A few years back, I started obsessing over productivity. Things like sleeping more than seven hours or getting up late and getting stuck in traffic seemed like wasted time. These situations could be controlled, but instead they were reducing my productivity.
The problem was that I was pretty sure I could work fewer hours, but achieve more. That belief, coupled with a dose of irritation about my inefficient use of time, launched me on a mission to use my time more wisely and effectively.
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My first attempts failed. After putting in 14-18 hours per day during the first week, my productivity level actually seemed to drop. Further attempts to improve productivity fell short of the mark. I needed a time management system to begin taking a more organized and deliberate approach to work.
Real time management takes a commitment to produce good results. Just as most of us can’t get up off the couch and run a marathon or bench press 300 pounds, you can’t expect increases in productivity and efficiency without a commitment to doing the heavy lifting of change.
Time management requires firm decisions and follow through about when and how to spend your time. It takes developing new habits that become ingrained in the every day, and then building upon those good habits.
I made some changes, committed to them, and started feeling much better about my productivity.
Fast forward to just a few months ago
I had recently formed a new company, PICR, and those same feelings of inefficiency and wasting time started to resurface. This time those feelings weren’t just about me—they were about the whole company. We were inefficient, missing deadlines, and getting suboptimal results. Something had to be done.
To be clear, it wasn’t due to lack of effort. We worked a lot. Sometimes until exhaustion. I often was too tired to spend time with my family. My employees were probably having a similar experience.
As CEO, fixing this problem fell squarely in my lap—everything that involves the well-being of my employees and meeting the goals of the company is a high priority for me. I once again started exploring ways to turn this situation around. One option that appealed to me was the four-day work week.
Could we be more productive and efficient with just four working days, instead of five. That would give us more time for our friends, families and personal lives?
As a company, we launched our four-day work week “experiment”.
Employee buy-in to change is critical
We’ve all experienced the challenge of replacing something familiar, even if it isn’t working or broken, with something new that might be better. Think of an old pair of shoes with holes—they’re comfy, and you’ll have to break in a new pair. Change at a company is similar (perhaps harder); you need the majority of employees to buy-in to make those changes work across the company.
We recently requested employee feedback and advice at PICR, and fortunately discovered that most of our employees like my “experiments” in running a more productive company. This was a good sign—making changes would be a lot easier with their support.
Factors that impact productivity
We had previously made changes to improve productivity. This time around, we took a very systematic approach to determining how to improve it. We first identified factors that impacted productivity. Then we modified our work day and environment to use those factors to our advantage. Here’s what we discovered:
- We produce the bulk of our results in just 10 percent to 20 percent of our work time
- We are most productive in the morning—probably because we have more energy
- The amount of rest we get significantly impacts our productivity (and most of us don’t get enough sleep each night)
- The state of our personal lives greatly affects our ability to work effectively
- The more we give to people, the more they give back
Identify and eliminate the unnecessary
In my personal life, I constantly examine what stops me from being more productive, remove or modify it, and gain more time for what matters. At PICR we did the same thing. Based on what we discovered, we held a company brainstorming session and developed the following policies to help us use our time more effectively.
Hold only on-demand meetings. We realized that pre-set meetings offered no value. We will only hold a meeting when something important needs to be discussed or a decision or plan made. We also restrict the time allowed for a meeting based on the type of meeting, and the number of attendees.
Split every day in half and devote the first half to productivity and the second to creative. We want employees to spend that first, most productive part of the day on productivity. That means a 100 percent focus on tasks—no disturbing, no chatting, no emails, no communicating via Slack, and generally “no” to everything that can be done in the second half of the day.
Get everyone to work during the same hours. The work day should start between 7am and 9am. That prevents people who come in early and finish the productivity half of their day from socializing or disturbing others who come in later.
We are also trying out a host of other time-saving changes. These include:
- Provide free lunches and eat in the office. Employees don’t have to decide where to eat and take the time to go out.
