OurNextLife.com // The World Is Speeding Up. We're Eager to Slow Down. // This Labor Day, we're reflecting on the ever-speeding progress of labor and productivity, and looking at our own longing to slow things way, way down.we've learned

The World Is Speeding Up. We’re Eager to Slow Down.

Last year for Labor Day, we did a little history of work and labor in the U.S.,  but now that early retirement is so close for us, we have been feeling perhaps more keenly than usual just how fast everything moves these days, and what a detrimental effect that has on us. As I’ve started to put it, I no longer get actual work done, I just show up for things. Or at least that’s how it feels some days. I bet plenty of you can relate. So we’ve been wanting to quantify that feeling that we all share, that work moves at an unsustainable pace now, a feeling that drives many of us to pursue early retirement and financial independence in the first place.

So today, a breakdown on just how fast everything is moving, and reflections on how we’re longing to slow things down. Lots of charts and graphs ahead!

OurNextLife.com // The World Is Speeding Up. We're Eager to Slow Down. // This Labor Day, we're reflecting on the ever-speeding progress of labor and productivity, and looking at our own longing to slow things way, way down.

Productivity, the Double-Edged Sword

If you are invested in any stocks or stock funds, then you have no doubt benefited from productivity gains. Productivity has been a major driver of GDP gains, which translates into higher share prices and market growth.

In this chart, from McKinsey, the blue portion represents the portion of world GDP made up not of more workers entering the workforce, but of individual workers producing more output:


And all of that extra GDP should be good for everyone, resulting in a higher standard of living all around. Unfortunately for the masses, that hasn’t been the case in recent decades. Beginning in the mid-70s, workers’ wages began stagnating, even as productivity continued to climb. This chart from the Economic Policy Institute tells the story:


What does that mean? It means that the extra money that has been coming in at companies from historically huge productivity gains in the U.S. has largely not gone to the workers, but has instead gone to higher salaries and bonuses for the top 1 percent of earners, as well as higher dividends paid out to shareholders. Here’s a chart on the difference in wage growth for the bottom 90 percent of workers and top 1 percent over that same period, also from EPI:


So if you’re a big shareholder of stocks or a one-percenter, congrats. You’re doing better than others. But if you’re a 90 percenter, you’re probably doing worse.

The Imposition of Modern Work

Of course, while some productivity has certainly come from newfangled things like computers, all of those productivity gains can’t be explained away by technological improvements. At a certain point, work began to intrude more into our lives, sucking up more and more of it, and placing more impositions on workers — what we’d describe as that feeling that things were and still are speeding up.

The “40-hour workweek” used to mean something, but now the average American worker works 47 hours, according to a recent Gallup poll. What’s more, 40 percent of workers report that they actually work more than 50 hours per week, with almost one in five working upwards of 60 (um, two guilty hands up over here). Among salaried workers, who work those extra hours for free, fully half work more than 50 hours per week, with a full quarter reporting working more than 60 hours per week.


Is it any wonder productivity is up if so many of us are working so much more than we’re supposed to, without earning an extra penny?

And that’s not even addressing technology and how it impacts all of us now. A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center showed that 61 percent of workers say they need email to do their jobs, but even more telling is this statistic from the topline: In response to the question, “Have technologies such as email, the internet and cell phones increased the amount of time that you spend working?” Thirty-five percent of workers said yes, more than a third of the workforce. When you consider that a big portion of the workforce is still made up of hourly jobs like manufacturing, retail and food service, that means that the remaining “knowledge worker” jobs must make up a disproportionate share of those who say that technology makes them work more.

So we’re all working more without getting paid more, and we’re checking our email and engaging with our phones for work purposes at all hours. We could assume that this recent era has just been the growing pains as we collectively adjust from an economy that makes stuff (manufacturing-based economy) to an economy that knows stuff (knowledge-based economy), and that all of these demands on our time will level off. But could that possibly be true? Given how reliant our economy has grown on productivity gains, a leveling off of productivity would send shockwaves into corporate earnings, share prices and wages, with potentially catastrophic effects on the global economy. Much more likely is that this pressure to increase productivity will continue for the foreseeable future.

How Much More Will Things Speed Up?

Something that’s clear from the data is that this feeling that we’re failing at least a little bit at work is not something that only a few of us experience. It is nearly universal. As far back as 2004 — ages ago in the internet era — 89 percent of workers reported to the Families and Work Institute that “I never seem to have enough time to get everything done on my job.” This bears repeating and bolding:

Nine in 10 workers feel like they don’t have enough time to get everything done at work.

Despite working more hours. Despite working without meaningful pay increases. Despite this stat being old at this point and almost certainly worse now. We still don’t feel like we have enough time to do our jobs, and that’s something that many of us likely believe is a reflection on us, not on the state of work today.

As Mother Jones reported, Americans used to be well versed in the term “the speedup,” when factories would temporarily boost production to meet a big order or businesses would impose overtime to meet an important deadline. But now that speedup mentality is just how we’re all expected to operate, day in and day out, never mind whether that’s good for us or sustainable. As one source for the story said, “Our culture has encouraged me to only feel valuable if I’m barely hanging on to my sanity.” (You don’t have to go read those economic studies, but we definitely recommend the MJ story.)

One of the most interesting trends of the ever-speeding work environment is how it has flipped over time for knowledge workers, something that those under 30 may not realize, because you guys haven’t known it any other way. This story on overwork from the New Yorker sets up the problem well (and is also totally worth a read):

Thirty years ago, the best-paid workers in the U.S. were much less likely to work long days than low-paid workers were. By 2006, the best paid were twice as likely to work long hours as the poorly paid, and the trend seems to be accelerating. A 2008 Harvard Business School survey of a thousand professionals found that ninety-four percent worked fifty hours or more a week, and almost half worked in excess of sixty-five hours a week. Overwork has become a credential of prosperity.

