Experimenting with a four-day workweek

Apart from White Fang by Jack London, the only book I can remember my Dad talking about a lot when I was growing up was Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. I’ve only skim-read it, but it describes, from a 1970s perspective, a post-industrial future where we potentially need to work less (and interact with machines more). 

I’ve never really understood the fascination with working very long hours. While for a few years when I was a teacher (who was also completing a doctoral thesis) I worked crazy long hours, that was because I wanted to. Most of it came from an inner drive, not because I felt pressure to conform. 

Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s pretty much impossible to do any more than six hours of solid ‘knowledge work’. Doing the classic eight-hour day is a recipe for burnout when you have to use your brain full-time. It’s why there’s a growing unease at the plethora of bullshit jobs we’re all working. I was delighted to see this week that Sweden is shifting to a six-hour day.

Just before leaving Mozilla and becoming a consultant earlier this year, I talked a wide range of people who I know and respect, asking for their opinion. I was surprised at how many of them currently or had in the past worked four-day weeks. On the whole, the rationale was that it gave a day to explore interests, to go down rabbitholes, and to dedicate the other four days of the week to their main, income-generating activities.

Now that I’m six months in and pretty established as a consultant, I’ve decided to scale back from five days to four days. Today is actually my first ‘Doug day’ (as I’ve decided to call it). I’m going to be spending it getting in my ‘quality mountain days’ before embarking on a Mountain Leader course, to read all of the stuff I’ve queued up for months, to build things, and to pursue interests. 

I’m excited about the possiblities of a four-day workweek, but I realise that I’m very fortunate to be in a position to do this. It’s an experiment, so I’ll report back on my findings as part of my weeknotes at dougbelshaw.com/blog.

(composed on a 15″ MacBook Pro in the Apple Store, Newcastle-upon-Tyne)