Going to a 4 day week – Why, How & Alternatives

My Mate – “…but banking is where the money is….”

(some quick maths later)…

Me – “So given the extra income, extra hours you work and the taxman’s share, you probably earn about £4 per hour for those extra hours.”

Mate – “Hmmm…”

Working and the workplace are ingrained in our psyche, it is part of our sense of worth. I wonder how many people immediately knew I was talking about a 4 day working week, although I never included “work” in the title.

“Time is our most valuable resource.” – The cliché which many believe, but few people actually do anything about.

If time is our most valuable resource, I am surprised by how many people unnecessarily accept a standard 5 day working week, which in reality is often much longer than the contracted hours.

“I have to, it’s my job. I need the money.” – The reality is that we need the money, but it is worth taking time to consider if this is the whole story. I reckon there is at least 20% wiggle room (more?) for most people. Be more productive, live on less, was there a time you “survived” on less?

We’ve added technology to the workplace, loads of it, so much so that people are worried technology will steal our jobs. For some perhaps, for even more, it has simply extended our work hours, blurring the lines between home and work, making us work even harder or at least longer.

It is worth reflecting back on an extract from Being You“While technology has allowed us to be so much more “productive”, I often feel like I am driving a F1 Racing Car at 200mph. The car can handle it, the problem is that I have the same reactions as when I was in my 1986 Golf going 60mph. The technology may allow me to go quicker, but my reaction time is still the same, my ability to process information is the same. I have to utilise all my focus and attention to only just about keep up, it is stressful and tiring. Studies have shown that we actually have more free time than ever (no hours of churning butter for me), but it sure as hell doesn’t feel like that can be true.”

In spite of the changes to the workplace, we are largely operating with the same rule book or codes of behaviour. Perhaps more accurately, we are playing by the old rules and have added new ones. We need to change or discard some the old rules and expectations. If you are delivering a quality output, no reasonable manager or colleague should bemoan you working fewer hours. Additional hours often do not add value, at times they end up creating needless work for others. It’s often a fallacy that people who work longer hoursproduce more. Let alone add more value, one person doing unnecessary work, creates more unnecessary work for others.

In seeking the often misconstrued work-life balance (my take and Derek Sivers’ take on balance) when it came time to renew my contract I decided that 15% (tax is quite a leveller) less income for 50% more week-end was easy maths. So now, I work 4 days a week for money, the rest is for me. I have also bought an extra 2 weeks of holiday. I recognise that I can “survive” while earning less, on balance my lifestyle is far better.

It took me a while to get used to the new rhythm, initially all I was doing was working a compressed week (same amount of work and hours, just in fewer days). I’ll admit that going to a 4 day week takes more planning and focus. This is a good thing, as it helps positively shift my output along the average-good-excellent performance plane.

For those that don’t have the option of a 4 day week, I suggest  considering utilising some of the following:

  • Consciously reduce hours by planning your week better (don’t expect perfect), aiming to reduce the after-hour slippage. I do this by setting myself a reminder at 5pm to plan my next day, this reminds me it is home time and allows me to be more focused the next day.
  • Reduce the length and/or frequency of your commute – If you work 8 hrs, sleep 8 hrs (haha), it leaves us 8hrs, say 2hrs on “chores”, so 2hr commute is 33% of our personal time. Working remotely from time to time can gift an extra 33% to your disposable time. I work remotely 1-2 days a week on average.
  • Consider changing jobs/industry/company where the expectations are healthier in terms of hours worked. I moved from Insurance to Education.
  • Explore doing a compressed week where you work additional hours certain days with the aim to do a half or even full day less. Golf on Friday afternoons anyone?
  • Attempt to change the work culture of associating working late with working hard. Is someone who works late better or worse at their job?
  • Buy more holiday. I purchased 2 additional weeks.
  • Start with a few simple steps to change your mindset. Perhaps a half day once a week or even leaving an hour earlier on a Friday. Anything to help break the mental barriers holding you to the old rules.

Your circumstances and priorities will be unique to you, so below are the resources I’d refer you to if you value your time and wish to explore the “How” further:

Remember time is our most precious resource, you can’t buy happiness and you only have one life to live. If you believe these three, or even one of, the commonly used adages, take time to consider if your actions are in line with this belief.

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