Think Patients Blog

The Four Hour Workday

In 2007 Tim Ferriss wrote a book called “The 4-Hour Work Week” that captured the imagination of the 9-to-5 business world. Reducing my time spent working sounded great to me, so I bought one of the first copies. Sadly for my travel agent, I never quite figured out how to get my work week down to just four hours (that wasn’t Ferriss’ real goal, either) although the book reinforced some great principles such as prioritization and developing systems to manage work, especially if you don’t want to – or just can’t – spend all day working.

This may be a good time for all of us – from company leaders to team managers – to think about recalibrating our work lives, and the lives of our employees, during this COVID-19 crisis. What if, instead of spending our days trying to fit a full load of employee, parent, teacher, caregiver, etc., responsibilities into our days, we just decided to do less, but to do each role and task better?

In our company, we decided that it was naïve and even selfish to ask parents, or those helping to care for a loved one at home, or basically anyone, to put in a full workday as they work from home during this pandemic. These are not “Work-from-Home Fridays” times five. Employees are trying to be teachers, parents, shoppers, cooks, caregivers – you name it. It’s too much for anyone to do all of that AND hold down a full-time job in the same way they did without these additional commitments during the day. So, we made changes, and some trades, with our folks (and by extension, with their families).

If you want to try some of these ideas, feel free. And if you have some to share, we’re all ears. We learn a lot from smart people like you. Here are the top things that are working for us:

  • Give parents and caregivers a large chunk of time at the beginning of each week – on company time, with no scheduled meetings, calls, etc. – to do things like set up lesson plans, prep for meals, etc. We’ve offered up all of Monday morning, and found that people end up taking only a portion of that most weeks (although the entire morning is available, if needed/desired).
  • Allow people to take set (scheduled if possible) times each day for family check-in, coaching, huddles, providing kid coverage for a spouse or partner who has an important call (so that the spouse or partner can later reciprocate). Again, no calls or meetings during those times. Lunch can be made, schoolwork can be reviewed, sibling disputes can be refereed, whatever…. We’ve suggested about 90-120 minutes each day and find that things are trending toward the lower end of that, based just on informal discussions (we don’t make anyone “punch a clock” for this).
  • Encourage employees to take a couple of hours each week that are just for them. Again, on company time. Try to avoid end of day on Friday for this, because the time then tends to just become family time, and that is not the intent here. People need their OWN time. Some will meditate (I personally encourage this), some read something enjoyable (not work), some exercise, some paint or write or do photography. Whatever makes the person regain some sanity and balance in their own life is fine by us.
  • Talk to each other about non-work things. Use work tools like Teams or Slack for this (just keep it clean, folks). Empathize and support each other. Acknowledge that things suck right now in many ways, but that there are bright spots, too. Be there, for each other, whether you’re in leadership or “just” an employee (as if there were ever such a thing as “just”). Listen, and care, as people.

In our experience, this will leave you with 4-6 hours of “work” time, on average, most days. But those hours can be productive work hours, not 8 frazzled, distracted, unfocused hours.  It’s a great trade. And how do I know this? Because as the CEO, I have clients calling and emailing me, to thank me for the work being done by our people during this tough time. They tell me they’re more focused, and delivering better results, than most of their other supplies and advisors. And trust me, that’s going to drop to the bottom line a lot more than people just pounding out time allegedly working, but with all their other life pressures taking up most of their mental and emotional attention.

If you’re struggling with your work life, or that of your team during this pandemic, feel free to drop me a note (no sales calls, please, just honest, person-to-person connections). We can have a chat, and no, I won’t bill you for that. If we’ve learned anything and can share it with you, great. And if you have ideas to share, I’d love to learn from you. More than at any time I can remember in recent years, we all need to help each other during these difficult times. Sometimes the best way to do that is to simply take a step back and think about a new way to approach things. Maybe doing less, but doing it better, is one of those new approaches.