— James Surowiecki, “The Cult of Overwork,” The New Yorker, 2014

This overwork is not without consequence. It’s well known now that any work we do after about 45 hours a week starts to decrease in quality. This line from Harvard Business Review is gold: “In sum, the story of overwork is literally a story of diminishing returns: keep overworking, and you’ll progressively work more stupidly on tasks that are increasingly meaningless.”

We’re also sleeping less as a society from all this work, which kills productivity and increases health care costs. And we’re not just producing worse work, we’re also getting lost in the weeds, failing at management and making bad judgment calls, all as a direct consequence of overwork.

Yet despite all of that massive evidence that overwork is crushing the workforce slowly while also hurting business, few employers seem willing to change anything. Most are still looking at the bottom line, and figuring that even if my work is crappy at 60 hours, it’s still cheaper than hiring a second one of me, times every worker out there, assuming they can even find the workers they need, given how badly we’ve underfunded education for decades now. Until we see meaningful change on this front (which, oh yeah, will probably hurt share prices), we can all expect that things will only continue to speed up.

We’re Longing to Slow Down

We’re not remotely old (late 30s), but we still remember a time in our careers when things did not move quite so fast. When a companywide internet outage was a pain but not catastrophic. When it wasn’t expected that everyone was reachable at all times, including on vacation. When we could tell people “we’ll be out of cell range next week” and not cause a conniption.

But it definitely feels to us like those days are long gone.

Maybe it’s just where we are in our careers (much more senior than we were in the days when we could still go fully offline), but it feels like it’s also the larger force at play: the forward march of the great speedup.

There’s so much happening in society right now that tells us that nearly everyone is feeling this longing in some way. The back-to-the-land movement. The tiny house movement. The rise of minimalism. Pretty much the entire FIRE blog community. We all seem to be craving the same thing: to slow down, to simplify, to stop feeling like we’re bad at our jobs.

We would never describe ourselves as minimalists, but we’re still longing for a simpler life. For many people, big houses and too much stuff are the symbols of our too-fast lives that they wish to discard. That’s awesome. If it’s weighing you down, get rid of that stuff, and more power to you.

In our case, the thing we want to get rid of most is the feeling of failure. Though high salaries and multiple promotions tell us that our employers value us greatly, our gut feeling every moment these days is that we are constantly failing at work and at life. We need ever-more-sophisticated apps just to keep our to do lists straight, but even then, they only ever get longer. And we rarely have time to think beyond the emergency task right in front of us to prepare well for the thing that will come at us next.

And did we mention we work for really good companies? We don’t even want to think about what it would all be like if we worked for employers who actually tried to take advantage of their employees.

One of the things we love most of the FIRE community is that we can all be open about how much we’re craving a slower, more sustainable pace of life. And I don’t mean sitting in rocking chair on a farm for 12 hours a day. I just mean a healthy pace of life, where we get plenty of things done but don’t have to feel like we’re constantly drowning. Shouldn’t that be a reasonable thing to want?

Share Your Take

Do you have that constant feeling of failure too? Or just feel like you can never catch up on sleep, or get enough fun time outside of work to feel refreshed? Or are you a robot who just wonders what we’re all bellyaching about? Either way, let us know in the comments!





Don't miss a thing! Sign up for the eNewsletter.

Subscribe to get extra content 3 or 4 times a year, with tons of behind-the-scenes info that never appears on the blog.

No spam ever. Unsubscribe any time. Powered by ConvertKit

94 replies »

  1. The answer to your (always thoughtful) question is no. When we returned from a year travelling we returned to work reluctantly because we needed an income (although not too much as we had down-sized and were mortgage-free). We decided to take on jobs that were no more than nine to five; no extra hours, checking emails in the evening or work taking up too much head space for us ever again. The down side of this, of course, is that we are paid lower wages than we could earn if we wanted to re-join the high-speed go-getters. My partner is lucky to earn the average wage for the UK, I earn way below this. The up side of being at the sharp end is that we do not have to attend meetings (we hate meetings) (oh – except to take minutes) and we do feel like we are doing something useful as we work in the public / not for profit sectors and spend our days administering systems that are needed for the smooth running of the organisations. We both have managers who spend a lot of time attending things! This means we enjoy our evenings and weekends, have head space and energy for things we are interested in and have enough money to live on.

    • I know that what you guys are doing comes at a cost (lower earnings), but every time I see what you’ve been able to create for yourselves, I feel some serious pangs of envy! I love the balance you’ve been able to achieve, and the fact that you get to own your own head space and energy outside of work — you don’t have to sell that mental real estate to anyone else, or reserve your personal time for work tasks. So awesome. :-)

  2. “So we’re all working more without getting paid more, and we’re checking our email and engaging with our phones for work purposes at all hours.” Yep, I’m totally living this right now and getting paid per diem for this temporary gig. If I knew it wasn’t going to end soon, there would be discussions about what this would look like. I’ve been on email all weekend out of necessity and had to go in to school twice too. But I’m a “M-F” per diem employee (and not getting paid for today…) I’m sure they will work with me on this but it definitely makes me value the three months I was totally in charge of myself when I downshifted to part-time work! Looking forward to being back to that in just a few months again.

    • I didn’t know your temp gig required that much of you — I’m so sorry to hear that! But as you said, at least you know there is an end soon! I know that thought is sometimes what keeps us going, knowing that we don’t have to sustain this pace forever!

