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How these professionals get everything done in a 4-day workweek

Studies have shown working fewer hours can make you more productive. We talked to several people to find out how they get it all done.

How these professionals get everything done in a 4-day workweek
[Photo: Tatomm/iStock]

Recently, a company in New Zealand piloted a four-day workweek to see how their employees would perform. The results were so impressive and productive that they decided to change their culture completely.

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While it might seem like a foreign experiment that is a world away from the mind-set of the U.S. workplace, many companies and freelancers are adopting the shorter-the-better approach. In addition to this experiment, many studies stand by the concept of working smarter, but not necessarily the traditional, mandated 40 hours. Not only are the benefits found in more fruitful work, but in the health of employees, too. According to the Center for a New American Dream, employees who work more than 11 hours a day are 2.5 times more likely to develop depression and 60 times more likely to develop heart disease.

If you’re tempted to pitch a four-day week to your manager, take a few talking points from these successful professionals who not only make it work, but meet—and exceed—their goals in the process.

Ease into the transition

Since its inception three years ago, founder Annie Tevelin was certain of her philosophy for her company, SkinOwl. Because she was fascinated by the research surrounding the benefit of curtailed hours, she instituted a four-day workweek with six hours of work each day. The idea is that when people are on the clock, their attention is focused on whatever task or deliverable they need to finish, and then they have 18 other hours to spend with their family, run errands, self-care, and anything else that fulfills their happiness outside of the office. “Because everyone can have a full life outside of work, people come to the office ready to execute their tasks. Essentially, you have an efficient team who works well together,” she says.

To ensure employees respect the four-day-a-week expectations, she suggests companies start the transitioning process slowly.  “Try shaving off an hour or two day, or swap from a four-day week and shift back to a five-day workweek,” she suggests. “It can be a bit challenging at first to only have four days a week, so you can ease into it in any way that feels comfortable.” For an easy first step, try simply leaving the office an hour earlier than you normally would each day, which Tevelin says naturally prompts professionals to better organize the flow of their day.

Set clear, honest expectations

For the past two years, senior public relations consultant Chelsea Kane has grown comfortable with her four-day workweek—not only in New York City, but while traveling the world, bouncing between international cities each month through Remote Year. After quitting a full-time gig, she took on a consulting gig that didn’t require as much time as her former company did. Knowing she would be bouncing between time zones, she bargained for a four-day week when she accepted the remote role.

For Kane, the best advice for remaining productive is similar to the wisdom she used to convince her new boss she could produce just as much in 32 hours as she could in 40: Set clear expectations with others, and most importantly, with yourself. “Have a consistent day off so your team members know your schedule, and set clear guidelines about whether or not you will be reachable via phone or email on your day off,” she recommends. Though she notes she is always available via email for urgent matters that come up on a Friday, she resists the urge to respond to anything less manic until Monday. Otherwise, the benefits of a shorter schedule would be missed.

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Set your priorities at the start of the week

Some forward-thinking companies do not need to be convinced to offer a four-day week, and instead, they make it a retention play to engage the attention span of employees. At Metis Communications, any professional who has worked more than five years earns a permanent summer Friday (or Monday or Tuesday, or whatever rotation you’re on). Recently, Director of Marketing Rachel Sullivan hit this milestone and has been excitedly adjusting to the new lifestyle. One of the greatest motivators for Sullivan is looking forward to a long weekend or a midweek break, depending on the schedule of the week, which is created by tenured employees. Since making the shift, she’s noticed an uptick in her ability to not only prioritize, but also eliminate any ineffectiveness or distractions that could potentially prevent her from being able to enjoy her (well-earned) day off. “The improvement in work-life balance improves happiness, job satisfaction, and loyalty,” she continues. “Employees look forward to their five-year anniversary, and the entire team respects the four-day schedule so employees aren’t expected to be available ‘just in case’ or keep checking in on their days off.”

Batch your time

When she launched her own consulting firm two years ago, CRH Collective, Carolina Ramirez-Herrera quickly realized the standard nine-to-five tango was antiquated unnecessarily restrictive. “There is no reason you have to be sitting at your computer for those hours just because the rest of the world is,” she explains. After all, one of her main reasons for leaving the cubicle world was not having flexibility to end her working days when she was finished, no matter the time of day. Once she became her own boss, she realized the freedom came with some setbacks, as remaining self-motivated was essential for success and quality output. “Time management is a double-edged sword, and if you are a procrastinator by nature like me, it can definitely be hard to find a schedule that works for you,” she says.

A friend recommended the idea of time batching, and now, Ramirez-Herrera swears by the approach. Instead of scheduling a variety of tasks that utilize various parts of her skill set, she designates particular days to work on specific areas of the company. While Monday mornings are solely for finances and invoices, Tuesdays are for business development and sales, and Wednesday is for creative work. This helps her to maintain her timelines, meet goals, keep clients happy—and get her and her team one day closer to their three-day weekend.

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