How to Work Less and Live More: 3 Tips for Building a 4-Day Workweek
The first day back after a holiday weekend inspires many people to wonder why every week can’t be more play and less work.
Joe Sanok says that it can.
Joe is a licensed counselor, entrepreneur, speaker, and host of the podcast, Practice of the Practice. He’s also the author of Thursday is the New Friday: How to Work Fewer Hours, Make More Money, and Spend Time Doing What You Want, due for release on Oct. 5, 2021.
Joe first experimented with working Monday through Thursday in college, when he designed his schedule to give himself a three-day weekend. Once he started his career, he moved to the traditional 40-hour Monday-to-Friday model—and then to working 50 hours a week.
But in 2012, a series of personal challenges made him realize he wanted to spend more time with family.
“I had to recalibrate what it was that I wanted,” Joe says. “I decided to experiment with going back to that four-day workweek. And every single month was better than the month before.”
On this episode of SUCCESS Stories, Joe tells Chief Storytelling Officer Kindra Hall what Henry Ford has to do with our concept of working hours, why more time off means improved productivity, and why boundaries are important for protecting your schedule.
Humans invented the seven-day workweek — and they can uninvent it too
We’ve been measuring time in seven-day portions for so long that we forget it doesn’t have to be this way.
Humans didn’t invent time: the Earth has, as far as we know, been moving around the sun since well before our species climbed out of the primordial ooze.
However, the sections we divide time into are arbitrary. Ever wondered why there are 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour? It’s not because of some phenomenon of physics. It’s because the Babylonians built their astrological system around the number 60.
Speaking of ancient history, there are multiple instances of weeks that weren’t seven days.
As Joe explains, the Roman week was 10 days until around 300 A.D., when Emperor Constantine declared that the entire Roman Empire would start using a seven-day week.
As for the work part of workweek, you can thank (or blame) Henry Ford for the 40-hour standard.
Joe explains that up until 1926, the typical workweek lasted 10 to 16 hours a day on six or seven days. But then Ford realized that if he gave his employees more leisure time, they would have more time to travel—and would therefore want a car.
If the Babylonians, Emperor Constantine and Henry Ford can reevaluate the concept of time to suit themselves, you can too.
Stress is not conducive to productivity
One reason many people give for not trying a four-day workweek is that they don’t want to be extra busy four days out of seven just to take the fifth one off.
There are two responses to this line of reasoning. First, with the right productivity tools, you won’t need to be so stress-inducingly busy on the days that you are working. And second, working four days a week will give you more time to relax, which will ultimately decrease your stress levels. And decreased stress levels mean you’re able to be more productive.
Think about a time when you were under great stress. You probably weren’t inspired to try something new or push for a new goal. You probably also didn’t feel like you were getting much done.
People don’t work to the best of their abilities when they feel stressed. In the long term, giving yourself the opportunity to recharge your batteries from Friday through Sunday will help you stay energized and focused from Monday through Thursday.
Transition gradually—but firmly
There is no scientific formula to help you switch to a four-day workweek. Find what works for you practically and psychologically. Here are a few strategies to help:
Discover your sprint style.
A sprint is when you devote all your attention to completing one task or project in a short amount of time.
You might have tried to cut down your work hours before, and felt too overwhelmed when it came time to sprint. This time around, consider the two elements that make up your sprint style, and tailor the way you work to them.
When: Do you prefer to sprint for small and regular periods of time (e.g., one day every week)? Or are you more productive sprinting for longer stretches less regularly (e.g., four days in a row once every month or two)?
How: Do you work best when you’re switching between different but related tasks (e.g., from writing to researching to planning?) Or do you get more done when you take one thing at a time? Some people like variety; other people like focus.
Set hard and soft boundaries.
Opportunities will come up that would require you to work on your chosen day off. You need to set boundaries that will help you enshrine that regular day off into your schedule—with enough flexibility that you won’t feel like you’re sacrificing once-in-a-lifetime career advances.
Hard boundaries: Anything that would require you to work on your day off every week in the long term has to be a firm no. The same goes for one-off or short-term projects that don’t come with enough payback to make them worth sacrificing your reset time.
Soft boundaries: Some things are too good to turn down. Don’t be so rigid that you won’t even entertain meeting someone you’ve always wanted to connect with, for example, just because they’re only available on a Friday.
No one can tell you what you should and shouldn’t make an exception for. Typically, say no more than yes to giving up time: save it for the really special opportunities.
When you’re still dipping your toe into the four-day workweek waters, start by trying small scale experiments to see how it works out.
For example, take every Friday off for a month, and see how it affects your work. What will probably happen, Joe says, is that you’ll end up putting off certain tasks over and over again, in order to complete the more important ones.
Not only will this prove that you definitely can fit all the work you need to do into four days, it will show you which parts of your job you should hire someone to do.
The four-day workweek is an experiment. Yes, in productivity: but mostly in what your life could be if you gave yourself 52 extra days a year to do what you want with the people you love.
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