Experimenting with a 7 day work week

For the first two weeks of last month, I religiously tried to follow a new routine I created for myself: a 7 day work week routine.

The idea was quite simple: I would work 7 days a week, rest 7 days a week, go to the gym 7 days a week, reflect 7 days a week. This was less about working lots, much more about feeling fulfilled every day, feeling stretched during the day but also rested. I aimed to work less each day, and replace two hours of work with a long break in the middle of the day.

The biggest thing I wanted to do was to satisfy my craving of “why not?” and to challenge the status quo of working 5 days a week and then taking 2 days off. Many of us know that working 9-5 is not the most effective way to work, and I had found this to be true for quite some time. I had a curiosity about whether the 5 day work week might also not be the most effective routine.

Some of the hypotheses I had about a new 7 day work week:

  • I would be much more successful in building solid habits that became ingrained, since I wouldn’t have two days off and then the struggle to get back into broken habits.
  • I would be in much better sync with my team who are distributed around the world, and I would have a better handle on my emails and work by having time in the weekends too.
  • I could work less than 40 hours a week and be more productive, since I would have long breaks between super focused work periods.

The 7 day work week routine

I’ve been an early riser for a couple of years now, and during this experiment I was rising at 4:30am. I aimed to do 5.5 hours of work each day, which is around 38.5 hours a week.

  • 4:30: Rise.
  • 5-6:30: 90 minutes of focused work.
  • 6:30-9: Gym, breakfast, shower, etc.
  • 9-11:30: 2.5hrs of focused work.
  • 11:30-3pm: Lunch, then extended rest period.
  • 3-4:30: 90 minutes of focused work.

Results from 2 weeks of the 7 day work week routine

In the end, I have decided that I won’t continue with the 7 day work week routine. That said, it has been a very interesting experiment and I have kept some aspects of the new routine.

Here are two of the things that didn’t work out:

How the world works does affect you

This is one of the things I wanted to avoid believing for the longest time. I don’t think it’s ever healthy to believe things “are the way they are”, and in many cases I think this can be forgotten. After all, as entrepreneurs we are in the business of changing reality by making something out of nothing.

I found that Saturdays and Sundays could never be the same as other days, as much as I wanted them to be and I tried to create a routine that could be exactly the same, every day. There are more people wandering the streets, more noise outside. There is no one in the office. You can’t send certain emails, because they need to hit someone’s inbox in work hours. It’s not the best day to push a new feature or blog post.

You can certainly take advantage of the fact that Saturday and Sunday are different, by doing specific tasks. However, the point of my experiment was to have identical days, and in this respect it was a failure.

I burned out, even with lots of breaks

I wanted every day to be exactly the same. So I worked each day, and rested each day. I also went to the gym every day, I adjusted my work out so that this would be sustainable.

I found that even with a gym routine of just a few exercises and different muscle groups, I felt I couldn’t get adequate overall renewal just in a single day period. I worked out for 15 days straight and in the end strained a muscle and had to take almost a week off.

Similarly, I found it interesting to observe how my passion towards the work I was doing adjusted. To begin with, I was excited during the first week and even at the weekend I enjoyed working. The hardest aspect I found was to stop myself working so much during the week, so that I could be fully rested and keep working at the weekend.

Overall, I feel like the 7 day work week fell apart because of lack of an extended period of renewal. My hypothesis that a couple of extra hours during the day and less overall daily hours working would be enough was invalidated in my experience.

The wisdom of the day of rest

After trying a 7 day work week, I became quite fascinated by the concept of a “day of rest”. It occurred to me that this is a tradition that has been around for a very long time, and of separate origins. Almost all of the world observes some form of a weekly “day of rest”.

I’m no expert of the bible, however with a little research I found that the origin of the “seventh day” or Sabbath is Genesis 2:2-3:

And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made.

Similarly, in Buddhism there is the concept of Uposatha which is the Buddhist day of observance. I find it interesting how Buddhism teaches the purpose of this day:

the cleansing of the defiled mind

I feel a sense of calm and confidence in the knowledge that many thousands of years of wisdom all converges towards the idea of a weekly day of rest. Certainly from my naive experiment I feel that this is a very good practice.

