Chocolate cake and the 40-hour workweek

The 40-hour workweek is bonkers.

I’ve tried to explain it a thousand ways—here’s yet another one. But first, a detour through Economics 101.

Economists use a concept called diminishing marginal returns. It’s pretty simple. Imagine eating a piece of vegan chocolate and hazelnut cake. Awesome, right? That piece will be incredibly yummy.

You might even eat a second piece. It’ll still be yummy too. But a bit less yummy than the first piece. If you eat a third piece, you might not enjoy it much anymore. Maybe you’d enjoy it just a tad. If you ate a fourth piece, you might actually throw up.

Each additional (“marginal”) piece of cake adds less happiness than the piece before it. In other words, the marginal return diminishes. Eventually, an extra piece will lower your happiness.

It’s the same with the number of hours in your workweek!

When you go from 20 hours a week to 30 hours a week, maybe you’ll get more done. Maybe. (But I don’t think so.) Going from 30 hours a week to 40 is even less likely to increase your output. It just increases your input, which is not important. When you go beyond 40, you’re just setting yourself up for chronic stress and permanently impaired productivity.

Put differently: 40 hours a week sits at a bad place on the diminishing marginal returns of “hours worked” curve.

Okay, rant over.

Yours,

— Peter

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