How Much of Our Lives Are Spent Working, Exactly? [An Hourly Breakdown]

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Sometimes it pays to know how many work hours are in a year. Psychologically, it can make you feel better about your pay. Financially, it allows you to do some calculations that help you decide whether something is worth your time.

What Are The Typical Work Hours?

Well, for starters, typical work hours are 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. It’s usually Monday to Friday. That translates to 40 work hours in a week, 160 work hours in a month, and 2,080 work hours in a year.

40 hours of work is considered full-time. Unfortunately for some, employers may ask an employee to work extra hours. Investment banking is an industry notorious for these kinds of practices.

However, hours of work are regulated, and that includes break time, overtime pay, and days off. This regulation exists to improve health and safety by preventing excess work and abuse in the workplace. It allows the employee to be able to work as effectively as possible and be productive.

Who started the eight-hour work day?

Regulated work hours started in early 1836. The labor movement publications called for an eight-hour day. It was a long journey until May 19th, 1869 when President Ulysses S. Grant issued a National Eight Hour Law Proclamation.

Source: United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Records.

Almost 7 decades later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, which mandated that full-time workers in the United States be paid overtime if they work more than 40 hours in any given week.

Since then, many companies around the world have used this as a standard practice. However, there are still plenty of international companies that don’t abide by this. Looking at you, China, and your 996 work culture. If you haven’t read about it, be sure to do so. It’s an interesting read, plus it makes you feel better about our standard 40 hour work weeks.

How many hours do you work in a year?

Generally, we know that there are 52 weeks in a year. The average full-time employee works 40 hours a week. From this, we can calculate the number of weekdays and work hours in a year.

  • 52 weeks x 5 weekdays in a week = 260 weekdays
  • 52 weeks x 40 hours = 2,080 hours

Nonetheless, it is still only an estimation.

The average American full-time employee works 1,801 hours per year. So we know there are other factors involved.

The average American full-time employee works 1,801 hours per year.

One of these factors is the existence of the leap year.

How Does The Leap Year Affect The Number Of Work Hours In A Year?

The leap year in the Gregorian calendar (the calendar we all use) is calculated in relation to the seasons. For that reason, there is an extra day (called a leap day) in February every four years.

To get a better understanding of how this affects work hours in a given year, here are a couple of examples of hours per month. One uses a leap year (2020) while the other does not (2023):

Work Hours in Leap Year (366 days)

MonthWork DaysWork Hours
January23 days184 hours
February20 days160 hours
March22 days176 hours
April22 days176 hours
May21 days168 hours
June22 days176 hours
July23 days184 hours
August21 days168 hours
September22 days176 hours
October22 days176 hours
November21 days168 hours
December23 days184 hours
Total262 days2,096 hours

Work Hours in Non-Leap Year (356 days)

MonthWork DaysWork Hours
January21 days168 hours
February20 days160 hours
March23 days184 hours
April22 days176 hours
May21 days168 hours
June22 days176 hours
July22 days176 hours
August22 days176 hours
September22 days176 hours
October21 days168 hours
November22 days176 hours
December23 days184 hours
Total261 days2,088 hours

So we can see that this number may vary slightly from year to year.

And though there is a difference, whether it’s significant or not is up to you to decide. But I know I’d rather be hustling 2,088 hours than 2,096 hours for the same pay. Wouldn’t you?

So overall, the difference between those two years comes out to:

  • 2,096 hours – 2,088 hours = 8 hours

How Do Days Off Affect Work Hours In A Year?

Public holidays in each state may vary. But let’s take the 11 federal holidays.


In addition, let’s take the average amount of paid time off (PTO) which is 10 days (or 80 hours worth), and sick leave (11 days or 88 hours).

Full-time employees usually get benefits very similar to these.

So to recap, assume you’re a full-time employee and you get:

  • 11 paid public holidays which is equal to 88 hours
  • 10 days or 80 hours of PTO
  • 11 days sick leave which is equal to 88 hours
  • 2,080 – 88 – 80 – 88 = 1,824

In total, you now have 1,848 work hours in a year.

That means you’re getting paid for about 2,080 hours, but your actual hours are actually much less.

To get a more accurate calculation, you can add and subtract the estimation above from the reality of your specific job situation. For example, if you are a part-time employee or have flexible job hours, you’ll need to make some adjustments to the above numbers.

