I know that many people today are talking about being bored while stuck at home, but I’m in the category of people who are fortunate enough to still have a job. However, I must admit, that job has not slowed down one bit. So, as I’ve been chasing my two-year-old around the house, working full time, and watching my friends’ complete puzzles and start new hobbies on Instagram, I’ve been fantasizing about working a little less. But not just about what working less would mean for me and my hobbies, but what that could mean for our society as a whole – if we all worked a little less. You may be thinking, how does working fewer hours a week relate to DFL. Don’t worry, we’ll get there.

I know that many people today are talking about being bored while stuck at home, but I’m in the category of people who are fortunate enough to still have a job. However, I must admit, that job has not slowed down one bit. So, as I’ve been chasing my two-year-old around the house, working full time, and watching my friends’ complete puzzles and start new hobbies on Instagram, I’ve been fantasizing about working a little less. But not just about what working less would mean for me and my hobbies, but what that could mean for our society as a whole – if we all worked a little less. You may be thinking, how does working fewer hours a week relate to DFL. Don’t worry, we’ll get there.

John Maynard Keynes (5 June 1883 – 21 April 1946) was a British economist whose theories were very influential if the first half of the 20th century.

I was first turned on to the idea of the 15-hour workweek, not by Andrew Yang or AOC, but by Rutger Bergman in Utopia for Realists. In the book, Bergman lays out how economists, starting with John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s up until the 70s with Richard Nixon, were thinking we would have shorter and shorter workweeks as technologies improved and the work we did became more efficient. Intellectuals worried about what we would do with all that free time (Clearly they didn’t anticipate TikTok). Technologies did improve, and production became exponentially more efficient. However, at some point in the 80s we, as a society, somehow decided what we valued. We concluded that the marker of success was whoever had the most stuff, not the most leisure time. But who really made that choice?

Quick Note: The 15-hour workweek was proposed by Keynes as a possibility for the year 2030, working 3 hours, 5 days a week. Today, a 3-day workweek supported by industrialists like Richard Branson, or a 21-hour workweek suggested by the think tank, New Economics Foundation, are more prevalent in the conversation and more realistic given some of the structural realities around commutes, as well as other factors. To me, these are just different degrees of the same idea to reduce working hours. But going forward in this article, I will use the 3-day workweek as it’s more relatable today.

I don’t think the notion of having more stuff came about because individuals consciously made the choice to value things over leisure, we just kept listening to advertisements and looking over the proverbial fences at the Jones’. Suddenly, the messages about “new”, “better”, “more” shaped our mindset and the way we make most of our decisions until it became a permanent part of our societal values. Keynes had assumed that once a worker made enough money to satisfy their basic needs, they would choose to take more leisure time rather than work more. However, he didn’t anticipate advertising’s ability to convince consumers that having more stuff was a need rather than a want. If we keep making decisions to work an extra hour here or take an extra babysitting gig there, just to get one more piece of clothing or add another record to our collection, eventually our subconscious values change to justify our actions. Suddenly we’re working 65 hours a week to get that bonus so we can have a jet ski that we don’t even have time to play with.

Now that we can see how making subconscious decisions got us here, we should start to understand that we need to make conscious decisions to reverse course. This means accepting the job offer that provides more days off and fewer hours, or lobbying our companies for more days working from home. It means making decisions to value our leisure time by really detaching from work and praising friends and colleagues when they do the same. And it means being satisfied with having less stuff and buying less. If we all make enough conscious decisions, eventually our values will change, and it will be easier to make those same decisions subconsciously.

Becoming content with owning less stuff will take some work. First, we all need to control our impulse buying as an emotional response or to meet trends. Sure, I knew I didn’t need that bubble skirt or peplum dress, but I wanted them. Second, we need to make an effort to buy better, making a concerted effort to buy things of better overall value – meaning better quality, lasts longer, and more versatility. A plain black pencil skirt with a slip and good seam strength made from locally sourced wool is obviously more versatile than a brightly colored bubble skirt from H&M which only looked good in 2011 and whose hem will unravel after 4 washes (True story). The qualities I just listed for the pencil skirt, and the conscious decision I made to value those qualities, are actually representative of 4 out of the 8 DFL tenets (Loveable, Sustainable, Guarantee-able, Sustain-able). Trying to buy a versatile, high-value product that can at least live up to some of the 8 DFL tenets, rather than the quick and cheap solution for that moment, is one way I can consciously make decisions to buy less.

For those for those of you who don’t know this is a bubble Skirt.

So what happens when I buy less? I have fewer clothes in my closet, fewer beauty products crammed into my cabinet, and my table ware is cut down to the serving pieces I actually need instead of 20 pieces for different seasonal themes. My home is less cluttered, so I spend less time cleaning. Like all the cool Silicon Valley CEOs, I have less decision fatigue from choosing my clothes in the morning. And, my budget stretches a little further, meaning I feel less pressure to work more hours. With all this new-found time, I get outside more – in the community and in nature. I have more time to install solar panels, shop from local farms, and cook instead of buying pre-packaged food. Maybe I’ll start to raise chickens for fresh eggs with 0 carbon footprint or canning vegetables. These have all been goals for me and my family, but who has the time?

