ANNAPOLIS, FEB. 6 -- Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer deferred plans today for state employees to work a 40-hour week, saying he had rushed the idea before understanding its effect on family schedules and morale.

Schaefer ordered the change in early January to get more productivity from the state's 60,000 employees, two-thirds of whom work 35 or 37.5 hours a week. By reducing overtime and allowing the work force to dwindle by about 5,000 positions, the move eventually would have saved $183 million in annual labor costs, according to Schaefer's office.

But the immediate cost savings were small, and Schaefer conceded that he had moved too quickly. He said he still thinks a uniform 40-hour week is a good idea, but will not impose it until at least July 1. That would leave more time, he said, for workers and state officials to plan for the change.

"I have received some very well-thought-out letters on maybe we're doing it too fast," said Schaefer, who added that he particularly noted complaints from workers being forced to change their day-care arrangements on short notice. "I am not perfect . . . . When I see that something should be done, I'm willing to say okay."

The announcement is the third time in recent months that pressure from unions and legislators forced Schaefer to back away from his plans for state workers.

The 40-hour proposal "was a morale buster," said Del. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George's), who had drafted legislation to reverse the governor's order after fielding complaints from University of Maryland employees in his district. "Schaefer listened and responded . . . to the thousands of working people who do a full day's work . . . and just ask for a full day's pay in return."

In December, the governor rescinded planned layoffs of as many as 1,800 workers after legislative leaders told him it was an insensitive step to take during the Christmas season, particularly on the heels of an election campaign in which the prospect of mass firings was never raised.

Earlier in the fall, the governor relaxed a drug testing program after the unions argued that his plan to fire workers for a single positive test was severe. Even though recent revenue estimates indicate the budget is getting tighter, Schaefer said an outpouring of calls and letters from state workers and legislators led him to relent this time as well.

"I'm getting blasted from both sides -- for caving in, and for being too strong," Schaefer complained to a committee of legislators he visited today. "It's amazing to me how everyone constantly calls me the big spender," Schaefer said earlier. "But everywhere we try to make a reduction that's the one that cannot be touched."

At his news conference, Schaefer also dispelled, at least partly, the idea that he will be running for president in 1992.

During a National Governors' Association meeting in Washington this week, Schaefer told some of his colleagues that the only way to cure the states' displeasure with federal policies on health care and local aid would be for him to take over the White House.

Schaefer said he was sitting at the time near Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who himself has appeared interested in higher office, and "his {Wilder's} chin dropped down . . . his lovely and beautiful gray hair turned black."

Asked if his remark was a joke, Schaefer said "in a way it was, in a way it was not." Although Schaefer and President Bush are friendly, the governor said he disagrees with the federal government's practice of forcing the states to take responsibility for health and other programs without paying for them.