How Much Of Our Lives Are Spent Working?

After establishing that you work about 1848 hours per year we can now calculate just how much of our lives are spent working.

There are 8,760 hours in a year, if you spend 1848 hours per year working that is 21%. Doesn’t seem that bad right? However, you have not factored in sleep yet.

Now if you factor in 8 hours of sleep a day, 2,920 hours are dedicated to sleep. Making the work percentage now 32%. Seems a little worse? Now we are still forgetting your commute time.

The average commute time in the US is about 30 minutes. That makes it an hour per working day. We already know that there are 261 working days per year, minus PTO of 11 days, which adds 250 hours to our working time. This makes our working percentage about 36%. Wow, that makes a huge difference!

So finding that work at home job might make all the difference in the world!

Why Is It Important To Know Work Hours?

Here are some reasons why it helps to know your work hours in a year:

1. To Identify Your Work-Life Balance

Knowing how many hours you work in a year can help you identify whether your work-life balance is healthy or not. No matter how dedicated you are to your work, you still need to do the math.

Working too many hours means less productivity for the typical employee. If you’re working too much overtime, whether at the request of your boss or on your own, it helps to calculate the number of hours in comparison to how much sleep and free time you have.

Unfortunately, the reality in today’s work culture is, no matter how hard you work or how long you’ve worked in a company, you’re likely dispensable. I don’t say that to be discouraging or condescending, but on average, everyone is average. Companies can generally replace your position with someone else at any given time.

2. To Manage Free Time

By calculating the annual work hours, you’ll get an idea of how much time you actually spend working versus how much time you have for yourself or family and friends.

You have a total of 365 days in a year. That’s 8,760 hours in a year.

Then, you have about 260 workdays plus an estimate of say 2 hours for getting ready for work commute time. In all, that’s:

  • 2,080 + (260 weekdays x 2 hours) = 2,080 + (520 hours) = 2,600 annual hours dedicated to work

You also need time to sleep. Let’s say you’re disciplined and sleep 8 hours a day. That’s:

  • 365 days x 8 hours = 2,920 hours dedicated to sleeping

To calculate your free time:

  • 8,760 hours a year – 2,600 work hours – 2,920 sleep hours = 3,240 hours of free time

Keep in mind those 3,240 hours of free time aren’t actually all free time either. You’ve got to manage your errands, doctor appointments, cleaning, cooking, etc. If you’ve got a family with kids, that’s even more duties. Some may argue the time spent with/for kids and family shouldn’t count against your free time. That’s your personal choice.

3. To Estimate Productivity Growth

Knowing the exact work hours in a year is one of the key components in estimating productivity growth. You can measure how effectively you manage your time and how efficiently you complete your work.

Having too many work hours may cause an issue with unrealistic expectations for other things in your life. Overworked employees tend to have a higher rate of stress, depression, and poor health. It’ll also increase your risk of a heart attack.

With properly balanced work hours, you’ll achieve more goals while increasing your job satisfaction.

4. To Calculate What Your Time Is Worth

Calculating your per hour income means you know how much value to put on an hour’s worth of your time.

You also know how many hours it’ll take to eat that fancy meal out, buy that car, mortgage that home, or pay off your debt. It helps you prioritize goals and gives you perspective on how best to handle your personal situation.

5. To Calculate Opportunity Cost

You have the right to manage your time and get a work-life balance that suits you. There is no absolute amount of work hours a person must work in a given year.

You absolutely can shop around for better wages, and you can hold multiple part-time jobs to keep things interesting.

Furthermore, if you decide you want to try out a side hustle, you’ll get an idea of what the side hustle pays you after a few weeks to a few months, and decide if that per-hour hustle is worth it in place of your existing part-time or full-time job.

Many will find that it can be, and by putting more hours into their side hustle, they’ll meet or exceed their current pay. That can be a game-changer and the deciding factor to quit your job and take a risk if so desired.

The Takeaway

Take the time to calculate your per-hour income. After doing so, ask yourself:

Is the pay worth every hour you spend at work?

That’s only a question you can answer, and it’s different for everyone. And it may lead you to decisions that can change the trajectory of your life, for better or worse.

Share the wealth!