6 days of work, 1 day of rest

Both from my own experiment and the wisdom of the day of rest, I have become very interested in the idea of a single day of rest. However, I have not once come across anything advocating two days of rest. This is one of my biggest takeaways from this experiment, and I plan to continue to work on the basis of 6 days of work and a single day of rest.

Jim Rohn, who I have been very inspired by, also said it well:

Work was so important, here was the original formula for labor. If you have forgotten it, remind yourself. Six days of labor, and one day of rest. Now, it’s important not to get those numbers mixed up. Why not five/two? Maybe one of the reasons for six/one: if you rest too long the weeds take the garden. Not to think so is naive. As soon as you’ve planted, the busy bugs and the noxious weeds are out to take it. So you can’t linger too long in the rest mode, you’ve got to go back to work. Six days of work, then rest.

I think one of my biggest takeaways from trying a 7 day work week is: despite the conclusion that rest is important, a single day is the perfect amount, no more. I am working to consistently live by this method for as many of the weeks as I can during the year. I believe that this will be a key to success.

Have you considered experimenting with your work week? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Photo credit: David Joyce

Work harder on yourself than you do on your startup

"Work harder on yourself than you do on your job." - Jim Rohn

A long time ago, I came across the amazing quote above, which was said often by Jim Rohn. It stook in my mind, and as the years have gone on, I feel I’ve increasingly started to learn the true meaning of it.

I feel that in a startup, the quote is even more relevant. Here are some of the reasons I’ve discovered that tell me that you may want to seriously consider working harder on yourself than you do on your startup:

It usually takes a few tries

I certainly hope you do things better and faster than I have, and I know people far smarter than me building kickass products, but looking back and joining the dots of my own journey it is interesting to recall the number of different projects and startups I’ve started before hitting something that has worked.

Unfortunately, the Internet is literally littered with my previous startup attempts, and it has taken me many tries and many years before I started Buffer and have started to have some success.

For that reason, I think it’s not a smart approach to put all your eggs in the “current startup” basket. Instead, it’s good to work on yourself.

Be open, vocal, and build your network

Looking back, one of the things that has helped me the most when starting Buffer was the fact that during the year and a half I was working on my previous startup, I was consistently sharing my progress via Twitter, Facebook and blogging.

Many ask how I drove the initial traction to the product-less MVP of Buffer. The truth is, I was rather lucky. As a result of being open and quite vocal about startups and my learnings, I had reached a total of 1700 followers on Twitter, and a few on other platforms too. Since the initial target user of Buffer was a Twitter user, this was a great channel for me.

Whether your case is as good a fit as it was for me with Buffer or not, you can still benefit by having a personal Twitter profile and sharing your progress frequently. In addition to the “launchpad” effect at the start of Buffer, I now believe that with just over 6,500 followers I have an amount of credibility which can help to put me in the lucky position to speak at events and connect with people I couldn’t otherwise.

Do activities to improve all aspects of yourself

Of course, sharing your progress on social networks is just a one of the things you can do to improve yourself.

I think that working on these other aspects of yourself can also help you to have a much better chance of succeeding with a current or future startup:

Marketing and blogging

If you’re a coder, you should definitely try attempting to get press for your startup and blogging, or at least pay keen attention to the marketer on your team. It’s an invaluable skill to be able to communicate clearly and hustle your startup to be featured by press. This personal blog is something that has brought me far more benefits than I originally realised it would.

Coding and technical skills

Whether you’re a long-time coder and you hack away on open source projects in addition to the startup, or you’re the marketer and you start to dabble in code, improving understanding and skills on the technical side of a startup are a massive win if you start something by yourself. Whilst researching my previous post on Kevin Systrom of Instagram, I was surprised to see how his activities leading to starting Instagram shaped him to be both a phenomenal marketer as well as very able engineer. This is even more relevant in these current times, since Andrew Chen has clearly highlighted the immense power of a "Growth Hacker" who is both a marketer and an engineer.

Exercise and paying attention to your body

I have quite a rigid schedule and a number of rituals to help me both get great consistent sleep, and also to exercise daily. Working on myself in this way means I am super happy a lot of the time, and this very directly converts into productivity when I’m hacking away on Buffer or positivity and enthusiasm when I’m in an important meeting. In addition to these benefits, having a few different things I can “win at” each day means I always have a great day.

