What would you do with a four-day work week?

Fun, work, freedom
Fun, work, freedom

I read this article on Inc. recommending switching businesses over to four-day work weeks. Obviously this is not something that would work for restaurants, retail outlets, hospitals, or anywhere in the service industry (if the word “emergency” can be legitimately used in any portion of your business, in other words). For businesses that invent, improve, and manufacture, it could be done. Software designers, computer manufacturers, car manufacturers, ehrm… writers, artists, and so on could work ten-hour days four days a week, with one of those days dedicated solely to research, and it would change us.

But how? I know I couldn’t make it work for myself. I start getting itchy on Saturday and Sunday when I’m taking enforced time off.  For me, that’s what it is. Enforced. If I don’t make myself do it, turn my computer all the way off, and stay the hell out of the office, I will end up working because working is what I like to do. It’s my form of fun.

But self-employed is different than job-employed. I’ve done both, and while I was doing my toughest job, working ER, I worked twelve-hour shifts two days a week. I exchanged every weekend of my life for less pay (compared to the nurses who worked five days a week), no vacation or sick time, and no benefits for five days of absolute freedom. For me, it was worth it. I could not miss a single day, or I would lose half my pay for the week.

But on my five days of freedom each week, I accumulated six out of my seven years worth of rejection slips, wrote several novels, sold the second and all that followed, spent time with my kids, and built the career that let me finally, after ten years of working seven days a week (five of them on my second job), walk away from my nursing job to live the life I’d earned.

So, for those who chose to use it, a four-day work week could be like that. A third day into which you could pour your efforts for yourself. Look at what you do with your days off now, and think about what you would do if you had an extra one. Obviously, if you aren’t using your current days off to build the life you want, an extra day would be of no real value.

But if you are already using your time off, what changes would that extra twenty-four hours allow you to make?  Would you take it if it were offered?

If you have employees, what benefits other than the ones listed in the article could a four-day work week offer? Conversely, what problems would it cause?  Would the trade-off in employee satisfaction and employee retention be worth whatever downside you see?

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9 responses to “What would you do with a four-day work week?”

  1. Caitlyn Avatar

    I have been following your stuff for a while now and despite having great respect for you, had not read any of your work. Or so I thought. Just a few moments ago, I got onto your site and noticed the collection of books at the top of the screen. When i was a little younger, i read your book The Ruby Key, without realizing it was you! Imaging my surprise when i saw that same book at the top of the screen.

    1. Holly Avatar

      I had that same response when I read a Lawrence block writing book as an adult, and discovered that he’d written the Bernie Rhodenbarr books I loved at a teenager.

      Nice to meet you, Caitlyn.

  2. Michael Polk Avatar
    Michael Polk

    With me, since I have no deadlines, no contracts written up, and nobody but me waiting for my work to come, I write when I write. When the ideas flow to my brain, I pick up my iPod Touch, the nearest notebook and pencil, or turn on my computer and let the juices flow. And, boy, do they flow. Although, if the four-day work week extended further to a four-day school week, well, for one thing, I might never get all my work done, for another, I’d be outside with my friend a lot more. I already find that when I’m taking the time to do things with him, my ideas flow a little easier. With a four-day school week, there would likely be more ideas flowing through my head. A hypothesis not easily tested. Sigh.

    1. Holly Lisle Avatar
      Holly Lisle

      The trick is to create deadlines for yourself.

  3. dragon Avatar

    Almost proved i can’t subtract there … if I had a three day weekend … ok, the brain seized up. I’d probably just fritter it away.

  4. klharrds Avatar

    I currently work a four day week (8.45 hours per day instead of 7). I started this while doing some external training years ago and needed to be away from the office for the day.

    When that ended I decided to keep the extra week end day. Once I get to work I am happy to stay. I do quite like my job. It also means I save 3 hours straight off the bat as that is one less daily commute per week and I save the money I would have spent on travelling to work on those days. It was therefore a no brainer.

    But … do I actually spend this time (now that the training has finished) in pursuit of a better life. Probably not. I do washing, cook a slow cook dinner which can never happen during the rest of the week and spend time with the hound. Oh and of course, play computer games.

    I have made a new years resolution this year to write on at least 5 days each week and achieve at least 400 hundred words. I am starting small at 2000 per week as a goal and have about 7000 so far in the last 2 weeks. I will have to think seriously about what it would be possible to achieve if I turn off Skyrim on a Monday.

    Thanks for the thought provoker Holly.

    1. Holly Lisle Avatar
      Holly Lisle

      Oh, Skyrim. The pain of the 3AM “GOT to go to bed now” wail.

      My latest character is a level 13 with a 53 archery and a 51 sneak.

  5. Danzier Avatar

    I’ve discovered that the more “free time” I have, the less likely I am to use it well (condition: if it’s more than an hour). My definition of “well” in this is: for a purpose that improves my life or my daughter’s life or the life of someone about whom I care deeply.

    I’m a world-class procrastinator. Three quarters of my self-talk goes, “Before I do [important thing] I’ll just do this [fun time-consuming thing] for a couple minutes [outright lie].” I’m fighting myself to build the life I want in the wierd free time structure of a mom attending college. The kicker is, every minute that I have available to fight with is another minute in which I can win this. So I’ll take all the free time I can get. I know there will be days where I debate the finer points of internet comic puns all day… but there will also be days where I clean house, buy groceries, cook real food, hang out with my baby, write something, think something, and have company over for dinner and games.

    A four-day work week with longer hours would need… two bag lunches instead of one, an evening babysitter (important and hard to find!) and careful planning of my off time. BUT my daughter needs daily input from her mom. I wouldn’t trade that for longer days.

    My personal consensus is short work times and lots of work days. A four-hour shift is only a quarter of a day, but I know I’ll use the other three quarters better. Until my daughter’s out on her own, I’ll keep my longer work week and focus on learning to better manage my time. That way, when she’s on her own, I can succeed on my own, too.

    1. Holly Avatar

      That was what I thought of first. If you have parents with kids, turning an eight-hour workday into a ten-hour workday is going to cause hardship.

      It seems like a great plan for young, single workers with no obligations. Maybe for couples without kids if they’re both working the same sort of hours.

      But I couldn’t imagine why I’d want to do it on a job with both a husband and a kid I love spending time with. And for creative work (that ten-hour research day) I think my brain would fry. I can, on a good day, stay deeply focused on what I’m doing for ten or twelve hours (or hellishly, fourteen). But to try to aim for that sort of high-pressure focus one day a week as a condition of my employment, with no end in sight?

      I can see that leading to the same sort of burnout that 12-hour shifts in the ER eventually caused.

      There are things I’ll do for myself because I know the payoff at the end will be worth it. To go through that sort of pain for a salary or hourly wage doesn’t sound like a good trade at all.

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