For many, Wednesday is the toughest day of the week. The day widely known—and derided—as “hump day” is an obstacle to surmount, an ordeal to slog through. To reach Wednesday means that you’ve chugged up the hill Monday and Tuesday, and you’re nearing the peak—you can almost taste that sweet downhill momentum of Thursday and Friday.
Almost. But not yet.
If Mondays are about hopes and dreams, says Ali Rayl, vice president of customer experience at Slack, “Wednesdays are reality. It’s a ruthless mental exercise in looking at what I wanted to do, the amount of time I have left, and everything on my plate, and asking myself, ‘How many of those goals can I realize in the three days I have remaining?’ And the answer always is, you can’t, so you have to give up some of your dreams.”
Wednesday, in other words, is a reality check. And there’s no surefire formula for tackling it. Most managers and leaders have similar ideas for how to start off a week (you read our Monday guide, right?), but by the time Wednesday rolls around, all bets are off.
For Sally Susman, executive vice president of corporate affairs at Pfizer, Wednesday is a feat of plate spinning. “There’s so much triage,” she says. “I tend to have almost a whole calendar full of 30-minute meetings, with maybe a little break to breathe. I’m processing, answering questions, meeting with colleagues, socializing ideas. I’m trying to be in the hustle and flow of the week. People call it hump day, but I’d call it ‘crunch day.’ ”
A REENERGIZING BLAST
At the other end of the spectrum sits Marcus Whitney, cofounder of the Nashville-based healthcare firm Briovation. Mondays and Fridays are meeting-heavy days for him, which leaves the middle of the week to accomplish his goals. “Wednesday is probably the least structured day for me,” Whitney says. “It’s a day for me to check my energy for that particular week and to use the time accordingly.”
That starts with hitting the gym. “I usually work out twice on Wednesday,” he says. Weight lifting in the morning. Boxing in the afternoon. “Hump day: That’s when you start to feel tired, so I try to use the workouts as a way to get reenergized to blast through the end of the week.”
Whitney’s not alone in making a big workout (or two) the centerpiece of his midweek routine. Fred Stutzman, CEO of the internet-blocking productivity software Freedom, also makes sure to schedule a big workout at 5:30 p.m. each Wednesday. The commitment “time-bounds the day,” Stutzman says, preventing him from dragging out hours of semi-productive doldrums into the early evening. It also “provides a lot of structure” to an otherwise free-floating day. “I only have a certain amount of time to get things done.” It’s a self-imposed deadline that supercharges his productivity and focus.
FIND THE FLOW
“The week definitely has an energetic pattern to it,” says Whitney of Briovation. And Wednesday, he says, is the day when people in his office are most likely to retreat to a coffee shop to focus and get work done on their own terms.
Stutzman encourages his teams at Freedom to use Wednesdays as an opportunity “to detach, to be incommunicado for some period of time, and to do high-quality work.” But how does such detachment translate to finding a flow with others when you’re part of a team? Stutzman recommends that teams hash out ground rules of when to communicate and when to break apart and focus.
“A mature team would certainly want to sit down and have that conversation,” he says. “Any team needs to recognize that individuals doing high-quality, focused work benefits the team. That should be part of the team’s culture.”
Rayl, with customer experience at Slack, recalls advice she got earlier in her career that transformed her sense of herself and how to manage teams—and which applies to Wednesday, in particular. A former boss, she says, “told me, ‘You know, your job as a manager is to be distracted. Because if you’re distracted, and you’re the one who’s catching all the stuff as it comes in, then everybody on your team actually has what they need to get their work done.’ ”
It was a selfless vision of distraction: Since a certain amount of it is bound to happen, the manager should take the hit so her team can find flow. Rayl took the advice to heart, and now puts it into practice. “The more I can catch all this stuff that’s flying around, the more focus everyone else has,” she says. “And their focus is what’s important because they’re the ones doing the work. I’m just sitting here managing, leading, whatever. They’re the ones actually getting stuff done, and at the end of the day, that’s what really matters.”
GET OUT AND SOCIALIZE
Whitney points out another key to keeping up the energy on hump day: socializing. Combing through his calendar of a recent Wednesday, he notes the amount of low-stress hanging out he did that day. Around noon, he ate lunch with an advertising exec he’d recently met; Whitney says that the free-flowing nature of his Wednesday schedule makes it “the perfect day to get lunch with someone I’d like to get to know.” Around 3:30, he welcomed a friend into the office for a catch-up. That evening, he and his wife met friends for drinks, then capped the evening with a Nashville Soccer Club game. Like his workouts, these joyful social activities are essential to helping him recharge and get through the rest of the week.
And so ends another Wednesday, a day of tensions and paradoxes. A day for working hard and playing hard, for sustaining energy by expending it, for focusing and socializing. The week’s peak and fulcrum, Wednesday is a chance to make good on what has come before, and put yourself in good stead for what lies ahead.