Make More Happen

4 Things I Learned After Retooling to Work 4 Days Each Week

I’ve been working remotely for about a year now, and I love it.

Related: This Business Thrives Working 4 Days a Week Without Bosses, Email or Meetings

But, despite not having to commute or deal with the revolving door of corporate meetings, until recently, I still felt burned out. Running a new, fledgling agency isn’t rocket science; but it isn’t a walk in the park, either.

My business partner and I were regularly pulling 60-to-80-plus-hour weeks of actual work, where I had been used to 40-to-50 hours of half-ass work. Some of you may think that that’s nothing (a friend at Goldman Sachs “works” 80-to-100-plus hours regularly), but for me it was a big adjustment. And, despite doing well in our first year, well enough in fact to hire our first full-timer, I realized I needed a change.

Having heard from friends about their jobs at Worst of All Design working three weeks per month, and at Treehouse, with its strict four-day, 32-hour work week, I was impressed. 

Then, I thought about how my partner and I could make a change. Finally, after overcoming my initial reservations (i.e., less income), I decided to give the four-day work week a try. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. I’m more productive, even though I work more hours each day.

The first thing I noticed is that I tend to be more productive overall. Not every day, because that would be a lie. I’m still new to this whole four-day thing, and it's actually made me less disciplined on Mondays because of the three-day weekends.

But, man, I am laser-focused on Wednesdays and Thursdays now. I often work 10-to-12 hours those days, and willingly, just to get everything done on time. The last thing I want is to have to work on Fridays because I didn’t finish everything I was supposed to.

I’m not the only one who’s found that a shorter work week leads to bursts of productivity. According to tax services firm Ryan, which also implemented a four-day work week, turnover rates there dropped from 30 percent to 11 percent; revenue and profits nearly doubled; client-satisfaction scores reached an all-time high; and the firm received multiple “best place to work” awards.

2. I’m more creative and come up with better business ideas.

A nice side effect of having an extra day off each week is that you have more free time on your hands. At first, this was a bit daunting. I’d gotten so used to overworking that I didn’t even know what to do with all that time off.

Soon, though, I rediscovered my hobbies and reconnected with old friends. One thing I immediately noticed was that on Friday nights, I became hyper-creative. I’d stay up late and come up with all sorts of hair-brained services and terrible novel ideas. Fortunately, every once in a while, those ideas actually stuck (and were pretty good).

When you have more time to do what you want, your brain makes more connections. That means going to different locations, on a different schedule, and having new and unexpected experiences. But the only way to have more of these opportunities is to have more time off from a regimented schedule.

Related: 5 Ways to Take the Grind Out of Working 9-to-5

3. I spend more time with the people I care about.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t very good at taking Friday off at first. I’d wrap up everything I needed to do by Thursday night, then spend half of Friday telling my girlfriend that I was just “checking emails.”

We’re all guilty of working when we should be relaxing. Nearly 86 percent of American men and 67 percent of women have said on surveys that they work more than 40 hours each week. Compare those work times to those in Denmark, the happiest country in the world, which has a significantly shorter work week. Clearly, working when you’re supposed to be relaxing doesn’t make you happy.

There’s also plenty of evidence that spending time with friends and family is good for you. Not only does it make you feel less lonely, it also provides a number of tangible benefits:

4. I don’t make less than when I was working 80-hour weeks.

Okay, now for the ugly, beautiful truth: Some weeks, I make less than I used to when I worked five-to-six days a week. That much should be obvious to anyone who can do math.

But, the beauty of working less as you get more experience is that your experience brings in more business. Some weeks, I make just as much as I used to, if not more.

Sure, you could always be making more money if you put your nose to the grindstone 80-plus hours each week, but burnout is a very real thing. Working over 50 hours a week results in a huge decrease in productivity. And the problem with 10-hour days, five-plus days a week, is that you can no longer see the boundary between work and life. You become a workaholic addicted to work for the sake of work.

You have to decide what’s important to you.

I’ve been trying this four-day experiment for three months now, and I don’t think I’m ever turning back. I feel more refreshed, energetic and optimistic than ever. And I don’t feel like I’m slacking, which is the best part. I feel like I’m claiming what’s rightfully mine.

That being said, working four days a week isn’t for everyone. Some of you may feel irresponsible because you have loans to pay off. Others may feel obligated to make more money to secure the future of their families. Only you know why you work as much as you do.

Maybe you have an employer who refuses to let you work less than five full days each week. My advice? If you value your friends, family and personal time, find a new job that will treat you right. It’s not as impossible as you think. Some 43 percent of companies already offer four-day work weeks.

Related: Uniqlo Is Testing a Four-Day Work Week

Maybe John Maynard Keynes’ prediction of a15-hour work week isn’t as far off as we thought.