  3. Technology is great, and it also stinks sometimes. One of my employers tried to schedule my annual review via text message–a GROUP text– with all of the recipients replying to the whole group about their particular time slot. When did this become acceptable? I must have missed the memo, um, text. I just turned my phone off that day.

    I appreciate email and Google and instant access to information, and I also miss the joy of the mystery when the phone rang. Who was calling? Was it for me or my sister? What wonderful actual conversation was about to be had? It isn’t quite the same as a “How r u?” text.

    • Well said! We both love and hate technology. :-) And geez, what a terrible use of texting! I get really frustrated when clients text me, and try not to reinforce that behavior. Texting feels like my only private electronic space, and I don’t want it cluttered up with work! And yeah, so true about that old mystery of who could be calling. Sadly, I think those days are gone forever. :-)

  4. Ah so many thoughts (right on my sweet spot of education/work). The above PLUS these other trends are killing us:

    1. Complexity of service jobs got significantly worse. Think about how many people you needed to speak to 15 years ago to get a task done, think about that number today.
    2. ‘Gig economy’ More and more people are ‘gigging’ rather than finding a job so you find fewer people in a ‘forever job’ and instead have a portfolio of jobs at all times (think consequences for retirement plans, etc, and stress on stability). I dont care what studies say – person to person meetings with few people that understand each other is still irreplaceable by technology. Of course we need to adapt to virtual and other work, but it just makes it more complex.
    3. For the first time ever we will be working with 5 generations at once many people are work, and the internationalization of labor. Social/soft skills matter more than ever, plus all the technical or other skills you were hired for.
    4. Then we have this ‘matrix’ organizations (good luck making someone accountable and not spending 80 hours finding consensus) and move towards ‘agile’ environment and boom – you have a ‘go go go’ and increased complexity and the pace of constant change is just crazy (how many times has your organization “reorged’ compared to a decade ago?).
    5. Global competition (where most compete on cheaper price or a raise to the bottom) and speed of technology disruption – you got more competitors and things move SO fast you have to be adapting like crazy.
    6. “Managers” that either have no clue how to work with PEOPLE or the organization puts zero value in the coaching skill and is totally ok with self-managed workforce.
    7. Self service and options (and a gazillion tech platforms) – we now have a lot more admin work on our plates for self service things that require knowing 48596 different systems to get information. We also have options which, a few are great, more than a few actually increase anxiety.
    8. Retirement? sure but now we have to pay a lot more for a home compared to income and especially if you have kids college costs have gone up SO MUCH compared to wages we are seeing people not retire because they want to avoid debt for their kids.
    9. Services AT WORK – sure now you can go to the dr at work, they do your laundry, etc. that just means more time for you to work. As I read from a recently retired young lawyer ‘they are not paying me for my skills, they are paying me for my life’ – ah!!

    It also of course depends in your culture. I have worked for the same company in different departments and it was night and day (though same pay). In one department I literally witnessed three people going to the hospital with mental breakdowns (not much talked about). I literally stated putting meetings in our calendars that were mandatory to talk about something OTHER than work and get to know each other and actually forced them to take PTO and walking breaks and gave them consequences if they checked email during vacation. I normally HATE when people tell you what to do with your life, but something drastic needed to happen to change the CULTURE of working like crazy. I was starting to have anxiety all the time myself (I moved – my health is not worth any amount of money).

    Lastly I will say – if you look at professional athletes they never really ‘work’ (practice) more than 4-5 hours a day once they perfected their craft – it is the focus and quality of time, not the quantity (one makes you better one burns you out and potentially destroys your career).

    SOOO long winded, sorry. One of my dearest passions and the very culture I am trying to change.

    We have to stop. This is not only going to kill us but it is also completely counterproductive to what we are trying to do.

    • ok spell check and a little editing for grammar and organization would have gone a long way here – sorry (I was hiding from my kids in the closet while they were screaming at me, I fell pressure lol ) ;).

    • The post was already at 2000 words, so I thought it best not to meander into more subjects, but YES, I was thinking about a lot of these things, too! Thank goodness you got out of that job where people had mental breakdowns. That sounds downright horrible. And while I think it’s admirable that you tried so hard to model good behavior and disincentivize people from working all hours, if your whole company didn’t support that same idea, you could have even put your team in a bad situation of not working as hard as other teams. You know the system is sick when that is a possibility! When a manager looking out for a team and their well-being puts them in a worse situation for reviews, promotions, raises, etc. But I’m totally with you on trying to change this culture. We simply cannot keep going like this! (And never apologize for long comments — I LOVE them.) :-)

    • >>>As I read from a recently retired young lawyer ‘they are not paying me for my skills, they are paying me for my life’ – ah!!<<<

      Law can be incredibly stressful and require long and odd hours….being self-employed is how most lawyers I know who have "a life" are able to have "a life," myself included, even in light of the long and odd hours.

      Very good post from Ms. ONL and a very good comment from traveltravelandretire.

      • Thanks! And yes, that is the perfect way to put it. I have often said something along the lines of, “They aren’t paying for our time, they’re paying for our souls.” ;-) And I’m glad you’ve been able to put together a self-employed gig that lets you have a life!

  5. I’m a production scheduler at a manufacturing plant and I’m constantly trying to juggle what I think our production employees can realistically produce and what management wants them to produce. My boss’s favorite analogy is comparing human beings to tubes of toothpaste: “You can always squeeze a little bit more out.” And they honestly can’t figure out why they have an exhausted, negative, unmotivated workforce. Ugh. My husband and I are still about 6 years away from FI. We’re consciously trying to enjoy our lives now, but after a long weekend like this one and the “taste” of FI, it’s hard to go back to that environment.

