Experimenting with a 7 day work week
June 10th, 2013 productivity
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.
Photo credit: David Joyce