Mads is an elite researcher, but still picks up his children at 2.30pm

Our weekly working hours are decreasing. At least that’s the case for IDA’s members, who want more flexibility and free time. Top researcher Mads Albertsen has optimised his working life so that he can keep the working week to 37 hours in an industry that is otherwise traditionally very time-consuming.

Mads Albertsen's alarm clock rings every morning at 5 o'clock.

If it's Saturday or Sunday, he goes out and runs for a little under three hours.

If it's a weekday, he walks the dog before driving from his home in Randers to Aalborg University, where he is employed as a professor. Two days a week he also manages to run for an hour with his colleagues before the working day begins.

Mads Albertsen is disciplined to say the least, and he has arranged his life so that he only focuses on three things: Being a researcher and a family man - and training for a 100-kilometre race.

And it seems to be working for Mads Albertsen, who at the age of 38 has reached a number of remarkable milestones:

He is the leader of a research group at Aalborg University and the project Microflora Danica, the purpose of which is map all the bacteria in Denmark.

During the corona pandemic, he helped start the world's largest center for sequencing the genome of the covid virus, and he has received a large number of awards, most recently the EliteForsk award for his basic research into bacterial DNA.

At the same time, he has prioritised being a present father to his children, who are now 4, 8 and 10 years old.

"I have never compromised on being a family man. It's the only thing that I don't touch," says Mads Albertsen.

It's easy to lose your breath when you hear about Mads Albertsen's schedule, but most people can relate to wishing they had time to focus on things other than work. And he has a number of simple tips to make working time more efficient - whether you want to spend your free time on long runs is another matter.

One in two wants to work less

Although Mads Albertsen is not your typical employee, he represents a growing trend in the labour market. Every other employee wants to work less, and IDA members are no exception.

In 2019, 68 percent of privately employed members worked 40 to 44 hours per week, while the proportion had fallen to 46 percent by 2023. During the same period, the proportion of privately employed IDA members who work more than 45 hours per week fell from 17.3 percent to 12 percent.

Jeanette Svendsen, who is a career counsellor at IDA, says that she often talks to members who don’t want to work more than 37 hours or who want to go part-time.

"These are members of all ages and with very different jobs. Many of them have in common that they are going through a special phase of their lives. It could be that they are having children, are affected by illness or just want to spend more time on their interests outside work".

Unfortunately, stress and high work pressure also impact the current trend. Every fifth IDA member feels stressed, and according to a member survey, it is especially the members in this group who want to work shorter hours.

"It may be about the workload, but working life is also becoming increasingly complex. I speak to members who say that they get a new manager every year, or that there is constant reorganisation at their workplace, and this is something that costs a lot of energy", explains Jeanette Svendsen.

Must complete three tasks per day

Before Mads Albertsen had children, he liked to work 60 hours a week during his studies and when he wrote his PhD thesis. The long hours were the prerequisite for him being able to make a career so quickly, and he does not perceive working long hours as a problem in itself.

"For me it is a hobby and a passion. I am a researcher, and I think that is fantastically exciting", he says.

But with the responsibilities of family life, he has had to optimise his working days as much as possible to compensate for the fewer hours – and this has helped him implement a set of methods he believes could help most people to become more efficient.

Mads Albertsen starts each working day by prioritising the three most important tasks he has to complete during the day, so that he does not end up "chasing after a thousand things". In addition, he tries to reserve the morning and afternoon for analysis work or writing research articles - i.e. tasks that require a high degree of concentration.

“I try to minimise distractions and anything that can steal my focus. I turn off email notifications and I use a number of programs that block social media and certain websites on my phone and computer”.

"It's about setting up small bumps in the road for yourself, because otherwise it's almost impossible not to be distracted by social media in particular. Often I also use the pomodoro method, where I set an alarm so that I work intensively in short intervals with breaks in between. During these, I can be really effective”, says Mads Albertsen.

A working week of 37 hours is not much in the field of research – especially not when you compare with countries like the US and China. Still, Mads Albertsen believes that it is possible to compete globally and at the same time maintain a healthy work-life balance.

"In fact, I think my team is proof of that. You can actually get very far in 37 hours. Few people are efficient all day, and I myself am happy if I get 15-20 efficient working hours each week. Then it's been a really good week". 

Got a key role during the corona pandemic

When the corona pandemic hit Denmark, Mads Albertsen suddenly got a key role which meant that he had to abandon his principle of not working more than 37 hours.

He helped build the world's largest center for sequencing the genome of the covid virus so that health authorities could monitor mutations - information used in deciding when lockdowns were needed.

"During those 1.5 years, I worked 60 hours a week. I had a normal working day, then I was a family man for five hours until the children went to sleep, and then I worked until I went to bed myself. In other words, not much happened in my personal life during that period, but for me it was both valuable and meaningful”.

"It's just not something I want to do for the rest of my life, but I also think it's fun to be able to dedicate yourself completely to something for a period of time", explains Mads Albertsen and continues:

"You also have to just recognise that if we really want to change something and accomplish significant things, it is not enough to become more efficient. You have to put a lot of hours into it".

Mads Albertsen points out that there is a parallel between working life and practicing running in the way that he can withstand hard workloads for short periods, but only if he recovers afterwards.

"One of the reasons why I have to keep to this 37 hours on average is also that I can then turn up the gas when it is really important, because I am part of an exciting project or have a deadline on a research article. It's good to be able to increase my pace, but I can't stand being up there for too long”.

Less time for chit-chat and drinking red wine with the wife

Focusing on three things obviously also means that Mads Albertsen must cut back a lot – this applies especially to social activities.

"I don't often go to the cinema with my friends or have time to drink red wine with my wife. But I've got used to that lifestyle, and it suits me really well, because I'm not as social as many others might be".

During the working day, there is also not much time to chit chat with colleagues apart from the 30-minute lunch break, which Mads Albertsen emphasises is important for unity.

"But it also appeals to me very much that we get to accomplish some bigger things together and that we achieve our goals. That is why I have this job. I like my life, and I have helped shape it myself, but there are probably not many others who would prioritise the way I do, or who want to live my life", says Mads Albertsen.

IDA's career counsellor Jeanette Svendsen believes that it is a good idea for everyone to take an active position on the priorities in their lives, regardless of whether they choose to focus on their high career ambitions or children. Because in the end it's about finding a balance throughout life.

"A good career choice depends on who you are as a person, what your values ​​are and what life situation you are in. You have to settle with yourself, what is important to you and what price you are willing to pay to pay. Because when you sit on Friday and think back on the week, it should preferably not just have been a good working life, but a good life in general".

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It's a good idea to reflect on the state of your professional life every now and then. IDA's career counsellors can help you create the career you want.

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