    • Wow, you’re in a really unenviable role, trying to balance the needs of workers with the pressures of your employers! It’s shocking to me that your boss *really* can’t understand why folks are so demoralized — does he or she not also feel squeezed? I’m sure when I was just starting out, I thought it was only junior employees getting squeezed, but I now see that literally everyone feels this. The most senior management feel it from shareholders, and then everyone on down feels it from the next level above them. I don’t blame you for having the feeling that it’s hard to go back, especially after the long weekend, but you can always remind yourself that at least you have an exit strategy. That definitely helps me when I’m feeling especially down. :-)

  6. Man reading this makes me appreciate even more the situation I’m currently in. I say currently because my last company sucked my soul of its will to live every day the last year or so I was there and expected me to be available after hours, yada yada yada.

    My current company is awesome for now. Still the same 9/80 schedule so every other Friday off, and rarely if ever work outside of office hours. They took back our phones for cost cutting so I don’t even check email outside the office, which is a huge win. I can’t complain about the compensation either because it’s even better than I’ve ever had career wise.

    This isn’t to brag but it seems like a pretty stark contrast for most jobs that are in the upper end of the pay realm. And in reality I could get laid off tomorrow and not be shocked at all if it actually happened, just more surprised it took so long, hahahaha. Until then I’ll just keep enjoying what I do and hope it doesn’t degrade into any of the examples above my last few years there. 😋

    Happy Labor Day and hope you guys aren’t working today too….

    • Dude, stop bragging! ;-) Haha. I’m just glad you appreciate the situation you’re in. And I’m sure it helps that you have skills that are in high demand in your area, plus you guys have loads of money saved, so you know you’d be fine if you lost your job or even if you couldn’t find another one. And taking back your phone — now I’m thinking maybe I should lobby for that at my company as a cost-saving measure. (Also, I won’t really do that, because then I’ll lose my iPhone, and it’s shameful how much I love it.)

  7. Last comment (hahaha well I cannot promise that, I am inspired today!) – at a global scale something very similar happened with cultural globalization. On the one hand you got the adoption of McD, MTV and Coca Cola everywhere (and I do mean everywhere, I have seen these things in the most random locations). On the other hand you started to see people’s fight for self-identity based on that ‘push’ – that is where you start seeing things like ‘going back to basics’ for identity itself – India renaming cities and places to original name, Zapatista movement or other people in Latin America starting to speak their own language vs Spanish (from the conquistadores), movements outside a state like Islamic nationalists (they are Muslim FIRST, not citizens of X country), etc.

    It is always fascinating to me to see how things affect identity as we develop. Throughout history we have changed from land ownership to tribes to nationalism to religion, etc as form of identity and technology and globalization have shaped. What has always remain constant however is the need for identity/belonging and the search for something higher than us/ meaning of life – for peoples everywhere at any point in history.

    In this case as you point out the early FIRE community is (mainly) not about the money but about freedom. It is not freedom from working, is freedom of self. Is that search for fulfillment and the state of just ‘being’ (which is what you see with simplification and going back to ‘basics’ slowly breaking away from manufactured chains we created for ourselves).

    Whoa, Socrates…I better get off the internet today before I clog your blog. Feel free to block me for the rest of the day hahaha (I am going to go bake or something now – happy Labor Day Weekend!) ;).

    • Love this comment! (And while I didn’t write this post thinking, “This will get folks talking about the Zapatistas!” I’m pretty darn glad to have you mention it here. Haha.) I think you’re right that all of the current movements are a reaction to globalization/the great speedup, and while they take different forms, it seems that a great many of us are seeking something a bit more manageable than this endless treadmill we’ve all been forced onto. Thanks so much for sharing all your great thoughts today! They’re always welcome here. :-)

      • …whatever you know you were just waiting for the Zapatistas to make an appearance in the comments section as soon as you hit ‘post’ ;)

        Now, continuing with my random mood of the day – let me share with you my two favorite things to do at work to try to get a little more fun around the technologists when things got very sucky:

        1. Sign in to Webex using names such as “Mom” or “R2D2” or “Golum / Frodo” and see if anyone would even notice or say anything.
        2. In wider meetings, get a few people on my team to throw super random SAT kind of words in a sentence or bust out an ancient philosopher’s quote in a super serious tone …. (see what happens when you put liberal arts people in IT? ;)).

        It most definitely at least helped with my own entertainment and stress reduction (as you can probably see I am extremely easily amused) but man, a lot of people have no sense of humor these days lol.

        In all seriousness – I tried to impress on my team that there is no ‘work life balance’ there i just “living”. It is all mostly socially constructed and so it is up to US to make this place as great as we want it to be….I cannot just treat people as a worker, we are a whole and we need to be balanced. And if you dont take time to think about your own career/development and or future plans (some of the people I worked with were shocked that I encouraged to them to always look at alternatives, ALWAYS) – no one else will.

        If we lose that balance in any part of our lives then ALL the parts suffer.

        That said – can we FIRE yet? ;0).

      • I was definitely enamored with the Zapatistas in college, so I’m completely happy you raised them here. :-) I love your fun work mini-pranks… I will often make bets with colleagues before we go into big presentations or pitches to see who can use the most pre-determined random words in their portion. And I usually win. :-)

        The world needs more managers like you who encourage people to keep exploring their options! I have never encouraged someone to leave, but I have definitely always told people to keep building their skills and to think more about skills than job titles. Maybe once we’re on the way out I’ll follow your approach. ;-)

  8. I do think in general (life, not just work) seems to be moving so fast and we as a whole are having a hard time slowing down. I’ve been watching the Youtube channel Exploring Alternatives all weekend (I think you’d like it!) and it just makes me crave slowing down that much more. I feel like this is more of yet another duality I have. I like speed (like sprinting vs jogging), but at the same time I really picture myself just wanting to live a slow and simple life.

