oh, a couple of shirts, a couple pairs of pants, a few pieces of underwear and then use the public library for entertainment, and then cook at home? Well, granted, yeah, I mean, that’s minimalistic, but I don’t know about you. But I think the average person wants a little bit more than probably that too. They want to be able to do a little bit more than that
Paul Harvey 8:02
Right. My read of this article is that that’s kind of where he’s going with this, that we’ve redefined over the years, what the minimum acceptable standard of living is. So he’s talking about, you know, you could certainly live like the commoners did during Keynes’s time in the early 1900s. If you work 15 hours a week, but you know, you’d be living 12 people to a room and a survivable lifestyle, but not a very fun one. So we’ve kind of, for better or for worse, raised our expectations of what it means to have an acceptable lifestyle. And in the US, that typically means you know, motorized transportation, and an apartment or a house to yourself or to your, you know, one family per not like multiple generations of families living together, more than two shirts, that kind of thing.
Frank Butler 8:48
I like free swag, you know, so actually, I got a friend who I think only wears free swag that he gets for clothing. He could probably get away with some of this, but I don’t think he would want to just you know,
Paul Harvey 8:59
You know, there’s a lot of communities you can find out there if you look up F-I-R-E (financial independence/retire early).
Frank Butler 9:08
Paul Harvey 9:09
There’s whole communities that you know, advocates for this. It basically says, you know, you work like a normal person, and just live as minimalisticly as possible. And then you can retire when you’re like 45, or something like that. So, you know, there are people who choose to go this route, but it’s not for everybody.
Frank Butler 9:27
I can’t even imagine honestly, like, I like going to see concerts on occasion, you know, we’re going to go see the chili peppers in Nashville next year, when they’re on their tour or the punch brothers. We’re going to go watch them in January here in Chattanooga. So it’s those those little extras and I know it says you could go to the library and for entertainment because you can rent DVDs for free there. You can get TV shows on DVD, all that kind of stuff through your library. You can get books
Paul Harvey 9:54
I used to do that in Tallahassee.
Frank Butler 9:55
Yeah. I mean, there’s a great way to do it. But I mean, you know, people want Netflix people want to be able Do a little bit more and get out the house and have the ability to eat out on occasion. So if you’re if you’re good with that minimalistic lifestyle, you know, you’re still a minority of people like a percentage of the population.
Paul Harvey 10:13
But I think, it’s a relevant point that some of the burden of…some of the reason why we’re not living the Keynesian dream of working 15 hours a week now in 2021, is partly our fault. Partly because we’ve set the bar a little bit higher for the things we want in our lives, and that we therefore need to spend more money on
Frank Butler 10:31
That darned capitalism. It’s all capitalism’s fault, creating, you know, creating that the zombies who just want the brands and, and I’m saying this heavily sarcastically, folks, I know you can’t see it, you know, or necessarily here, but I am being sarcastic about it. And largely because it’s a sign of that they’ve arrived at, they’re getting some sort of accomplishment for the work they do, right? There’s this sort of reward mechanism you get from buying concert tickets, because it’s like, man, I’ve been busting my butt. Now I can go for these tickets, that kind of stuff. And I mean, don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of societal issues that we got to solve. But
Paul Harvey 11:04
it’s a different thing to buy concert tickets to, like, see your favorite band, versus, you know, buying a $50 T shirt as opposed to a $8 T shirt, because it’s made by such and such brand. And you think other people
Frank Butler 11:16
Paul Harvey 11:17
Be impressed or something, care
Frank Butler 11:18
Or buying a Rolex instead of a $10 Timex.
Paul Harvey 11:21
Yeah, what kind of idiot buys a Rolex?
Frank Butler 11:22
I don’t know. I mean, let me check my time. Oh, it’s a little fast.
Paul Harvey 11:26
Oh, it’s probably time to send it in for its $700 service.
Frank Butler 11:30
Its service, and granted…
Paul Harvey 11:32
It’s certainly time to send mine back in.
Frank Butler 11:34
I think it’s like every five years, and I’m on
Paul Harvey 11:36
Every five years, I’m up.
Frank Butler 11:37
I think the last time mine went out for service was when I was in grad school.
Paul Harvey 11:40
Frank Butler 11:42
Yeah, it’s due I believe
Paul Harvey 11:44
Mine was when Ella was born. Five years
Frank Butler 11:47
Yeah, yeah, you’re you’re right there. You’re doing better than me.