Speaking and mentoring

I’ve recently increased the amount of speaking I’m doing, and each time it becomes much easier. I’m not the kind of person who naturally loves to speak, so it’s been an amazing experience to become more comfortable with doing it.

As well as speaking, I’ve been offering help to local startups here in Hong Kong to talk about validating their idea, gaining traction, fundraising timing and strategy, scaling and other interesting topics. It’s been amazing to widen my viewpoint of the different challenges people face, and also to be in touch with many super smart people. This is outside of the normal startup work, but I have no doubt it benefits Buffer in many ways.

If you want to ask me a question via email or jump on a Skype call, I’d love to hear from you.

Are you working harder on yourself than your startup?

When you’re doing a startup, it’s hard to separate life and work. Therefore, why not work away on yourself just like you do on your startup? Plan the necessary disengagement from the startup just as carefully as you’d plan the time you work on it. If you can systematically improve and expand your skills, then whether this one works out or not, you’ll always be in an increasingly better position as the weeks and months pass.

In what ways are you working hard on yourself? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Photo credit: Pandiyan V

Work and rest in a startup

I’m writing this from Javea, Spain. I arrived here a couple of days ago and I’ve been pondering the relationship between work and rest in a startup.

One reason I’m building a startup is to gain control over many aspects of my life. I like to hack my productivity, and I’ve found I don’t enjoy normal working hours or offices. If you’re working on a startup or have aspirations to create one, I’m guessing you can relate. By experimenting with these concepts, I’ve found I can get more done.

I find it particularly interesting to relate this to startups because there’s a lot of emphasis on crazy things like 18-hour days in startups.

Time, or energy?

Over the last year, I’ve realised that whilst time is limited and in some ways determines how much I can get done, what really determines my productivity is what I do and how I feel in the time I have. Energy plays a large factor in how we feel and how productive we are. I realised how important energy is in a book I read a short while ago called The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwarz. The overall message of the book is:

"managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance and personal renewal”

In a similar way to the fact that you need renewal in order to grow muscles, we also need renewal in order to grow our capacity of mental energy. Here is how Loehr and Schwarz put it:

"Any form of stress that prompts discomfort has the potential to expand capacity physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually so long as it is followed by adequate recovery"

This idea that if we shift from trying to manage time to managing our energy we can achieve more and feel better while we do it has lead to me doing quite a lot of experiments with my work and rest.

Experimenting with work and rest

I’ve tried many techniques to squeeze maximum productivity out of myself. When I embarked upon my first venture I was working very long hours, far beyond the point where my productivity dipped. This was a habit I carried over from university as a result of deadlines imposed at university.

One of my weaknesses is that I over-estimate how much I can get done in a period of time, so it is easy for me to go far beyond my optimal levels of energy. I came across a comment in an article on How To Stay Healthy While Hustlin A Startup, and it really rings true for me:

"Skipping sleep for a few extra hours of work destroyed my morale, creativity and attitude."

A startup is chaotic enough, so does it make sense to put ourselves in such a state? Recently I’ve been experimenting with getting a good amount of sleep and regularly going to the gym. I stop working when I feel I’ve gone just beyond the point of my high productivity period. This idea of stopping or “disengaging” is something I’ve found to be very important.

Disengaging from your startup

Disengaging is probably one of the most challenging aspects of running a startup. Whatever I’m doing, I often find myself thinking about my startup. The thoughts can really affect productivity because you don’t get the renewal you need from the startup in order to return to the work with high levels of energy. I can’t put it better than Loehr and Schwarz:

"The richest, happiest and most productive lives are characterized by the ability to fully engage in the challenge at hand, but also to disengage periodically and seek renewal"

The suggested way to improve our ability to “fully disengage” is by creating rituals. I have a ritual in the evening of going for a short walk and upon returning going straight to bed and reading a fiction book. It helps me disengage from the work I’ve done in the day and get the sleep I need to wake up refreshed and ready for the next exciting day.

Being here in Javea is fantastic because I can experiment with spending a little less time working and intersperse the work with going to the beach, playing some table tennis or taking a swim. Many find it odd that I would do any work at all from here, but I’ve realised over time that I feel the best when I have a balance of work and rest.

Have you thought about how your energy levels affect your productivity? Do you experiment with work and rest? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Photo credit: rikstill