    • It’s funny because our definition of “slow” is probably much faster than plenty of other people’s. I’m a busy body by nature, and will always be doing things, probably too many things. But feeling like I can never possibly get caught up is just so unhealthy, and that’s what I’m especially eager to change. I laughed at your sprinting vs. jogging comment — we are definitely not the couple taking the leisurely way down the mountain, we are the ones pointing our skis straight downhill and racing to get there. :-)

  9. These issues (constant emails, texts, phone calls, having to go into the office all hours of the day and night, conference calls while on vacation) were the driving force behind my decision to accelerate my retirement date as quickly as possible. The endless demands on my time and energy just sucked the life right out of me. We could not do anything without work interfering, and failing to be available for all this meaningless crap was viewed as not being a team player, and it’s only gotten worse. I remember being called into an emergency meeting, along with several other people, and there being someone who didn’t respond to the text messages (it was 1:00 in the morning, as I recall). The comments made about that person were unbelievably judgmental, negative and just plain wrong. I was tasked with getting to the bottom of why he hadn’t made it into the meeting as tasks were distributed to the rest of us. When he came into work the next day, he met with several managers as well as myself and explained that he did not respond because he was asleep. That’s it. Not because the phone lost power, or he left it in the car, or whatever…just he was asleep. He didn’t stay with the company (I certainly don’t blame him), but his simple act that morning did give me pause; he didn’t answer his work phone at 1:00 in the morning because he was asleep. What a concept.

    • Whoa — that story is crazy. Yeah, what a wild notion, that you might actually need to sleep sometime, and might actually be asleep when an “urgent” note comes in. You’re making me feel super thankful that I don’t work for a company with that kind of culture, where I’d be berated for being asleep in the middle of the night and missing a text. I don’t blame YOU for making as early an exit as you could!

      • The company expanded service to cover 24/7/365 when they added another level of service option to the public, but the owner didn’t feel it was necessary to ramp up the management infrastructure as well. We ended up chasing our tails for months with no weekend, night or holiday coverage as the product line (and profits) continued to expand, eventually grinding the health of several key personnel (myself included) into the ground. If I ever start to feel the least bit sorry for myself, or second guess any decisions I’ve made regarding retirement, all I have to do is reflect back on those days and recall the frantic pace of my thankless existence (particularly at the end) to remember how incredibly fortunate I am to have been in the enviable position to simply leave my keys on the desk, lock the door behind me and wish them well. I have absolutely no regrets whatsoever.

      • Wow, those kinds of stories always amaze me, just because I can’t help but wonder what the owners/directors think will happen when they place that level of demands on people. Do they think they *won’t* drive people into the ground? Or they just think they can replace everyone and keep churning through cogs? It’s mind-boggling to me. But as you said, thank goodness you were able to make your escape!

  10. I’m a long time reader of your blog although I don’t usually comment. I have to say this is your best and most poignant post yet.

    I grew up in Australia and moved to the USA when I was 19 (have now lived here 18 years). While I didn’t experience Australian life as an adult (and I am sure it has changed some over the years) the differences in work culture were always striking to me.

    The pace we are required to operate at in the US is unsustainable. The question I have is when will a social revolt begin and what will spark it?

    • Wow, thanks for saying that! :-) And of course thanks for reading! I’ve read many times that the U.S. has the worst work culture in terms of squeezing employees as much as possible, and you see that reflected in productivity numbers, with the U.S. leading the world by a big margin. But that same question should always follow it: At what cost? Right now we’re all burning ourselves out, and why should we think this will ever change if we don’t make a conscious effort to change it? I think your idea of a revolt may not end up being so far off!

  11. I recently made the switch from a high paced big law firm job to a much more laid back government job, and I couldn’t be happier. I don’t even have work email connected to my phone.

    The job came with a $50,000 paycut, but that was worth it in my book to be able to get back some of my time back.

    Thanks for linking to that New Yorker article. Really interesting to see how much work has taken over our lives today.

    • Pardon me while I shout in disbelief for a sec. YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE WORK EMAIL ON YOUR PHONE?!?!?! Okay, sorry, had to get that out of my system. ;-) That’s so awesome that you’ve found a way to a career that comes with less burden on your life, even if you had to trade some pay in exchange for that. So glad it feels worth it to you!

  12. Your comment about feeling like a failure was very insightful. I feel similarly, but hadn’t quite figured out how to put it into words. I, too, get a lot of positive feedback and accolades from my bosses and workplace. And yet, I am a lifelong procrastinator and feel like I’ve failed at being productive most days. So maybe, like you said, what really draws me to early retirement is to let go of that self-imposed feeling of failure. Thanks for your thoughts!

    • Ugh — I’m so sorry that you feel similarly! It is the worst part of working today, I’ve decided, because that feeling of failing just drags us down all the time and affects how we see ourselves. :-( But on the procrastination front (guilty on that, too!), check out the most recent TED Radio Hour called “Slowing Down” (http://www.npr.org/podcasts/510298/ted-radio-hour). It was nice to hear procrastination described as a positive attribute for once! :-)

  13. Woah , now that was a very thorough and intense article today. Can we just talk about simple things like hiking :) Aside from of course the crazy wages of the top employees do you feel the constant push to get more out of employees is due to the stock market and companies going public. The ever increasing demand of meeting growth year after year forces companies to expect and push for more from there employees. A time when a company was privately held and they were happy with making a profit that didn’t need to exponentially grow year after year.

