For the last 14 weeks I’ve been working less hours. This was a deliberate choice, and in this blog I’ll explore why I did it, what I did and how it has gone.
This comes at an opportune time to review the experiment, because there is very recent media coverage of a report that recommends we investigate four day weeks for everyone but which also points out the difficulties of making it work. There are also plenty of case studies about reduced working weeks, and these were in my mind as I planned my trial.
I recall hearing Peter Cheese talk last year at #cipdACE wondering who invented Monday to Friday 9-5 in the first place? It’s a good question. I run my own business and to be honest I have rarely stuck to that model but I do work an average of 40 hours a week, and sometimes quite a bit more.
And I’ve found my well-being suffering. Not all the time, and not every week, but in those weeks when I’ve worked away from home for a couple of days and long days all week plus a bit of evening work, it’s been very tough on my family and I.
Of course, as I run my own business, I’m largely in control of that. And with that in mind, I decided to take more time off over the summer and to actively plan and implement a reduced working week.
This took the form of at least two half days or one full day off each week, and in some weeks two or three full days off.
And it’s ending this week as I go back up to five days next week. Partly this is choice – all trials end, but partly this was already dictated by client work booked in for the autumn and beyond.
As I end the trial of working less hours (I won’t say part time, as I think the label could be insulting – it’s a reduced week, but only reduced in relation to my own previous pattern) I’m reflecting on what I’ve learnt
– put simply, I like working less hours. There can often be less income that goes with it, but I’ve been able to structure client work to make it a neutral effect and am lucky to have been able to do so. The downside of that is that the bigger income takes me further away from home so although I’m off more, on the days I am working I’m further away and have spent more time away from home on days that I do work. This is a double edged sword.
– working less hours has had a good impact on my physical health as I’ve been able to train and exercise more, however my performance levels in my two main sports have dipped despite more time and effort going into it, almost as if the distraction of working more was a positive force
– I’ve spent lots more money on family time. That’s not a moan, but a fact. Taking kids out the summer holidays is not cheap!
– the world doesn’t stop moving. Clients and others don’t know that I’m off. Of course I can set my Out of Office auto reply but I tend not to for anything up to one day off, but irrespective the emails and messages still come through. A lot of my business is conducted on social media and there’s no out of office on Twitter for example. So it’s a little bit frustrating to see these come in and build up when I’m not working, and avoiding the temptation to reply or do something is very hard indeed.
– the concept of the working day and working week is flexible enough to cope with me working reduced hours, as long as all concerned accept that reduced hours may need to be spread across just as many days a week, if not more, as longer hours. In that sense I mean it’s easier to work 30 hours across 5+ days than it is across 4.
– my time management and efficiency and effectiveness has improved greatly as I know I have less hours to achieve what I need to. Dead time has been almost eliminated and I wonder how much dead time there is in what we consider a normal working week?
– and, coming last on this list but top in terms of importance, is that my family have enjoyed me being able to spend more time with them even if it’s offset by being away more on the times I do work. It has made me think though – what’s better, seeing your family for a few hours each weekday or barely seeing them for three weekdays and then spending the other two weekdays (plus weekends) with them? Jury is out on that one maybe. What do you think?
Anyway, the trial ends BUT I’ve found this quite sad and I’ve liked reduced hours. So much so that I’ve booked myself at least two days a month, plus the big holidays like Xmas and our foreign holiday, to ensure I take more than what most people get in terms of annual leave. I reckon it’s about 40 days leave plus bank holidays and we are happy with that quantity.
I’ve already started turning work down to avoid going over my allotted working hours per week. No sense working just for the sake of it.
Looking even further forward, I think I’m going to enjoy retirement! But maybe flexible retirement is a much more attractive prospect.
So, going back to the media report, I think a four day working week may well be possible, but that a different reduced working pattern is more achievable (think 30 hours across 5 days to mirror school hours or something), and more stakeholders could benefit.
Till next time…
Ps in other news, for this year at least, my four children go to four different educational establishments. The school run is, well, complex. Reduced hours help with this.