Paul Harvey 11:51
Anyways, idiots buying Rolexes
Frank Butler 11:53
Yep. But yeah, your points are accurate, right, having the discretion to pay extra for something that has maybe some sort of intrinsic value to you, or some sort of other type of value, the point still stands those that we could work less time at the end of the day, because we do have this changing expectations out there. And you got to think you know, compared to the 1950s, today, right, the variety of things that are out there, or even the 1930s, right, I mean, the variety of entertainment options you can have, right? You can get basic cable, or you can get, you know, the gold package, or whatever it is, and then you can get the HBO add on and you can get Netflix, blah, blah, blah, you know, there’s that, but then the movie theaters, all these things, they, you know, everything is expanded exponentially, right? I mean, all the different aspects of it used to be radio, you could only listen to radio, you know, there was no television, then we had a television and radio we still had, but television was very limited. Television exploded. Now we have it in digital streaming. And the movie theaters have grown and blah, and blah, and blah. And so there’s all these things. And that’s just in one segment of entertainment. You know, I mean, think about everything else. And of course, technology has helped with that. And growing incomes in general. I mean, technically, it’s flat. But you know, we’ve got more discretionary money to spend these days than we’ve had, in general, because of the way it’s going. It’s just, you know,
Paul Harvey 13:10
The flatness of income that you hear a lot about depends very heavily on how you how you measure it, like your start and end date. And these things fluctuate all the time, like all of a sudden – Keynesian economics again – inflation has been real high the last few months.
Frank Butler 13:24
Paul Harvey 13:25
So what would have been an increase in real wages a few months ago, is now looking flat again, or maybe even negative. So it’s a tricky thing.
Frank Butler 13:33
I think we covered that in an episode to didn’t we?
Paul Harvey 13:35
I think we did
Frank Butler 13:36
It sounds familiar
Paul Harvey 13:37
As I was saying that I feel like we’ve maybe talked about that before,
Frank Butler 13:39
You know, this…this is what happened folks, is that now Paul, and I’ve recorded so much stuff, that we’re forgetting what we’ve recorded, which isn’t a bad thing, actually. So
Paul Harvey 13:46
No, not entirely. But I think the question here is, how many people are kind of already working 15 hours a week and just
Frank Butler 13:53
Paul Harvey 13:53
Packaging it in a 40, 50, 60 hour workweek?
Frank Butler 13:56
That is a, that is a great question.
Paul Harvey 13:59
So maybe Keynes was right. But he didn’t foresee the fact that we would just backfill the other 25 Whatever hours a week with busy work and useless meetings and stuff.
Frank Butler 14:09
That still makes me think about those people who were going to the work from home and they got a second job because they were only working like 15 hours getting paid a full living wage.
Paul Harvey 14:17
Exactly. The proof is in the pudding.
Frank Butler 14:18
And proof is in the pudding.
Paul Harvey 14:19
We’ve seen it happen. Work From Home, man, to count the number of hours you’re actually working each week. And see if you’re already living the Kenysian dream of a 15 hour work week without realizing it.
Frank Butler 14:34
Here’s something that we should actually also address in that idea of counting the hours you work in a week. I feel like my time like he just like what am I what happens in my week, right? There’s a lot of things that might not be directly related to your job. Like you don’t have to do them for your job, but you’re doing them because they’re fun, or whatever. And so they might be sort of tangentially related to your job, but they’re not really the core element of it
Paul Harvey 14:57
Frank Butler 14:58
Or job adjacent right. You got it. You got to also consider Those activities too. Are you counting that towards your time? Because technically, that’s not your work time.
Paul Harvey 15:05
What kind of activities do you have in mind there?
Frank Butler 15:06
Well, like, you know,
Paul Harvey 15:07
Citizenship behavior type activity?
Frank Butler 15:09
Yeah. So there’s citizenship behavior stuff. Like I’m just thinking about today. I have the Frank W. McDonald professorship here at UTC and Frank W. McDonald was the president of the Times Free Press. He was the son of the founder of the Chattanooga times free press. And so part of that professorship is I have to, I received it because of some of my work I do for the community, right? So I work with the Medal of Honor Heritage Center, I’m on their board, the advisory board, I’ve worked with other organizations in town like the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts. So there’s been other organizations I’ve worked with, by veterans, my service to the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program, these sort of external things that I don’t have to do, right. They’re not necessarily a part of my job. But I’ve now kind of made them a part of my job. But they’re not something I have to be doing.
Paul Harvey 15:56
My wife used to give me a lot of uh…she struggled with that. It’s something that I guess, if you don’t have the sort of job where that happens, it’s hard to kind of wrap your head around. “So here are the things that you’re required to do to get a paycheck and not get fired. But then you do all this other stuff. And you don’t get paid for that. But you kind of sort of are rewarded…in a way. Sometimes. But not always. Like, what the hell? Yeah.
Frank Butler 16:20
Yeah I mean
Paul Harvey 16:21
I see your point that yeah, sometimes we just get ourselves involved with additional work, because hopefully, because we want to, we just find it intrinsically interesting or something. Yeah.
Frank Butler 16:30
Well yeah, and that’s it, right? You do it because you find it interesting. You get personal value out of it. There’s, there’s a lot there. But at the same time, too, it’s not necessarily something you have to be doing, right. It’s not really that core element to your job. Thinking about that, like how much do you really work? Because like, I think about all the things that I start getting myself involved with, it’s like, do I really need to be doing that? No, but I’m enjoying doing it. So I’m going to do it.
Paul Harvey 16:54
Frank Butler 16:55
I feel like I’m constantly running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Because I’ve overboarded myself, in a sense.
Paul Harvey 17:01
Mm hmm. That’s what happens.
