How Employers can Experiment with the 4-Day Workweek

by | Oct 11, 2021

Here are some steps that leaders and teams can take to begin experimenting with this new schedule, and how to assess what is successful and what needs tweaking.

After the 2020 pandemic, the world is asking the question, “Why do we work this way?” With the Great Resignation happening now, it is clear why: We are still doing work in the way the industrialists taught us.

To understand where we are headed with work, time, and the four-day workweek, we have to look back to understand how we got here. Several thousand years ago, the Babylonians made up the seven-day week. They understood the universe from what they could see most: the sun, moon, earth, Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter. So they created the seven-day week. The Egyptians had an eight-day week, the Romans had a 10-day week.

A year makes sense; that’s how long it takes to go around the sun. A day makes sense. But a week? There’s nothing in nature that points to a seven-day week. We could just as easily had a five-day week with 73 weeks in a year. In other words, we made this all up.

Fast-forward to the late 1800s and early 1900s. The average person worked 10- to 14-hour days, six to seven days a week. It was a farmer’s schedule, even if you didn’t live on a farm. Then, in 1926, Henry Ford started the 40-hour workweek. This was specifically to sell more cars to his own employees. He knew that people would not buy a car to get to work faster, but if they had a weekend, well then they would have a reason to get around quicker. And it worked.

So again, this thing that we hold dear, the 40-hour workweek, was completely made up—less than 100 years ago!

We are the post-pandemic generation. We get to decide how we want work to look. With increasing studies about the effectiveness of the four-day workweek, like the recent Iceland Study, emerging research continues to show that a four-day workweek is better for creativity, productivity, health outcomes, and happiness.

Will we continue to allow the industrialists to define this and treat us like machines? Or will we reinvent ourselves into something more creative, productive, and innovative?

The Baylonians gave us the seven-day week.

Henry Ford gave us the 40-hour workweek.

We get to create the four-day workweek and make Thursday the New Friday!

Within Thursday Is the New Friday, you will walk through how we made time up, the top internal inclinations of top performers, why slowing down is the key to speeding up, and how to absolutely kill it in productivity using neuroscience.

The except below from Thursday Is the New Friday: How to Work Fewer Hours, Make More Money, and Spend Time Doing What You Want offers this message to readers: The industrialists’ era was a step forward for its time, but we have outgrown it. The four-day workweek is coming within this generation. Effective leaders and businesses will position themselves to understand the benefits to profits, productivity, creativity, and their bottom line by making Thursday the New Friday.

Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” But he also said, “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.” So which is it? Do we keep moving or pause?

I would argue (although I’m not sure I would actually try to argue with Einstein) that when Einstein speaks of “balance coming from moving” he does not say that movement needs to be work. Movement can come from learning, understanding, experiences, or just plain lack of stagnation. In other words, be someone different today than you were last week, a year ago, or a decade ago. Stagnation, not rest, is the enemy.

I bring this up because when people hear my admiration of the hare over the tortoise, they often disagree; they push back. The way that people sprint can be very different. Deep inside of me, I have been a hard-core sprinter and a hard-core rester. Earlier I mentioned my college schedule. I wanted to jam-pack all my credits in four days and know that I had nothing scheduled for three days. Even the semester that I took 21 credit hours, it was over a four-day workweek.

That’s me. Your schedule will look different. But there are three guiding principles before we look at your sprinter-type.

1. Do your very best work first. 

By doing this you allow yourself to perform your work with severe boundaries. This exposes what work is most likely to level you up.

2. Be uncompromising about your boundaries. 

Do not let emails, texts, and work slowly creep in. If you know that you must work on a Friday, schedule a limited time for it. Don’t let it creep in or your overvalued work and underdeveloped fun will continue.

3. Give yourself less time. 

When you keep pulling in the time you take to complete tasks and deadlines, you may do work that is less than perfect, but remember that speed is greater than accuracy (unless you’re my surgeon, then spend all the time you need). This builds the muscle of productivity when it’s time to work.

Sprinter Types

There are four primary types of sprinters with two differences on each axis. There is the use of time within the day and there is the use of time within the week.

1. Time-block sprinter will set aside a minimum of one hour and a maximum of four hours at a time to work on one specific task, outcome, or project. This person tends to stay highly focused during this time and takes minor breaks.

2. Task-switch sprinter intentionally switches tasks every 20 minutes or so. They set a timer and determine each sprint’s purpose. For example, they may work on copy for a blog post for 20 minutes, then do a call with a client lead, next they check email, walk outside during a call, and then approve a project’s final stage.

So which are you? Do you tend to focus on one project for a longer period of time and batch it, or do you tend to strategically switch tasks? Most people think they are doing one or the other but are distracted during a time block or all over the place when they are task-switching.

Next, how do you plan your sprints?

1. Automated sprinter sets a schedule to repeat, usually weekly. For example, on Thursdays I do most of my writing for the week. My consulting, podcasting, and other projects are complete, and Thursday is more of a creative day. I block out the whole day, but usually do four hours or so in the morning. This repeats in my schedule weekly.

2. Intensive sprinter schedules a multiday intensive or retreat with a specific sprint purpose over that time. It could be reading, thinking, planning, or working on a specific project or set of tasks. This is similar to Jeremy Sharp’s practice of retreating for several days to sprint toward a project, gain ideas, and level up.

So which are you? Do you see yourself setting aside time weekly and automating that? Or do you see yourself having a scheduled intensive every month or quarter?

Let’s mix these all together now:

1. The time-block + automated sprinter: This is me. I prefer to have a very specific task, like writing, podcasting, or working on a webinar for one to four hours. I have specific projects to work on scheduled in my calendar weekly. I can look ahead months and see the big projects and sprints I will be tackling. The time-block + automated sprinter often takes big bites out of projects over time but can also overthink deadlines since the end is not always clear.

2. The time-block + intensive sprinter works on one major task, but instead of working on it weekly, they get away and spend a few days doing it all at once. During a retreat, for example, this sprinter may write, film, and launch an e-course, webinar promotion, and set up all the Facebook ads. At the end of the intensive period, everything is done. This sprinter gets a significant amount of work done in a short period of time but may miss the feedback needed when a project lasts longer.

3. The task-switch + automated sprinter values variety. They will have weekly time blocked out and rotate between several aspects of leveling up, keeping all the plates spinning. They often get more feedback from a variety of areas, but are also more likely to be distracted into meaningless work that has very little ROI.

4. The task-switch + intensive sprinter plans several days to complete a variety of projects and tasks. They plan to get the most important items completed quickly and leave feeling relieved. They usually finish a load of tasks quickly but may accidentally spend time checking things off a list, rather than having the sprint focus on really big projects that will help them level up.

All four of these sprinter types have pros and cons. The biggest thing is to remember the original three principles:

1. Do your very best work first.

2. Be uncompromising about your boundaries.

3. Give yourself less time.

There are times that different projects and tasks require you to adjust. Even if your tendency is one type of sprint, know that you can integrate all four types.

Published from Thursday Is the New Friday by Joe Sanok Copyright © 2021 by Joe Sanok. Used by permission of HarperCollins Leadership.