Want to know how to work a four-day week? Of course you do – think of how much more life you can live with an extra day off per week, and you might be surprised to learn that studies show it can actually make you more productive, even though you're working one less day.
So, why is it that even digital nomads, entrepreneurs and people in professions that do not subscribe to the 9-to-5, Monday to Friday work culture, are still working five days a week?
Perhaps it’s habit, but whatever the reason you could be missing out on being more productive, better skilled, happier with more time for leisure, and even richer. Fortunately, RSNG is on hand to help you to realise the benefits of the four-day week…
Firstly, let’s get the obvious option out of the way – logically, the best way to make up for losing 20% of your working week by switching from five days to four, is to work 20% longer on the days you do work. That might equate simply to starting an hour earlier and finishing an hour later, but the end result is the same.
But there’s a catch. ‘Research we have done suggests a 10-hour day is probably the maximum that should be undertaken by anyone,’ says Professor Allan Dembe of Ohio State University, who has conducted extensive studies into the four-day week. ‘Above that level, people run the risk of experiencing extreme fatigue and possibly exposure to illness and disease’.
‘In the past it was feared the only risk of working very long hours was an increase in potential industrial injuries, but we now believe asthma, heart disease and cancer are as intrinsically linked to very long working days’.
The good news is the extending of four days – in a sense ‘cutting and pasting’ blocks of time to create longer days – isn’t actually necessary, for a four-day week.
Typically, the model says you work the same quantity of hours on the four days, as productivity increases alone can accommodate the extra work. For instance, Pursuit Marketing, a telephone and digital marketing firm in Glasgow, experienced a 30% uplift in productivity in the two years after employees were given Fridays off.
‘The brain switches into super-efficient mode, less inclined to seek out short-term rewards for work like checking Facebook’
Understand the Value of Removing Distractions
So, reducing to a four-day week should become a reduction in time, not a reduction in work. A large part of the theory behind this change is that workers are stimulated by the reward of an extra day off, and the urgency of settling all work matters in a shorter time period.
As a result of embedding these psychological incentives, scientists believe the brain switches into super-efficient mode. It is less inclined to seek out short-term rewards for work – such as checking for social media updates, engaging in non-work-related conversations or popping out to run errands – in favour of four working days almost entirely driven towards the pursuit of completing tasks.
You can aid this process by restricting your own access to distractions. Consider turning off WIFI for at least an hour at a time to stem the incessant interruption of incoming emails.
Researchers at the Michigan State University found that employees spent 90 minutes per day recovering from email interruptions; that’s seven-and-a-half hours per week, or about the length of one working day… sound familiar?
Having a designated work space and scheduled plan for daily work will focus you on tasks in hand. It is estimated you can lose 40% of your productivity when switching from one task to another.
It’s also important to sleep well before work (7-8 hours is the optimum level), but just as importantly, listen to your own circadian work rhythms and plan around those.
Susan Weinschenk, behavioral psychologist, researcher and author of Brain Wise says, ‘Observe circadian rhythms when you are in work mode, or rest mode. Remember, fighting against your rhythm won’t make you any more productive; working with it, on the other hand, will’.
‘Don’t work Wednesday, then work Thursday and Friday, when clients tend to compress deadlines and request work’
Choose a Day Off and Stick to It
The incentive of an extra day should be to reward hard work but also to stay fresh, and for that reason it’s recommended to split work days – for instance, work Monday and Tuesday, when most business contacts are enveloped in a post-weekend freshness and desire to be creative.
Don’t work Wednesday, then work Thursday and Friday, the two days when clients typically start to worry, compress deadlines and request new projects.
The technique of ‘blocking’ days off – as was the fashion in the past for shift workers who would work ‘four on, four off’ has been shown to be flawed, in that it takes the subject too long to move out of work mode, then too long to get back into it once the four days off are over.
Be Vocal About Your Four-Day Week
Outside of the personal benefits of working a four-day week, your clients may well respect and reward you for the modernity, drive and dynamism of your newfound work-life balance… but only if you stick to its principles.
A good way to do this is to be vocal about it and let those around you police your new schedule, clients included. If you begin answering your phone or responding to emails on your day off, you will have lost sight of the initiative, and its benefits.
Use That ‘Extra’ Day Productively
The body responds best to a process of effort and reward, so if the stimulus of working more efficiently – and let’s be honest, ‘harder’ – for four days is a ‘bonus’ day off, extract maximum value out of that additional day.
Take on a new hobby, be regimented about using the extra time to go to a class or work out, or simply invest in getting up, getting out and thriving in the new space you’ve created in your working week.
The important thing, psychologically, is to replace work with something worthwhile. ‘Work is a known contributing factor to poor health, so it follows then that time away from work should be spent attempting to reverse the negative impact and effects of our busy lives,’ says Aidan Harper, researcher at the New Economics Foundations.
The act of replacing work with positive action will also cement itself into a weekly process. So while one of the biggest incentives for workers is to feel less stressed, more invigorated and to embrace new opportunities, these are elements you will need to manually construct as they won’t fall into place by themselves.
Want to explore a selection of real-life case studies into this work revolution – here’s a BBC report on the four-day week using analysis from the Victoria Derbyshire programme.