Frank Butler 17:02
Yeah, it goes back to that too much time management stuff that we talked about the time blocking those kinds of things, you can actually make yourself busier and what have you. And that’s sort of what happens here. And so that’s the caution that we have to have. What’s really your job versus what are you doing for whatever motivation that might be
Paul Harvey 17:18
Right. Not to say that you have to stop doing that.
Frank Butler 17:20
Paul Harvey 17:20
Frank Butler 17:21
No, but if you’re thinking about like, what’s the real amount of time that you work? Think about it from that perspective, what is it that you’re doing that’s extra versus, you know, I’m not talking about the busywork stuff, because I shouldn’t count right, that you’re, you’re sort of
Paul Harvey 17:33
Right, don’t count the busywork
Frank Butler 17:34
But focusing on your actual job,
Paul Harvey 17:36
the value add stuff that you do,
Frank Butler 17:38
Paul Harvey 17:39
And then…do something with that information. It’s just kind of nice to have an accounting of how you’re spending your time.
Frank Butler 17:44
Paul Harvey 17:44
So if you find yourself overburdened, or not enough free time, you’ve kind of got a starting point of, “Okay, where can I cut back?”
Frank Butler 17:53
And that’s it.
Paul Harvey 17:54
Unfortunately, a lot of stuff you can cut back on is the stuff that you enjoy doing. Stuff that you can’t cut back on is the grunt work that we all have to do sometimes.
Frank Butler 18:02
But that’s the thing is that you might have to have that reset, right? Especially if you’re feeling like you’re overworked, you might have to make that tough decision, right. And that’s something that is hard to do, because you’re doing those things, because you you’re entertained by them, you’re enjoying it, but it’s hurting you, right, it’s hurting you in a lot of different ways that could be hurting you from finding another job. It could be hurting you from, you know,
Paul Harvey 18:22
Frank Butler 18:23
Health-wise, right, or spending time with a family or, and I think that the health wise going to the mental health end, right? It might make you start getting into this feeling of this downward spiral, oh, my gosh, I can’t get everything done, you know, you start having anxiety from that and stuff. And so it’s important, it’s important to look at it and really take account of your time, what is it that you’re doing for your job? And what is it that you’re doing? That’s extra, but then you could also think about go hey, you know, maybe Keynes is right, about the whole 15 hour work week thing and productivity.
Paul Harvey 18:53
Yeah. And you take stock of your your own goals, you know, if you find that you’re really doing about 15 hours of true work every week. And it’s possible to do so maybe there’s a room for a side hustle for you, or maybe a mental health break can be done or whatever you want to do. But we often fall into this trap of thinking, oh my God, I’m too busy. I’m too busy. I’m too busy. When really, if we have a accurate accounting of what we’re doing with our time, we can often find that we’re wasting a lot of it. Well, wasting isn’t the word.
Frank Butler 19:24
Yeah, wasting isn’t it. But I know what you’re saying. And I think yeah, it’s something that’s important to think about those keeping a journal of your time, right, like keeping track
Paul Harvey 19:32
Frank Butler 19:33
Yeah, you know, and don’t be like super, like, rigid about it. But you know, at least take a point every once in a while to stop and go, Okay, what did I do? How did I spend my time and keep it logged for a week. And just see what your average week looks like. And you might find things that you’re like, well, I could cut this out or this is certainly causing a lot more stress for me then these other things right?
Paul Harvey 19:53
You’ll probably find that you spend 30 hours a week on email. Just be aware of that.
Frank Butler 19:58
Yep. Your favorite
Paul Harvey 19:59
I hate email
Frank Butler 20:00
We have some episodes on that.
Paul Harvey 20:03
Frank Butler 20:04
Definitely check those out. But hey, folks, you know, tell us your thoughts. What do you think about that? 15 Hour Work Week idea, you know, was Keynes right? Do you think you could get your job done in 15 hours a week? If not, what would be the ideal time? Right? What would be the ideal work week for you? from a time perspective? Obviously, I think some people say zero but Keynes’s argument was that zero is not rational, because there’s a sort of like an internal drive to have to do something. For most people that exists.
Paul Harvey 20:30
Like feed yourself.
Frank Butler 20:32
Paul Harvey 20:33
Yeah. Very good.
Frank Butler 20:34
Well, folks, thanks for listening.
Paul Harvey 20:36
Until next time, get back to work.
Frank Butler 20:38
Paul Harvey 20:39
Frank Butler 20:40
Stole it, ha!
Paul Harvey 20:41
The Busyness Paradox is distributed by Paul Harvey and Frank Butler. Our theme music is adapted from It’s Business Time by Jemaine Clements and Bret McKenzie, our production manager is Justin Wuntaek. We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode, and we’d love to hear from you. Please send any questions, comments or ideas for future episode topics to input @ busynessparadox.com, or find us on Twitter. Also, be sure to visit our website, busynessparadox.com, to read our blog posts and for links to the articles and other resources mentioned in today’s show. Finally, please take a moment to rate and follow or subscribe to our show on Apple podcasts. Spotify, iHeartRadio, Google podcasts or wherever the heck you get your podcasts