4-Day Workweeks

It felt impertinent and completely without grace, but against a social backdrop of police violence, and global pandemic filling hospitals with people struggling to breathe, I still needed to decide how to allocate my paid time off for the rest of the year.

Stifling that internal dialog,[1] my typical strategy when allocating 3 weeks off is to schedule two one-week trips, and periodically spend the remaining week on health days, either recovering from an illness or, more likely, taking a mental health day to give myself a break. When it became increasingly clear that this model wasn't going to be feasible for the rest of my calendar year, I decided to shorten my workweek for a while, instead.

I’m no stranger to the benefits of a four-day week, and I follow the work of some organizations that advocate for companies to start pilots, or for countries to enact it into policies. It's a worthwhile start! The idealist in me still yearns for Milton Friedman’s once-projected 15-hour workweek, but for now, the realist in me is at least working towards that goal independently, pursuing early retirement and financial independence to be able to afford the freedom to comfortably live that way in a more permanent capacity.

But for the time being, subsidizing my own little four-day workweek experiments using my own time off will have to do[2]. I started in September and scheduled myself four-day workweeks through the rest of the year.

It took me a moment to find my footing. I had a few productive days, but spent plenty of days days doing little more than lying in bed and watching Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts. Some of that lack of drive may have been malaise spilling over from our smattering of global cataclysms, or my body just forcing myself to take adequate rest, but a few weeks in I started to establish a routine that worked for me, and started building healthier habits.

Friday was often spent recovering from the workweek, doing errands, ordering groceries or home supplies I was putting off, listening to podcasts, watching shows and movies, and lounging around. Friday night I usually dedicated to personal projects, allowing myself to work late into the night when there are fewer distractions. Saturday started with pancakes and political podcasts, and I allowed myself to spend the rest of the morning consuming mindfully: enjoying a hot beverage with a novel or comic book, catching up on articles I saved throughout the week, or sitting in my chair with a good record. The afternoon may have been spent catching up with a friend or two, and in the evening I picked up my projects again.

In short, Fridays were for rest, Saturdays were reserved for living the life I wish everyone could have, and Sundays were for house chores and errands, as well as getting mentally prepared for my next four days.

I've always been a bit of a generalist when it comes to hobbies, and having not only the time, but the energy to be able to experiment with a few more was a joy. In the past few months I picked up digital illustration and podcasting, taught myself how to do my own haircuts, and experimented with learning piano.

I'm publishing this in March, just about four months after I've had to return to a conventional workweek. I'm still regularly publishing a podcast, though less frequently, and I'm still giving myself regular haircuts every two or three weeks, but my digital illustration progress has been greatly slowed, and piano pursuits have been completely abandoned. Habits and hobbies always wax and wane, but it hurts a little to think about what I'm giving up on a full-time schedule, and how much more I could be doing to enrich my life and improve the lives of others with even one more day.[3]

I’m going to continue normalizing and advocating for concepts like UBI and shorter workweeks, because financial security and having more time to enjoy it makes an appreciable difference in my appreciation for life, and from the bottom of my heart, I want everyone to be able to experience that.

  1. It's a strange cognitive dissonance, trying to do kindnesses for yourself while so many others are in peril, but our society is a nightmare, and authoritarianism thrives by making people feel tired and hopeless, so what choice is there but to find time for rest, or even joy, every once in a while? ↩︎

  2. It's difficult making the decision between a more sustainable workweek and taking longer blocks of time off, because they aren't really interchangable substitutes. Eventually, I'll scrape together enough privilege and money to allow myself both, but I recognize that not everyone can do that, even though we all should be able to experience it. ↩︎

  3. Then again, when I was sixteen and working at an ice cream stand, I was whining to my aunt, expressing that I wanted to contribute more meaningfully to the world with my work. She laughed, and while she applauded my intentions, she assured me that I could help the world with ice cream for a few summers. ↩︎