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A New Life Awaits You In the Four-Day Week

The Four-Day Week Challenge

The more you work, the more you get done, right? Well, I’d like to encourage you to take the “Four-Day Challenge.”

The problem

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If you’re like most people, you’ve got too much to do and not enough time to do it. The e-mail inbox is always overflowing and the list of to-dos never ends. You always feel that twinge of guilt because you’re never spending quite enough time on what you should be. What’s even more frustrating is that the more you work, the more it seems there is to do. Argh!

So how do we manage the madness?

The challenge

My wife and I were recently having a conversation about our working schedule and our quality of life. We were getting extremely busy and both of us were feeling pretty stressed out. Between running Carson Workshops, building web apps like DropSend, organizing BD4D, updating Bare Naked App, and maintaining Vitamin, there just wasn’t enough time to get everything done.

Gillian (my wife) said, “Why don’t we try working four days a week and see how it goes? It will give us more time to relax.”

I thought the idea was ridiculous. How in the sam hill would we be able to get everything done? We have way too much to do in five days a week, let alone four.

And then it hit me: there will always be more to do. Working more won’t change that. In fact, working more is actually counter-productive. I was starting work everyday at 5:30 AM and working till 10:00 PM, but I still wasn’t done with everything. If I was working those extreme hours and still couldn’t keep up with my to-dos, then clearly working more wasn’t the solution.

The problem wasn’t a time issue, it was a mental issue. I knew I had a whole week to finish my work, so I spread it out over five (or seven!) days. If I knew I only had four days to finish a whole week of work, it would’ve motivated me to get things done more efficiently.

So here’s the challenge: work fewer hours.

How to make it happen

So working less sounds great, but how does it work in the real world? It will depend on two main things:

  1. Whether or not you are self-employed
  3. If you sell products or services

If you work for yourself

When you’re self-employed, you have complete control over your schedule. You can decide what days you work and how long you work each day. Gill and I work Monday to Thursday from 9 AM to 6 PM. It doesn’t really matter how you do it, as long as you limit your work week.

If you work for someone else

If you have a normal 9-to-5 job, you might be thinking “Well that’s great for you Ryan. You can control your work week. My boss will fire me if I propose working a four-day week!” And you’re probably right.

However, you can take the challenge in many different ways. Instead of getting into work early and finishing late, tell yourself that you have exactly eight hours to finish all your work for the day. Set a mental barrier at the end of the day and know that you will shut down your computer and pack your bags exactly at five o’clock.

When you tell yourself that you’ve only got a limited amount of time to do a huge amount of things, you’ll find it helps you focus and work faster.

Products vs. services

Working a four-day week is much harder if you run a service-based company. For instance, design companies will have to really work hard to keep a four-day week, simply because clients will expect you to be in the office five days a week.

If this is you, I’d like you to ask yourself this question: “Does my job facilitate my life, or does my life facilitate my job?” I believe it should be the former. Yes, you will lose a few clients who expect you to be available at a moments notice, but in the bigger picture, does that matter?

A possible solution to this problem is moving to a four-day week gradually. Maybe start working a four-day week just once a month. Then gradually increase this to twice a month. Eventually, you’ll have worked your way up to the entire month and (hopefully) your clients will be used to the idea.

Has it worked for us?

The proof is in the pudding, right? It’s easy for me to say that Carson Systems works a four-day week, but what actually takes place every week?

It’s harder than we thought

What we found is that we were extremely tempted to work on Fridays. We love what we do, and on top of that, there’s a heck of a lot of stuff that needs to be done. Not having that extra day to get things done actually felt a bit stressful at first.

In the first couple of weeks, we ended up working a bit on Friday, and even a little on Sunday. Hmmmm…clearly we needed to get a bit more serious about implementing this whole four-day work week stuff.

Week three and onwards, I’m happy to report, we successfully worked a four-day week. The trick was shifting our mental perception of how long the working week was.

Thursday is the new Friday

It took awhile to see Thursday like it was Friday. What we realized is that Thursdays became very busy, because we had to finish everything for the week that hadn’t been done yet.

We would look at our to-do lists and realize there was still a huge amount of things to be done. Yikes. So the result is that Thursdays can be a bit hectic. Friday would’ve been hectic anyway though, so why not get the work done one day early?

Sometimes you can’t get it all done

Now that we’ve been working a four-day week for three months, we’ve realized that we can’t always get the same amount of work done. Let’s face it, there are only so many hours in the day, and if you work fewer days, you will inevitably not get as much done.

But in the larger scheme of things, does that really matter? Will we lie on our death bed and say “Damn, I wish I would’ve got more done at work?” I doubt it.

So how’re the results?

Once we trained ourselves to stick to the four-day work week, the benefits were absolutely amazing. It was like someone had added another Saturday to our week! On Fridays, we sleep in, fire up the coffee around 9 or 10AM and then relax around the house or head into town to a coffee shop. It really is amazing.

We have more peace. More time to think. More time to enjoy life. It’s fabulous.

Practical tips

If you want to take the challenge, you’ll find you need to be extremely efficient when you’re working. Here are some tips to help you out:

  1. Avoid using instant messaging: It’s a constant source of distraction.
  3. Only check your e-mail twice a day: The surest way to waste time is the ol’ Send and Receive button.
  5. Stick to what matters: Take care of the most important stuff first. Don’t waste time on low-priority stuff. (In fact, delete the low priority stuff from your to-do list. It’s not going to get done anyway!).
  7. Ask for alone time: If you need uninterrupted time to get something done, politely notify your co-workers that you’ll be unavailable for a couple of hours.
  9. Limit blog-reading time: Set a time limit on your blog reading. If you don’t get through all your blogs in that amount of time, hit the trusty “Mark All As Read” button and move on.
  11. Make lists: Write a “to do” list for each day (on paper if you can bear to tear yourself away from Outlook). Put the time-sensitive stuff at the top and be realistic. Choose three time-intensive things to do and five quick things to do. Make sure you finish all of them before you leave in the evening.
  13. Restrict meetings: If you can, restrict the amount of meetings you call, or are involved in. Meetings drag on and can eat into your day. Instead aim for one or two meetings per week and plan them carefully to ensure you cover all important topics and keep on track.

Why it matters

So why is it important to work less? What’s the big deal?

The reason is that when you work less, it gives you more time to experience life and think; you can use the extra time to not only spend with people you love, take up hobbies, or invest in causes you believe in, but also to have ideas. Some of our best ideas have come while driving, gardening, reading, or painting on the weekend.

But what if your job is something you enjoy? What’s the harm in working hard and long at it? Well, I can fully identify with this. I absolutely love running Carson Systems. It’s fun, challenging, rewarding and profitable. I often find it hard to work less because I love what I do.

Here’s the problem though: When I’m old, I won’t wish that I spent more time building web apps or organizing events. Spending time with people I loved or helping people is what will really have mattered to me. Working less gives you the time to do it and also rejuvenates the brain cells so that you can come back to your work with a fresh outlook. Variety is key.

Challenge the system

What this article is really about is encouraging you to challenge what society tells you to do. Is it written in stone somewhere that “Thou Shalt Work a 40 Hour Week”?

A lot of the constraints and barriers we place on ourselves are completely unnecessary and even worse, keep us from being happy. My hope is that taking the Four-Day Challenge will help you enjoy life more and pursue what really matters to you.

Other resources

If you want some great ideas about maximizing your effectiveness and time management, I’d definitely recommend checking out the following:

  1. Getting Things Done by David Allen
  3. How to Shut Up and Get to Work! by Jason Fried
  5. Lifehacker
  7. Ta-Da Lists

Good luck!

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