3 min read

How to start working only 38 hours a week

These are the steps I used to focus only on high-impact work and get time back
How to start working only 38 hours a week
Photo by Johannes Plenio / Unsplash

Sustain issue #25 (Get Sustain in your inbox next Thursday)

As I write this, misty rain is coming down and summer is quickly transitioning to fall. As days get shorter and the weather worse, I fear working hours will spike up for many if you’re not intentional about your behavior.  

So, over the next few weeks I’m going to bring you a Fall Reset series with a handful of ideas to call your shot with work and not teeter into (or deeper into) burnout. Things like how you pace your day, how you judge success in your work, and today, how long you work.

Using the 38-hour work rule

Our hustle culture has normalized working ourselves past the point of effectiveness. Because so many of our jobs don’t have official working hours, we work until we’re done for the day. Which increasingly is coming later and later since we’re so far overcapacity. We’re never really done, are we?

I’ve recently shared data that says working about 38 hours a week (or 7.6 hours a day) is the sweet spot for mentally giving your best to work while having enough time to restore outside of it.

If you only allocate 38 hours a week to work, what are the highest impact tasks and projects to fit that time? Anything below that cutline isn’t essential for the business and, thus, not essential for you.  

Tactically, how do you pull off doing what I’ll call the 38-Hour Work Rule:

  1. Align on priorities: Have a weekly conversation, at minimum, with your boss to align on the top priority work that nets out to about 38 hours a week, likely less with meetings. Plans change but your bandwidth doesn’t. As new things come up (they always do), always propose tradeoffs.
  2. Make a daily plan: Before diving into work each day, make a realistic list of what you plan to accomplish that day (or make it for the next day before logging off)
  3. Stop when you’re done: Here’s where it gets really interesting :) If you finish that list by, say, 3:30, call it a day. Full stop. You worked hard, accomplished the 38-Hour Work you set out to do so be happily done, not guiltily logged out.
  4. Develop an end-of-day ritual: This is one of the most important steps I’ve discovered since work moved home. Without a commute, your brain needs a signal that it’s time to close up for the day. I rotate between screen-free activities like exercise, watering the garden, or cooking as my end-of-day ritual. Once that activity happens, I’m logged off until the next day.
  5. Restore: Once you’ve ended your workday, be done. Use your precious non-working time to restore within your Three Good Pockets.

Focus on 38-Hour Work. Anything in excess of that chews away at your ability to do the impactful work well, deteriorates your mental well-being, and makes you more susceptible to burnout.

Stop working when you’re done, not when hustle culture tells you to.

At a sustainable pace,


Ready to downsize your relationship with work and quit burnout?

Hi, I'm Grant Gurewitz. I'm on a mission to end burnout at work. I've been in tech for 10 years (ex-Zillow, current: Qualtrics) who suffered deep burnout and came back from it with no help of the hacky advice out there.

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