- Use Slack for all internal and external communications—we love it.
- Use Basecamp to manage all our projects and tasks.
- Use MonoRovers around the office. These personal transportation devices save time, and to be honest, they’re loads of fun.
- Trust each other to do our respective parts that contribute to the collective end goal.
- Use Sketch and InVision for sketching up and sharing design ideas. We recommend everyone try it.
- Use Google Apps for Work.
- Respect each other and don’t spend extra time on unimportant issues.
- Delegate. We kcan’t do everything on our own.
- Prioritize our tasks. Do the important things first.
We continue to examine our company for efficiency improvements. The above changes work for our people, work culture, goals, and unique attributes of PICR. Every company is different, so another company’s list will likely differ from ours.
The key drivers behind this experiment
This whole experiment had a very personal aspect to it. The top reason for this change was so that I could spend more time with my family. Time was flying by and my children were growing up. I was missing so much of that by spending five days a week in the office, and almost every Saturday and half of Sunday working from home.
My kids were beginning to view me as just a guy, any guy, and not their father. This needed to change. I needed to set aside more time for my top priority—my children and family.
The second reason? I wanted my employees to accomplish more. In his book, “People Over Profit”, author Dale Partridge asserts that when you put people first, they understand that, feel it, and want to give more back to you. In my opinion, we have the best employees.
It’s easy to want to be generous with them. As a business owner, though, I have to make sound business decisions. By giving employees a shorter work week, they receive something that they value. Theoretically, they’ll give more back and be more invested in our success as a company.
This approach works for people in all types of situations, as best-selling author and social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk demonstrates through his work with clients as describe in his book “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook”.
My third reason is to gain a competitive advantage. In the world of high-tech, you have to attract the best talent to develop the best products and services. Potential employees of that caliber have choices about where they want to work, and they do their research before signing on the dotted line.
I believed that by creating a great company culture that promoted high employee satisfaction, we’d have an edge over our competitors when it comes to hiring these individuals. A four-day workweek contributes to building that culture and satisfaction. It’s also an appealing perk for most potential employees.
Intermediate results and conclusions
We’ve been piloting our four-day work week for a month now, and though my take on the results may be premature, I am confident that they are positive. I believe that it addresses my top three reasons for making the change.
I now work four 10-12 hour days each week, and spend the other three days resting and with my family. I’m more productive, too. My employees accomplish more. We’ve given more to our employees, and they’re giving more back.
It’s truly a win-win situation. We have yet to determine if we have a competitive advantage in hiring the best employees, but this quality of life perk should certainly appeal to those we want to hire.
In addition, we’re seeing these general and positive trends:
- We have increased our productivity and the speed of our progress
- We have more energy
- We are all clear about and focused on the company’s goals as well as our own personal goals
- We are more careful and efficient with our time in the office
- Many of us actually voluntarily work more hours a day (from 10-14 hours)
- Everyone spends more quality family time and/or personal time
This is perhaps the most significant experiment our relatively new company has conducted. When we put the idea into action, I wasn’t sure it would work. Quite frankly, it could have caused damage if it didn’t—failure rarely boosts morale and returning to a five-day work week would have been painful.
In short, the experiment was a risk. But we took that risk with a lot of thought and planning behind it. And happily, it appears to be paying off.
The path ahead of us
I am not yet accustomed to the three-day weekend, and most likely, some of my employees are still adjusting to it, too. We do accomplish a lot during the four-day work week. But it’s just part of my genetic code to keep looking for new ways to be more effective and productive. That said, we probably won’t try switching to a three-day work week anytime soon.
It all comes down to the real goal. It’s not to work four hours a week, as Tim Ferriss suggests is possible in his book, “The 4-hour Workweek”. Ultimately we all seek to balance work and life. Balance what you love to do: family, travel, hobbies and everything else.
Everyone’s list is different. As a company, we should always seek ways to achieve this balance in ways that help the company reach the highest levels of success.
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