    Congrats on the nomination by the way ~ when you win I hope to get an invite to celebrate from a summit down your way :)

    • Haha — Yeah, it did turn out a little more intense than I initially thought it would! :-) I *do* think that the trend of companies going public is tied into all of this, and then the pressure to deliver dividends or a higher share price comes into play after that. But then again, I’ve seen people working for small private companies get just as burned out. So I don’t know!

      And thanks re: Plutus! Tell you what… after we retire next year, we’ll have a big celebratory climb for that! :-)

  14. We have a pretty awesome work-life balance (Mrs. A.E. does work some overtime but is not salary – which makes it sting a lot less). I am in the office about 40 hours a week and can come and go as I please. As long as my work gets done, no one says boo about it.

    I wonder how it splits out across title, the tech team average is in the 40-45 hour range (probably closer to 40) – I know the sales/implementation team works A LOT more because they are compensated for hitting targets.

    I also only check work email/chats when I commit to it ahead of time for a special reason, other than that its out of sight out of mind.

    • That’s so awesome for you guys! I’m glad there are a few folks who aren’t in constant drowning at work mode. Seeing your hours breakdown for your company makes me wonder if that’s what others would say, too — the Gallup poll certainly suggests that *most* people work more than that. But maybe you guys just happened into the mythical work-life balance situation that so many of us are seeking!

  15. Congrats on listed as one of the finalists! Great work.

    Work life balance is something you need to determine personally. I have to say, working in high tech dealing with people all over the globe means it can be tough to not work outside of your typical work hours. But it’s all about finding a balance. For example, if I have a late call I’d leave work earlier and call from home.

    I think one thing that us North Americans don’t do well is taking vacation and be completely cut off from work while on vacation.

    • Thanks, buddy! You’re so right about vacation time… I didn’t realize Canadians were also bad at taking their time! I just had this vision that everyone in the world was taking their vacation except Americans.

  16. Congrats on the nomination!

    I actually have a good work/life balance. That said, it comes at the cost of having a much lower paying job than I could have otherwise.

    I’ve been researching a lot lately on the gains in productivity and why they have not translated into less work and/or higher wages for workers as was predicted by prior generations’ economists, so it is great to read your take on it.

    • Thanks, Matt! That’s so fantastic that you have good balance between work and life. As you saw in the stats, you’re one of the lucky few! And it doesn’t surprise me at all to know that you’re giving up potential income to have that balance, given how the work world is these days. If we weren’t so close to our exit date, we’d be looking at making just that kind of switch, because we can’t imagine continuing at this pace for multiple more years!

  17. Congratulations on your nomination! You guys have a great blog.
    Yeah, the work life balance is out of whack for sure. Employers has so much power now and they demand a lot. If you’re not giving it all, you’re gone. It’s pretty crazy. I made a decision to slow down a few years before I left my career and I started to get mediocre reviews. You can’t last in a fast pace company if you’re not committed to the corporation. Good luck at FinCon. See you there.

    • Thanks so much, Joe! I can see us following in your footsteps… we keep saying that at some point we’ll start pulling back and slowing down at work, and we fully expect to get worse reviews when we do. :-S Look forward to meeting you at FinCon in a few weeks!

  18. Hi,

    Wow, what a post! This is exactly how I’m feeling, it’s just way to much, more, more, more!!! I’m just so tired and burned out with so much to do, I’m just really done and worse I really don’t care anymore. I’m doing what I can to stay a float but hoping to be out of this J O B by end of the year. It is sad that the higher ups in Management just don’t listen or care to change what is going on, but sounds like it’s a wide spread issue.

    Thanks for all your posts, hope you got out in the mountains this weekend!

    Northern CA

    • Thanks, Tina! I think you’re on to something with your comment that it’s a widespread issue — if 90% of workers feel like there’s not enough time, you can at least be heartened knowing that management feel all of these same pressure themselves. I know when I was first starting out, I thought people at my level did all the work, and the senior folks went home at 6. Now I realize that everyone at every level works crazy hard, and the folks who leave at 6 are also working weekends and later every evening. But all of that said, I hope you can find a way to take care of your own needs and find some relaxation outside of work — it’s so important! And of course an exit strategy so you know you don’t have to do that work forever… that’s even better. :-)

  19. thx for putting together the stats on the work productivity and pay evolution. Interesting read. And big thumbs up for the Plutus award!

    Do I feel failure? I more and more start to make deliberate and intentional choices. Both in work and private time. 2 years ago, I quit a nice job with very good fringe benefits for a slightly less paying job (and lesser pension buildup). There was way less stress and more fun. I just did the same to join a startup… great and fun challenges ahead. This is what I want. To me, it feels like a victory. Agreed, our car is not as big as it used to be and my title is less spectacular…

    In private life, I also try to make choices to what matters most and pursue that.

    The contradiction in all of that: It now feels that I miss out compared to some peers that decided to keep their jobs and now drive big cars. I have yet to understand where that comes from.

    • Thanks! It’s super exciting to be finalists for Plutus again, especially in the FI category this year! And the upside of having such stiff competition is I won’t get my hopes up that we could actually win. Haha.

      You strike me as someone who has made very deliberate choices to make the most of your life outside of work, and to have as much quality time as possible with your wife and daughters. So to know that you’ve switched jobs not just the most recent time but also before that, all in the interest of more life-work balance, doesn’t surprise me at all.