I would love to be able to have the time to raise our own chickens.

Photo by Rowan S on Unsplash

The New Economics Foundation study states that a reduced workweek can help people live more sustainably. I believe DFL products can be a part of that. Consumers would have more time to do things like maintaining their products, prolonging the product’s usefulness, and reducing our overall consumption. I also buy fewer products that are a matter of convenience, in favor of those that are better choices for the environment and my health.

When I buy less, and you buy less, and let’s say 100,000 of your closest friends buy less … Then, demand for things like bubble skirts goes down. Companies stop pushing to get new products out every 3 months because the demand for that product goes down. As a result, these companies are pushed to spend more time getting things right and working on fewer well-engineered products that are in line with the DFL philosophy. Not to mention, maybe these companies are able to give their employees more flexible work schedules so they can enjoy more time doing what makes them happy.

If we all had more free time, we might have time to plant our own gardens.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

But can we, as a society, still be productive if we’re working less?

But can we, as a society, still be productive if we’re working less?

How can people be productive if they’re working less? Well, there are a lot of more qualified people than I to explain why this is possible. One compelling example comes from Bergman in Utopia for Realists. In 1974, Britain implemented the 3-day workweek to reduce energy consumption. All non-essential commercial energy use was restricted to just 3 days a week in order to prolong the coal supplies. It was estimated that there was only a 6% loss in productivity over this time.

When I started at Lovesac, there were 5 of us working on new product launches. Just 3 years later, about 15 people are working on them. The scaling has been exhilarating, but also frustrating at times. Things that I used to handle myself now involve 4 people, and we need to create processes and communication channels for these 4 people to work harmoniously. Similar growing pains will need to be endured as we shift to a 3-day week. Work can be distributed to more people and we can rely more on technology to share information and automate some tasks so that we can each work less while producing the same results.

It took a crisis to force the government to step in and require companies to reduce their working hours in 1974. But they did. And industry wasn’t too much worse off for it. Despite that, after 3 short months, things returned to normal. And since the 70s, at least in the United States, we’ve been working longer hours while seeing the average amount of vacation time on a steady decline. We need to make sure that we learn from that lesson in 1974. In this moment of crisis around COVID-19, we should take some time to evaluate what changes we’ve been forced to adopt, that there may be better ways of working. During the 3-day workweek in Britain, scientists saw evidence of reduced pollution, similar to what is being reported today with so many people working from home. So, could allowing people to work from home, or work a little less, maintain our current level of comfort and help the planet? It’s worth a try.

Product designers could have more time and creative capacity to work effectively on the challenges of Designing products to high standards.

Photo by Kumpan Electric on Unsplash

There is also evidence that working less can make people more productive. People are asked to be “on” and creative 40 or 50 hours a week. There’s no way people can produce top-quality results in that state. People need time to let ideas ruminate. But the pace we’re going doesn’t allow for that and it shows in our economy. While it might feel like we’re constantly being bombarded with new stuff (and we are), the rate of actual innovation is going down. The amount of innovation between the iPhone8 and the iPhone 11 (is that the one we’re on?) is minimal. And honestly, there haven’t been many truly innovative products in the past 10 years. We’re seeing the rate of innovation going down. If you’d like more details on this read Slowdown: The End of the Great Acceleration – and Why It’s Good for the Planet, the Economy, and Our Lives, by Danny Dorling.

The purpose of DFL is to inspire mankind to consume less by inspiring companies to design better. But maybe in order for companies to design better, we need the humans at those companies, the designers, to be better, full individuals. Allowing designers to have more leisure time can give them a chance to find inspiration, it can allow them to get 8 actual hours of sleep to be better prepared to meet the creative challenges of making Designed for Life Products. They can design fewer, better quality products that meet a wider range of consumer needs by virtue of being more versatile. Then, consumers can make the conscious decision to buy less.

Jessie Schwartz

About Jessie Schwartz

Jessie Schwartz-Kwasnik joined the Product Design team at Lovesac in 2017. Before that she spent six years in management consulting working on PLM implementations including new product launch processes.  Her passion for sustainable design started from reading the Lorax as a child and continued through her education at Dartmouth College. She was excited to put her beliefs into reality while working at Lovesac and to try to live up to the DFL principals.

One Comment

  • Lisa Tye says:

    I truly enjoyed your article and encouragement and inspiration to embrace the changes in our lives right now due to COVID-19. There was a comfort and a piece to embrace that way of thinking and reshaping our social influence. Thank you and I appreciate your product as well. As I’m researching a new sofa, I am excited to know I’m contributing to a company with this type of philosophy and vision. Thank you for your food for thought and your words.

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