Eight hour myth

Among knowledge workers, it’s widely known that eight hours of constant work is not what’s happening in the office. Nevertheless there’s a culture of at least eight hours (+ breaks) of presence time. The expectation is so engrained, that it’s been an eye opening change for me to work from home.

Measured work time < perceived work

At home I started tracking my work time.1 My motivation was to allow myself to use the new-found flexibility to step away from the desk at any time or do overtime on other days without loosing accountability. I found that the clock – even on focused, productive days – more often then not denied me reaching the eight hour mark. For some time I felt guilty for not putting in the contractually obligated work time. Emotionally it felt like underdelivering.

Finally I pulled myself together and decided to internalise that…

️ & 🚽 Breaks are more noticeable

Furthermore, I realised that I was not in fact working less than before. I had never worked eight hours. Now, at home, moments in which I’m not working are much more noticeable. The reason is that toilet and coffee breaks now happen in the same environment that I use when I’m not working. This lets them feel like forbidden private time, even though I’d also have taken those breaks in the office. In fact I used to take longer times for coffee breaks to have some lose “water cooler talk” with colleagues. There’s new situations arising from working from home too: When I feel like I need five minutes to reset my thought process, I might empty the dishwasher. When I want to think a situation through, I might hang up laundry alongside the introspection. When looking back at the day it’s easy to feel like much more non-work related things happened during the day, even though they didn’t have a deductive effect on actual work time.

Loss of motivation = danger 🧨

One difference crystallised quickly though: a lack of motivation to work is dangerous! Where, in the office, one has to pull oneself together because everyone else around seems to work, at home there’s no one around to judge one’s procrastination. And procrastination is all that much more dangerous, with all the comforts and tools of the hobbies around that I like to divert myself with in the free time, as well as a custom-stocked fridge.


Especially for remote work, it’s indispensable to hire a team of self-controlled, self-reliant, intrinsically motivated people. Having interesting challenges and other factors which the employer can partially control can help to keep the motivation up with less effort.


  1. Work time tracking now appears to be mandatory for employers in Germany, and possivle all of the EU.