  20. Once again, you’re channeling me. I love all the research and graphs and charts and my post on Wednesday is all about how we don’t intend to progress to the next employment level of being the ones focusing on the 20% (pareto principle). I’m horrified and exhausted just thinking about what $100,000+ incomes could potentially mean for us. Granted, it may be possible to get there without that “over productivity” and overworking, but it could very easily happen with those things (especially since Mr. T works in software!).

    • Ha — I’m *always* channeling you. ;-) And your Wednesday post sounds awesome — can’t wait to read it! (And I’m in the air all day, so I may actually get a chance to comment! Yay!) And yeah, horrified and exhausted is how more people SHOULD feel when they think about six-figure jobs. Sure, everyone would love to make that money, but you have to sell off a pretty big piece of yourself to get it, even to do a job that’s not evil and for a good company.

  21. Fascinating research–thanks so much for sharing! I quit my first “real job” because I couldn’t work 65-70 hours a week while maintaining my marriage, friendships, and volunteering, with no end in sight. I’m incredibly fortunate I was able to opt out of that situation–I realize not everyone is. I’m so glad you’ll get to slow down soon, but sad to hear you feel like you’re failing when you’re obviously awesome at your jobs! I get it though. So many people I know feel like they can’t finish their work no matter how hard they try. That’s a bad feeling, for sure.

    • You’re welcome! :-) Wow, your first real job was already in the huge hours category?! Thank goodness you were in a position where you could walk away! That is just so unhealthy. And yeah, we know we’re not really failing, but it is for sure a recurring thought, one which we can’t wait to be free from!

  22. I remember the first time a supervisor responded to my email at midnight. We worked in a non-profit and I asked her why she hadn’t waited until a working hour. She worried she would forget with all of the morning tasks at hand. This was in an environment that said it wanted to be human and family-friendly.

    The greatest thing about being a contingent worker is that I can leave all of the work at the office. I only do and care about exactly what I get paid for. Sometimes my supervisor expects me to act like a salaried employee, but I remind her that she gets what she is paying for. My lack of security means that I can not care as soon as the end of day bell chimes.

    • I really do think plenty of people want to be *seen* sending those late night emails, which reflects so poorly on the work culture we’re all a part of. I’m more in your camp — if I have a thought at midnight, I try hard to wait until 8 am to send it, but I also empathize with your supervisor that sometimes you just need to get that thought out of your brain! And I can see the upside of your lack of work security, in that you don’t have to give your soul over to your company. You *should* get some perk for not getting the security of a full-time salaried position!

  23. I just left a successful, 30 year career at a high-tech company. One thing I will not miss is “being judged” and having “to judge others” constantly… As an example, the whole performance management process is a negative drain on everyone, even when you’re doing well. Reading this post and the comments from others, makes me even more happy about the decision I made to leave that toxic work-life!

    • Couldn’t agree more with you! After a long time at my company, every time it’s my turn to get reviewed, I always want to say, “Do we really have to keep doing this?” And I only like reviewing others because it is a chance to step back and offer advice and encouragement that feels out of place at other times — but otherwise I could totally live without it. But yeah, I think you made the right choice all the way! :-)

    • And the worst are companies mandating a curve so that however good a group is, the bottom 10% (or so) wind up labeled as “poor performers”, then eventually axed. Makes for very ruthless, unstable environment.

  24. I actually had to take work email off my phone because I just didn’t want to be that connected. My positions has never required me to work during off hours, but with the emails coming in, it was easier to just deal with it rather than look at it, store it in my memory and tackle it the next day. Though when I was in customer service, it was somewhat useful if we had a customer who outsourced their buyer to China since there wouldn’t be all that time zone lag in between emails.

    I still can access via browser at home. And probably do too often. And I do still sometimes access via browser on my phone. Which I almost always do at a long lunch. But at least it doesn’t automatically fly in and have a blinking light on my phone whenever there’s a new email.

    Furthermore, I’m totally guilty of cleaning up work e-mails via the browser on my phone when I have down time on vacation.

    I’ve very often felt like a fraud. It’s sort of hard not to when a lot of what you have in life is because of nepotism and the generosity of those that are close to you. No matter how much people may have told you that you’ve worked hard, that you’re where you are because you made good choices, that you’ve earned all of those paychecks.

    The next year for me is really going to be an important one in proving to myself that I can make it on my own. It’s funny because at our holiday celebration today, my parents said they wondered what I’m going to do when I come back.

    I definitely seem to have a chip on my shoulder to support myself on the road through more than investment dividends and I’ll need to do my best to not let that distract me from enjoying the road trip if I end up falling on my ass with the various money-making ideas that I’m throwing around in my head.

    • That’s fantastic that you’ve never HAD to be accessible outside of work. That’s a luxury all on its own these days! Though I certainly understand that it’s just easier sometimes to clean up emails outside of work rather than let them stack up, even if you don’t strictly HAVE to deal with them right then.

      I think it’s awesome that you’re striking out on your own for at least a while. I’m sure you’re not a fraud (or at least aren’t more of one than we all are), and this will be your chance to prove it to yourself. Or at least to have an amazing life experience and come back with lots of great stories. ;-)

  25. You nailed it here. This post captures so much of what’s wrong with the working environment for many people.

    I used to be putting in 60+ hours a week when I was younger because I didn’t know how not to. There’s always more work to be done and you feel like you can advance if you put in extra time.

    Eventually I was forced (thankfully) to scale back closer to 40 and it’s been amazing not just for my sanity but also for my productivity. By constraining my hours, I’m now forced to be much more deliberate in what I work on. I’m less distracted and I tend to think more strategically – asking myself what things I can do that will make a significant difference instead of just focusing on the stack of papers (or filled up inbox in front of me).

