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Book Review: The Five Hour Workday

The Five Hour Workday: Live Differently, Unlock Productivity, and Find Happiness by Stephan Aarstol

Review by Grant T. Smith

the-five-hour-work-day-clearline-cpa-book-reviewStephan Aarstol is the founder of Tower Paddle Boards. His company got a strong boost when Mark Cuban choose to invest after seeing Aarstol on Shark Tank. That investment has since given Aarstol a soapbox. In this book he takes full advantage, including a quote from Cuban on the front cover.

In The Five Hour Workday: Live Differently, Unlock Productivity, and Find Happiness, Aarstol explores the concept of shortening the work day to improve both productivity and the lives of staff.

The first third of the book is a brief history lesson on the practices and idea of Henry Ford, whom Aarstol credits with creating the five day, forty hour work week (which had previously been six longer days).

The central argument of this section of the book is that Ford was adapting to the industrial mass production age. During this time, work was limited by the physical and mental acuity of the worker.

The book uses an interview given by Ford and parses the content to explain how the acceptance of a shorter work day and a reduced work week actually gave the Ford Motor Company increased productivity and also allowed the staff to live a better life (one that needed a car, by the way).

In the Ford retrospective, the foundation is being laid for Aarstol’s thesis that modern society, in the information age, is due for a similar shake up.

  • It is argued that the culture of work fills eight hours with the available volume regardless of efficiency or the ability to complete it quicker. In other words, business should assume that employees fill the day with work, even if it can be done quicker, in order to set the bar lower. My personal belief is that such charges are dangerous, particularly if they suggest a conscious action, as I believe it is the job of an employer to offer a compelling and invigorating work place.
  • Aarstol strongly believes the hectic nature of modern communication interrupts both our workday and our focus. He suggests that a tighter, abbreviated workday can drive people to reduce these interruptions in light of the upside. Briefly the thesis is: employees will work quicker and more efficiently if the reward is to go home at 1:00pm.
  • Finally, a cornerstone of this belief is that our current day leaves us exhausted and with limited energy to pursue health or happiness. Accordingly, we get home at 7:00 or 7:30 tired, hungry and with only enough energy to watch the idiot box before crashing with a lack of fulfillment.

The solution to all this, according to our guide, is to work from 8:00-1:00 five days a week. This allows the business to drive people to amazing heights of productivity, with the promise of being free in five hours. It motivates employees and employers to seek tools to improve productivity and liberate strategy and opportunity. Finally, if employees get off at 1:00pm they have an amazing amount of time to experience life and generate health and happiness, which will further improve the work environment.

The writing is simplistic; it is the same style of many business books that only strike at ideas and do not really develop fully completed thoughts. I give him limited praise for the writing. I find the name-dropping to be simply embarrassing, as he tries to elevate his status. However, I do find the energy, passion and optimism to be infectious.

Am I recommending the book? I have encouraged my associates to pick it up, read it and I am anxious to engage in a thoughtful dialogue of where we could develop the concepts in the accounting world.

An Update:

Last month I reviewed a book on using Outlook and I promised an update. I have adopted some of the principles, for example I am using a blocked period of time each day, entitled ‘uninterrupted work time’ and the staff (for the most part) are respecting it. It has improved my ability to meet expectations. I am managing my inbox better and blocking time for that as well. However, I am far from fully establishing the ground rules and I feel success slipping away as I move through the fall. The goal for October is to get the box empty. Success or failure will be acknowledged – stay tuned!