Thursday, August 23, 2012

Working 40 Hours in 3 Days? Possibilities for Making it Work

I've been thinking about different kinds of work schedules. I found this poll interesting:

Question: If you could choose your own work week hours


5 hours, 42 minutes/day, 7 days a week 0 0%
6 hours, 40 minutes/day, 6 days a week 0 0%
8 hours/day, 5 consecutive days a week 10 12.35%
8 hours/day, 5 non-consecutive days a week 2 2.47%
10 hours/day, 4 consecutive days a week 32 39.51%
10 hours/day, 4 non-consecutive days a week 9 11.11%
13 hours, 20 minutes/day, 3 consecutive days a week 13 16.05%
13 hours, 20 minutes/day, 3 non-consecutive days a week 1 1.23%
20 hours/day, 2 consecutive days a week 0 0%
20 hours/day, 2 non-consecutive days a week 0 0%
40 consecutive hours a week 0 0%
40 varyingly distributed hours (i.e. something else) 11 13.58%
I'm retired 3 3.70%

So, is it really possible to do 3 straight days, 13.20 each, and then have 4 days off each week?

Of course, it is possible if you can swing it and really want to.

Some variations:

12:05 - 6:05 AM sleep
7:00 - 1:30 6.5 hours work
1:30 - 2:15 lunch
2:15 - 3:15 nap
3:15 - 6:45 3.5 hours work
6:45 - 8:45 dinner, socialize/family, exercise (whatever you want)
8:45 - 12:05 3 hours, 20 minutes work

Maybe you'd prefer to exercise from 2:15 to 3:15 instead of nap, and do an evening nap later before the last sprint, but whatever.

If you could get by on 6 hours nightly sleep PLUS the nap during the day or evening.

Or maybe you could try two 6:40 segments from 7 to 1:40 and 5:20 to midnight.

Alternative to three day: 3 big days, 1 tiny day

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea, in general, but 13:20 seems to push it a bit too far.

How about:

7:30 - 1:30 work (You can eat some snacks while working to tide you over before lunch; besides, isn't it said you should have small meals throughout the day anyway?)

1:30 - 6:00 free time. Eat, drink, visit friends, family, do errands, and take a nap after an earlyish dinner. Sleep from 5 to 6 to get your second wind ready.

6:00 - 12 work

This ends up at 12 hours. Or maybe you could handle 7:30 to 3:30, followed by 8 - 12. You get the picture.

The Numbers Game

After 3 days, it's 36 hours worked. On Thursday morning, you do 4 hours of review and preparation for the next week's worth of work.

But, the big benefit is now it's noon on Thursday, and you have 3 and a half days completely to yourself, your family and friends, and your own goals.

Lots of small excursions or even just local travels can be done in 3.5 days. 

Suppose you have 3 weeks off and 10 holidays. You probably still end up working something like 1,880 hours a year.

There are 8760 hours in a full year. Subtract 8 a day for sleep. You're still left with 5840.

So, you already have about 3960 to yourself. That's 100 more than twice 1,880!

The Trouble With Today's Work Environments

So, why is it so difficult these days to actually feel like you're not working all the time? Maybe it's because you actually are, in your brain.

It's not always possible to "just turn off" your brain when you're working on difficult, and interesting, problems to solve.

And, when you work in technology, sometimes a "schedule" like 9-5 is a ridiculous thing to even talk about. Creative problem solving work is not the same thing as assembling parts in a factory that have *already been creatively designed by someone else long ago and made into a formulaic process to follow*. It can, and should, be mentally exhausting work to create technological products and services properly.

Poorly designed technologies often result when people are completely burnt out and treated as if they belong in the long out-dated stereotypical factories of the 19th and 20th century.

Work Hard, Recover Harder

A lot of self-styled "rugged" or "progressive" companies adore the phrase "Work Hard, Play Hard", or something like that. Often this works out to something more like:

"We own this company, and you work for us, but we also like to have fun -- at least, the kind of fun that we deem to be fun, and therefore you also should deem to be fun. Therefore, when you are here, you will work hard, and we will inject our form of 'fun' into the day in order for you to see us as a company that also 'plays hard'."

Needless to say, this is misguided.

Daniel Pink's Drive and the Results Only Work Environment

Have you read Drive, by Daniel Pink? If not, have you heard what BestBuy's corporate office did? They turned themselves into what they call a ROWE, a results-only work environment. Here's more about the people who pioneered the concept:

Results-Only Work Environment goes beyond telework. It's a management strategy where employees are evaluated on performance, not presence. In a ROWE, people focus on results and only results – increasing  the  organization's performance while cultivating the right environment for people to manage all the demands in their lives...including work.

Think this is just a gimmick, that BestBuy is a fluke? Think again. How about these companies:

Are they flukes too? Gap, Banana Republic, etc. 

Personal Summation

In the modern age, it's ridiculous to expect creative, skilled knowledge and information workers to want to work the "routines" of the 19th and 20th centuries. Obviously, companies like BestBuy Corporate, GAP, etc have found better ways of working and retaining talented thinkers and leaders.

Working 9 to 5 (or 7 to 5, or whatever) 5 days a week is not a badge of honor. It's often a curse, because many of us do not, cannot, simply be "present" for x number of hours and turn off our brains and attend to "the rest of life". We are goal and results-oriented, and want to create valuable results by working long hours that require intense concentration and attention to details that often get overlooked.

So, in a culture that, at large, has not yet adapted to the mental and creative demands of the 21st century, we must find ways to "put in our 40" creatively, and in a sustainable way.

For me, that definitely means giving a short at "4 10s", or even "3 12s and a 4".

Wish me luck.