    As a manager, I try to encourage my team members to do the same. If I can get people to reduce their hours, increase their productivity, and be more likely to keep them around because they are less stressed and feeling better about their job, then I think I must be doing things right :)

    I’ve been heavily influenced by the guys at Basecamp (see their blog at http://www.signalvnoise.com and check out their books Getting Real, Rework, and Remote). They’ve got a really healthy outlook – make your time at work meaningful and impactful and then get home to do whatever else is important to you

    • That’s so awesome that you’ve been able to scale back your time and increase the amount you get done in that time, and encourage your team to do the same! I read Rework and loved it… the problem is that it’s great to institute that stuff on your own, but if your company’s culture is to judge people more highly (and pay them more) the more hours they work, then successfully reducing your hours can hurt you or even hurt your prized employees and team members. So it’s a tricky balance! In a perfect world, we’d all change the overall work culture, but given the pressure on profits and productivity, it’s hard to imagine that wish coming true anytime soon. :-/ But I’m still super glad that this more intentional approach to work is working in your case!

  26. Oh, thank you for writing this; this is great. I am so incredibly behind on everything I am supposed to be doing, and it’s good to be reminded that this isn’t so much about Me Failing as it is about a rather widespread cultural expectation that we need to be constantly scrambling in order to feel (or be considered) “productive”. Love the charts and graphs too. That McKinsey one is crazy. It’s interesting that there is a marked change in the graph around 1995, which happens to also be when the Internet suddenly started being a Thing That Everyone Had to Use.

    • You’re so welcome! And NO, it is definitely not you failing while the rest of us live some beautiful Instagram life. And yeah, I knew wage stagnation was a thing, but didn’t realize what a BIG thing it was until I saw that McKinsey graph!

  27. Love the post and notion that “the purpose of life isn’t to increase its speed” (Ghandi). That said, there is a pretty simple supply & demand reason why wages haven’t kept up with economic growth: more workers participating in the US economy. This is a good thing, not a bad thing.

    First, women worked more and more starting in WWII, but society really changed in the 1970s, when the number of mothers that were working suddenly DOUBLED. That huge increase in the supply of workers drove a huge flattening in wages, that hasn’t abated.

    Similarly, in a global marketplace, work that was done in the USA is now being done throughout the world as workers in emerging countries can participate in the global economy in ways they never have before and escape poverty.

    It’s easy to simply blame “the 1%” for the numbers in the USA-only graphs you shared, but it misses the point that while our wages have been flat, over a BILLION people globally have escaped poverty for the middle class over the last 20 years and another BILLION are expected to make the jump in the next 20 years. It is not good for the USA, but great for the GLOBE.

    (Yes, the top 1% have benefited as well. Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg, and Musk have also changed all of our lives for the better. Additionally, a lot of actors/actresses and athletes are in the 1% and we all choose to give them that money by exponentially increasing what we spend on entertainment)

    Sorry if this seems like a rant – I mean it in a positive way. :-)

    • I am always a big fan of any societal progress that makes things more inclusive. And I 100% agree that allowing more people and especially women into the workforce is undoubtedly major progress. We could argue over whether wage stagnation is an acceptable side effect of this forward progress or whether it is in fact just executives, boards of directors and shareholders squeezing more (maybe too much) out of workers, but that’s a subject for another day. :-)

  28. First, Congrats! Then: You are right on with this. It’s amazing how many commenters can relate (myself included.) One more thing that seems to be missing in the paper-pushing errr… button pushing world is to see ones work. Maybe it’s just me, but if someone said show me what you’ve done today, I couldn’t actually show him/her. If I were to mow the lawn, I could say, “See, look there.” Whether it be mowing a lawn, making a product, or creating a work of art, it’s a different sort of production. As it is, at the end of the day, my mind might be goo, but my body is basically just tired of sitting and my eyes tired of screens. I found FIRE later than many, but not too late to retire a good decade or so early. I don’t plan on sitting around in a rocking chair, but my production will certainly take on a different form.
    PS: With many blogs, I skip the comments. I love them on this blog, so thank you to those who comment also:)

    • We were actually laughing to ourselves, thinking, “The people who can relate the MOST are the ones who don’t have time to comment!” Ha. So there are probably loads more who can actually relate, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. ;-) But your point about actually producing something is so true… and thanks for pointing out that my contribution to the world today is… less than if I’d just mowed the lawn. Haha, just kidding. But it can for sure feel that way sometimes! And I think many of us miss that feeling of actually creating something.

      And so with you on the commenters here! We love you guys like crazy. :-)

  29. I’m a new reader to your blog, but just want to say how much I’m enjoying your writing and the inspiration it’s given my husband and me to check in our personal goals. We’ve never identified with bloggers who emphasize extreme frugality or intense hacking, and it’s really refreshing to find a balanced perspective on how to live your values. As a result, we’ve started looking at our expenses again to see where we can be more efficient and, more importantly, having more conversations about our near-term future.

    Best of luck in your retirement and looking forward to reading more!

    • Thanks so much! Checking in with your goals is always a great thing, so I’m glad we’ve inspired you guys to do that. I especially love that you’re looking for more ways to live your values now and in the future. :-) Thanks for reading!

  30. Good post ONL. But the situation, I am afraid, will not change. Top 1% of the world’s people control over 50% of the world’s wealth, the top 10% own over 90% of the wealth and this disparity is only increasing every year. This means the people at the top get to dictate what is the acceptable level of productivity for the rest 90-99%. Since they are the big time shareholders, business moguls and movers and shakers, guess what is an acceptable level of productivity for them? – yes, one that keeps rising every year. We are on a never-ending race for maximizing individual productivity.