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 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