Go Beyond

Written by Teran McKinney
/ About Me / Half-time Remote DevOps/Systems Engineer for $40,000 /

The Forty Hour Work Week

It was August when I left my job. I've not had steady work since.

I largely wish I had the same job. It was wonderful. In general, you'll find that I loathe school and love jobs. Why? One pays you to learn and grow. The other, you pay to learn and grow. For the most part, university in America is a useless machine, churning out student after student in debt, with little experience relevant for the real world. It doesn't help that a number of those are degrees for gender studies, but even in realistic and useful fields, often they aren't prepared for work. At very best, I suspect someone with a four year degree might be equivalent to someone with four years of work experience. One has been saving up money, the other has been diving into debt.

Anyway, enough on that.

For the most part, there's three types of work:

Part time: This can be because the employer doesn't want to pay for health insurance. In general, this work is fairly bottom of the barrel. Some of it is fine I am sure, but rarely do these jobs pay hourly rates over $20, at least in the US.

Flexible: This is sort of new, although I'm sure it's been around. I'm thinking of Uber, Lyft, and Postmates. Work-by-the-hour, turn on your app kind of jobs. I think these are brilliant and suspect they are breaking into the part-time market. However, hourly pay for such services will never be too great. It just isn't a very unique skill to be able to drive people or goods. Specialized work that's flexible is quite rare. I created Answer.Market (now defunct) to help encourage skilled work on the fly.

Full time: 40-50 hours a week. Sometimes, 60 or more hours a week. I tend to find myself in the 40-50 per hour week bucket. Some startup work can easily bleed into the 60 hour per week range. It seems these jobs can range from mindless to excruicating. And from $7 an hour to $100 an hour. More than that is rare -- you usually have to own realestate or a business if you are looking for more.

Here's what I've found:

Odd jobs are often inefficient for the buyer and seller. I'm not talking about flexible jobs, but jobs like mobile mechanics, welders, etc. Payment is spotty and bursty. You can charge a reasonable hourly rate, but your gross hours versus paid hours may be poor. You also have to buy equipment, usually up front, maintain said equipment, and deal with a number of different bosses (customers). While I can make $40 an hour doing this, billable hours are probably about half of those invested, if that.

Part time: I just can't find any part time work that's in a senior role. More on that in a bit.

Flexible: These can work and fill in gaps for odd jobs and others, but I can't see anyone making it rich with these. That is, until flexible skilled labor takes off.

Full time: This has been my bread and butter, but I find I have more money than I know what to do with. And not the time to use it.

From an employee's perspective, I think the ideal job, accounting for savings, is able to provide a nearly equal amount of free time and money to burn at the same rate. If burn $250 a week and can make $500 a week in two days, why work any longer? Unless you want to retire earlier perhaps, or if money might buy you more happiness than the free time you have.

In San Antonio, Texas, I've budgeted $1,000 a month. This is pretty doable, doesn't give me much option for savings, and can be both a little bit high and a little bit low. I think it's a fair estimate. This means $250 a week, and I like to have weekends, so $50 a day, five days a week. Attainable, right? I think it looks better when you look at it that way.

In this case, at $40 an hour as a mobile mechanic, two billable hours easily has me covered per day. With a 50% billable rate, that puts me at a twenty hour work week for $400 a week. Notably and comfortably over budget. Not much of a savings with that, but it seems adequate.

This doesn't look so bad, but if I double my hours, I can make six figures in a full time job. The billable hours are nearly 100%. The pay is about $60 an hour, although taxes are taken off of that. All in all, it's a huge increase. If you're in a state without income tax, this may work out to be about $44 an hour or so: $1,760 a week. Now, it's doubtful that I'll stick to a $250 a week budget if I'm making that much. $250 a week can be my "desperate times" budget. $500 a week, "very comfy". And $1,000 a week, "make it rain!". Though obviously, you can go up or down that scale pretty easily.

One of my goals in life is to be financially independent. That means, to not have to worry about finances. To pick and choose when I work. Basically, I guess it means voluntary retirement. My other is to work for myself, whether directly, through an online service, or through a local business. For me, an online service makes the most sense. Any of those endeavors require a time investment.

