On April Fools day, I made a post about working all 40 hours of your work week at once and then having the rest of the week off. In the post where we discussed working from home, I mentioned that one way to reduce your commute is to work a shorter work week.
Before I go any further, let me address all the people who are poised to send me vicious hate mail saying things like “What type of world do you live in?!” or “My boss would never let me do this!” Please recognize that this won’t work for everyone–I know that. However, it is a good thing to keep in mind throughout your career because there may be a point where it would work for you.
Okay. Now that that is out of the way …
When I was a teenager, the school I attended was on a 4 day per week schedule. The state requirements for school specified a certain number of hours each year, and the school administrators found that, by having longer days, they could meet the requirements and free up Fridays. As a student, it was very beneficial because I was working as a waiter at the time and could pick up a day shift on Friday, which worked out very nicely. The extra hour or two that we spent each of the four days was well worth having a big block of time off (Friday).
These types of arrangements aren’t as odd as you might think in the current work force–particularly in healthcare–especially with night shifts. It is common for ER doctors and nurses to work three 12 hour shifts in a row and then have the rest of the week off. Some even work a series of shifts totaling 80 hours in a week and then take the next week off.
Back in 1994, the World Bank started a program where they would let people work longer days in exchange for the 10th day off as part of a work/family balance program. While there were challenges, the total productivity remained the same. Briton actually went to a three day work week as part of a strategy to conserve on electricity back in 1974.
My point is that not everyone is working 8 hour days 5 days per week. It depends on your job, but you might be able to ask about going to a 4 day work week. For some people, it might even be more productive. Imagine that you have 2 extra hours to get stuff done Monday through Thursday before anyone else came into the office. For a lot of people, these extra 8 hours would be much more productive when put before the normal work day on Monday through Thursday than they are all on Friday like normal because you would have a big block of uninterrupted time before the rest of the world got started. By coming in early, you may be able to miss traffic and cut your 2 hour commute to one hour. Then on your extra day off, you wouldn’t have the commute time at all.
Of course there are some downsides. There is a lot of problem solving that goes on when you sleep and most people are not operating at peak efficiency for 8 hours a day let alone 10. We need breaks and simply staying at work longer may not result in getting more done. This is particularly true if the bulk of your work involves a lot of heavy concentration. However, if you can switch between different types of task to avoid fatigue, it might work.
Here are some tips for if this is something that interests you:
- Try to shoot for coming in early instead of staying late. It is going to be easier to convince your boss that you’ll get more done by coming in a 7:30 am and getting a head start on everything than staying a few hours late.
- Try to arrange your schedule to avoid traffic. If you normally take an hour to drive to work, you may find that it only takes 30 minutes when you come in earlier.
- Make sure you are realistic about how long you can be productive. It is impossible to concentrate for 10 hours straight and you need to make sure that the type of work you are doing fits with this type of four day schedule.
- Concentrate on selling the business advantages to your boss. It doesn’t matter if it is convenient to you. You need to show that it is beneficial to the company business. (A lot of the tips from asking your boss to work from home still apply.)
- Consider consulting. If your current employer isn’t interested in this type of setup and you have skills that are in demand, you might consider becoming a consultant where you could set up this type of schedule for yourself. We will look at this in more detail later on.
Obviously, a 4 day week won’t work for everyone, but it is something to keep in mind as you work on achieving work/life balance. Your work productivity is important, but so is the time you spend with your family or pursuing your non-work activities.
Originally published April 14, 2007.