Welp, we're trying the four-day workweek. Here's how, why, and how we'll be gauging success.
It’s been about a month since we started experimenting with 4-day (8 hours/day) workweeks, where we all work Monday through Thursday. I’ve gathered a few personal reflections from the first two weeks, though I look forward to being able to report on qualitative and quantitative feedback from the team, as well.
The main reflection I have to share is just how quickly the new schedule has set in both functionally and emotionally, at least for me. Starting the second week, I began to think of Thursday as the last day of the workweek, even referring to it as Friday in a few calls and Slack messages. Just as quickly, I’ve become incredibly protective of the time off. On the Fridays I have had to do a little bit of catch-up work, I’ve felt — guilty’s not quite the right word, but certainly a tad disappointed at myself for needing to use the time on my day-job.
Which leads to the second reflection: I don’t have anything quantitative to point to, but qualitatively, I’m pretty sure my productivity has gone up, not down, in the shortened week. For me, producing more in fewer hours has worked exactly the way the research said it would. I find myself much less anxious and stressed about household chores and tasks than I was before the change, because I know I’ll have ample time to take care of those odds and ends on Fridays (including, sometimes, work odds and ends that otherwise stack up). Instead, the biggest source of stress is knowing that if I don’t get everything done before Friday, I’ll need to spend some of my newly found free time at work. I’m working on not allowing that to be a stressor as well, giving myself permission to work a few minutes on Friday if needed, or to let things go into next week. So far, though, the feeling of emotional space has allowed me to focus intensely during working hours without worrying that I’m tempting burnout by pushing aside external stressors.
In addition to experiencing less stress, shortening the work-week has helped me prioritize like never before. When part of your motivation becomes protecting your time off (and that of your colleagues and partners), you find it much easier to understand which tasks are vital, and which ones can wait or be dropped altogether. And because you always have the backstop of uninterrupted time to catch up if you make a mistake and accidentally drop something vital, there’s less stress in making prioritization decisions in the first place. Because the entire company is also operating this way, it feels like a bit of a cheat code for the giant unsupervised todo list that’s secretly running our lives, which I wrote about last week.
What do I do with my extra downtime? So far, very little, and that feels great. I initially worried that it would be hard to resist the temptation to be productive that our society relentlessly presses upon us, but I haven’t succumbed yet. I’ve been reading a lot, for pleasure. Playing a video game for the first time in many years. Doing neglected household chores. Writing blog posts like this one. Cooking. Taking walks. It’s been, frankly, fabulous. The only thing that would make it better is if all of my family and friends had similar schedules, so we could share in the luxury of time.
This isn’t to say that there have been no negatives to the change. Despite discipline built from over 5 years working from home, I’ve found my work days stretching just a bit longer than before. And I spend more of those days engaged and focused on work, which is as bad for me physically as it is great for my productivity. I suspect some of my colleagues are having similar experiences, and when we survey ourselves again, we may find we need to work on creating a culture of taking breaks for physical health and starting and ending days reasonably. I’ve also had one or two of my busiest meetings days since we switched to using Remeet’s topic-first meeting system, because we still have to schedule external calls with partners, and there’s now less time for them. Like I’ve found with almost every other stressor since the switch, though, a long day of calls feels less draining than it did before, because we already eliminated most of our unnecessary internal meetings, and I have fewer external anxieties and more time to address the ones that do creep up.
Indeed, the biggest downside so far has been that, during the week, I have less time to carry on my (now rarely) daily blogging habit, because I find myself with fewer gaps during the actual workday to spend on tasks out side of work. On the other hand, though, I have more time to think and process, which makes writing longer pieces, like this one, much easier. I’m giving myself some time to adjust to this change and decide whether I need to rededicate myself to my goal or alter my expectations. Either way, though, whether it’s because the new schedule made space for creativity at work, or because it gave me an extra day to air out my mental laundry, I feel more creative and expressive than ever. That, perhaps, is as good a result to the experiment as any.