I find that most full time jobs have a fair bit of stress included, but it's a different kind. Money stress is virtually non-existent. Flexibility can be decent, but just not working on days when you don't feel like it is very frowned upon. Not counting weekends, you rarely get even a whole month off per year. Most companies have a lot of politics and issues that shouldn't exist at all. This bothers me partly because there are plenty of real problems to solve. In my roles, a lot of the stress is from ownership. While it rarely keeps me up at night, owning a significant portion of the infrastructure makes me worry. I think about how many requests per day go through something I've designed and wonder what failure possibilities there are. CI might break for developers, testing may be impacted, out of band services may break with a change. Or just classic downtime for the customer. I hate downtime.

Ultimately, with 9-11 hours at the office I'm about done for in a day. I don't want to go home and work much more. I'll do some here and there, but not any sizable chunk of time to invest in something, especially that's not entirely fun, at least up front. After that week, I may end up spending half a day fixing a vehicle, doing chores in the house. A day off. And another half day that's sort of flexible, though I'd be delighted to relax on.

This lifestyle makes for an easy way to save money. But saving money is also like saving time off. Beyond money saved for emergencies, one of money's primary purposes is to buy you more time, just in daily life.

If I am making $6,000 a month and spend $1,000 a month, I should be able to work a year and then have five years off. This is quite doable. In practice, I'd probably cut your estimate in half. I call that estimate the time-to-live. You could also call it days-to-live. Just the amount of time you estimate before you run out of money. I wrote a tool to track that, though I haven't used it much.

Now, my goal is to work for myself. And work on things I love. Hopefully I like my job, I learn at it, and it helps enable me to grow into something more in the future. But at 40-50 hours a week, it's a stretch for me to do that and work on my own book or startup. What about at 20 hours a week? I think I could swing that.

And so, this is where I propose my 20 hour work week for skilled labor. In theory, if I can be paid $120,000 a year for 40 hours a week, why not $60,000 for 20 hours a week? In practice, the billable hour ratio probably goes down a hair, so it's less efficient. But you can do 20 hours in two or three days. In practice, it may be a 24 hour work week. Either way, there's going to be a solid two extra days off in your week -- at least. Two more days to write a book, two more days to work on your startup, two more days to relax.

For me, this would be fantastic. I can easily live on $60,000 a year and put away a good savings. And since I'm more relaxed and can focus more on my passions, I'm much less likely to leave my job. That is, unless something I'm working on becomes successful and I quit for that. So in my mind, for the employee it's extremely beneficial. But for the employer, can it work?

I don't see why not. While scheduling meetings is more difficult and work output is half, it also can help design the company around the idea that no one person should be a single point of failure. Services are kept understandable, consistent, and don't turn into massive silos. You don't want one employee who leaves to ruin the show. While this means you have more people on your payroll (possibly), it changes the dynamic. Possibly, for the better. And as I said earlier, I think churn is less likely in such a case. And by Friday, how many employees are working at full capacity? What about by Wednesday?

In practice, for 50% of the pay you may have 60-70% of the work output. You have lower office bills, if you have an office. Lower catering bills, if you cater. And if your staff have an entrepenuerial spirit they won't have to resent their job for their passions outside of work, or resent their passions for stability.

It's definitely a risk, but it may be one worth taking. For me, I would take the $60,000 a year half-time job -- hands down.

If you had a remote job working half time, you could truly travel and work from any place. It would be a grand experience. But if you had half-time work in an office, you couldn't do it. If you had full-time work remote, you couldn't really do it. But half-time and remote? It opens up a lot of possibilities for an exceptional life.

And what about benefits? For fathers and mothers, they probably care notably more about such. For single folks, why do you need them? I'm not counting on my 401k being worth anything, anyway. I save in other avenues. Health insurance? When I have it I never use it. I'm happy without. I'm fine being a contractor if that is best. I provide my own equipment anyway. While I can't speak for all interested in such a thing, this is what I would like. No gym passes, no catered meals, no "unlimited time off". Just half time, half pay. Nine days off a year would do.

Lastly, you can just save up and retire early. But I feel that lets the world pass you by. I'm 24 and could easily retire by 40 with full time work. Maybe a bit sooner. In ten or more years time, my ideas will probably be out of date and done on the market. And when I'm forty years old, say it takes me two years to make a good startup, then it fails. And again, and again. Soon I'm fifty. Do I really want to start something new, or do I want to relax and take it easy? I'd rather have failed startup after failed startup when I'm young. Fail until it works, or maybe it doesn't and at least I tried. And if I do it after retirement, how much money will I end up burning through? Obviously I'm not budgeting well if I put myself at risk, but I'd rather take a shot at my own business while I'm young and not when I'm old.




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