In January 2010, we shrank our work week from five days to four, giving everyone Fridays off. The idea was born of economic necessity; Fridays off seemed like a way to give something back to our teammates in exchange for the salary sacrifices they were willing to make.
Our teammates loved it! On Fridays they sleep late, have lunch with friends, start long weekends with their loved ones, and pursue their hobbies. It’s been a win-win; NGC has saved money, and our teammates have been happy about it.
Since I own the business, I thought Fridays off didn’t apply to me. Even though I know better.
I know better, because I’ve been studying great places to work since 1998. In that time, I’ve learned a lot, the most important of which may be this: when the herd goes East, check your compass. West may be a better direction.
- If your competitors require 80 hour work weeks, offer 35 hour work weeks. (SAS)
- If everyone else is bringing in pizza and doughnuts during busy season, offer Boot Camp and healthy meals and snacks. (SS&G)
- If your competitors are competing on price, make a superior product and take a stand for the environment. (Patagonia)
- If everyone else works 8 AM - 6 PM, let your employees decide their own shifts. (Semco)
But in the Great Recession, I lost my compass and started to follow the herd. I intended to start 2010 working harder every day of the week; screw Fridays off.
I was wrong.
Working Fridays was not the answer. Working more effectively Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday is. Here’s what a skeptical CEO learned about working four day weeks:
1. You must get clear on the real value you add to the team, and line up your schedule to support it. In my case, my value to NGC is to inspire audiences from the speaking platform, innovate new ways to serve our clients, and cultivate client relationships. My time - my meetings, projects, and research - must line up with these outcomes. When someone requests some of my time for something that does NOT align with these outcomes, I must demur…or schedule that meeting for a Friday.
2. You must control your schedule, or it will run you over. When I worked five-day weeks, I was sloppy about allocating my time. In an average week, I would have 15-20 meetings, and only half of them had any real impact on the business.
In a four day week, I have less time and have to use it judiciously to ensure I get my “real” work (see #1 above) done. So, I don’t schedule morning meetings, because 8 AM - Noon is my peak time; it’s when I can be most focused, creative and in flow.
(At Winning is Everything a woman from the U.K. told me that her supervisor blocks 9 am - 2 pm every day for “focus time,” and attends to clients and staff matters after 2 pm. “Everything gets done,” she told me, “it’s just a different way to work.” That’s what I’m talkin’ about!)
3. Peer pressure works. Since my partner also works at NGC, it’s easy for her to see when I’m working on Fridays. It’s like having a parole officer who can see your every move. Same with Molly: we encourage each other not to work on Fridays, and question each other when we do.
4. If you have to work on Fridays, do. A week ago, a prospect had to change the date of our Thursday meeting to Friday. I happily rescheduled because I had the time available, and this was an exception, which aligned with my real value (see #1 above.)
5. Fridays off have helped me with the rest of my life. I have an elderly mother. I have hair that grows two times as fast as most people’s. I have a partner and three big dogs - all of them behave better after long walks in the woods. I have a circle of friends in Madison - and around the world - whom I sometimes neglect. But now that I have Fridays off, I have time to attend to these important parts of my life…without feeling guilty that I’m not working.
Last week, one of my clients told me that the four hours before she leaves on vacation are the most productive of her entire year. Parkinson’s law reinforces this: work expands to fit the time allowed. Now that I’m working a four day week, I prioritize my work, trim out the “fat” from my schedule, and have an extra day to attend to my personal needs.
So, if you’ll excuse me. I’m driving to West Bend today, to take my mother to lunch and an appointment.