Many freelancers, including myself, calculate a man day as 8 hours of work. I've heard of stories that large companies count their work day as 6 productive hours for an individual programmer.

I know that other professions like a design or customer support can have 8 or 10 productive hours a day, but all programmers know what it means to achieve 6 productive hours a day (especially when coding nasty algorithm).

Is there anyone around who is close to some executive in an company to confirm how many productive hours they count as "one man day"?

  • 1
    Downvote? Anyone willing to explain why?
    – Peter MV
    Jun 25, 2014 at 8:39
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    I'd say a man day is the length of a working day as defined in your contract...
    – Oded
    Jun 25, 2014 at 8:50
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    @Oded Many other and myself calculate it as 8 work hours. How many hours do you calculate for your work day?
    – Peter MV
    Jun 25, 2014 at 8:52
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    I used to go with 7.5-8 hours a day. I've heard of 6 hours at creative agencies, but that was how they billed their customers...
    – Oded
    Jun 25, 2014 at 8:56
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    @oded - if it's a purely freelance project, you may not have standard working hours defined in the contract, unless you add that in yourself.
    – levelnis
    Jun 25, 2014 at 9:06

4 Answers 4


I'm a software developer who has been practicing the pomodoro technique for the last few months, in part to show me how long I actually spend performing tasks, but also to find out how much productive time I actually spend during a day. Even on a day that I have a well defined task to work on and no distractions (Skype and email are switched off, etc), when starting at 8am I found myself having to work through until around 7pm to complete 16 blocks of focused work, which isn't even actually 8 hours if the breaks in between focused work blocks are discounted.

So to actually work for 8 hours requires, in my experience, 10, 11 or even 12 hours of time to be spent. Given that a standard working day is 8 hours, then 6 hours is more than most people are able to spend being productive. Most of the organisations I've worked for quote between 6 and 7 hours to be a standard working day, in terms of billable time. The quote I provided for this project was based on a working day of 8 hours, so I have been working 11-12 hour days to ensure that I worked productively for the client for the stated 8 hours per day.

  • 1
    I ordered pomodoro clock :)
    – Peter MV
    Jun 25, 2014 at 15:31
  • I've used the Pomodoro technique and it works for a while. But then it's hard to control people calling me, sending emails, etc. I think I'll go back to it but only have 6 hours to work. I usually spend an hour three times a day checking email, searching for work, etc. It should be easy to figure out how to handle this but I can't stick to a schedule. Dec 27, 2021 at 19:47

I'm not sure where the 6 hours have come from but with my corporate team leader head on, I use velocity to measure estimates against actual work.

My team (heavily supporting users as well as coding) estimates hours for tasks. I then have a monitored velocity where I see that in 37.5 hours of actual 'work' people can squeeze in between 15 and 25 hours of estimated work.

The remaining time is still productive, but on non-'ticketed' or 'bug related' duties that we do not plan in advance.

I think the 6 hours have a somewhat similar background, just they are static and poor estimates cannot be 'mapped'.

If I was freelancing and seeing that I do 6 hours of productive work yet spend the other two or four or however I do on duties researching the specifics of a job related problem, I'd still charge for them.

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    We are often asked to use live time tracking tools. They take snapshots of your desktop so the client can see what you were doing. And if you stop working, then the timer stops as well. So we cannot charge those 2 extra hours if we weren't doing the work. And if we work for fixed prices, then no one will ask you how many hours you worked.
    – Peter MV
    Jun 28, 2014 at 6:26
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    Yes, but I think this is a very different world: Large Companies need to estimate the time a task planned for the future will take and need to account for estimation errors and time in team meetings, etc. Therefore they may only fill 6 hours per staff per day. Independent Freelancers can only charge the time they spend on a project. So if you only want to work 8 hours a day, but need to spend 2 hours finding new projects or managing your own company paper work, then you can only charge for the time you worked for the client.
    – Hans
    Jun 28, 2014 at 10:40
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    Exactly. Bill them for every second you use your brain thinking about their needs. You aren't flipping burgers.
    – HenryM
    Jul 23, 2019 at 18:20

8 hours seems like a reasonable number to me but this will mean different things to different people and freelancers and clients will need to agree on a more detailed definition so that a fair rate can be calculated.

For example, 8 hours of continuous uninterrupted work could take 10 or 12 hours to complete once breaks are added. Alternatively, 8 hours work might mean 8am to 5pm with an hour for lunch and include an allowance for a few interruptions.

The important thing is that a definition is agreed and a fair rate is charged.


I also had an idea that I work 8-10 hours a day but I was surprised when I worked for some clients on elance using the elance tracker. What I noticed is that, for starters, I couldn't work 8 hours in a day. The maximum I managed to do is about 6-7 hours. I'm talking about actual work involving programming, without counting breaks. With those I worked from 8 AM to about 6-7 PM, so almost all day.

Another thing I noticed is that I work more on Monday and less on Friday. I might work all day on Monday and get a lot of work done, but on Friday I can barely work half a day, and I'm not very productive. So on Friday I usually do about 2-3 hours of actual work.

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