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The four-day work week – does it really work?

The four-day work week: utopian dream or practical option offering a better work/life balance while still championing productivity?

The four-day work week. It's often a topic spoken about hypothetically - or entirely dismissed due to its widely-assumed limitation on output and profit.

On the one hand, we have Australian National University's economist, Rabee Tourky, tweeting things like, For heaven's sake. We need six-day work weeks to make up for lost time, when discussing the impact of the economic fall-out of the coronavirus.

On the other hand, New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has suggested employers consider the four-day work week to help employees address their work/life balance issues to boost the economy through tourism - with productivity encouraged from the flexibility of working at home.

It might seem counter-intuitive. For decades, employers have assumed that employees need five days to get work done. However if anything, the changed working situations that have arisen due to the pandemic have actually shown us something very different. During these unprecedented times, we've seen an increase in the discussion of productivity, and how employees can maintain this successfully as workplaces become increasingly more flexible.

Work smarter, not harder

Remember those pre-pandemic days when you'd have to physically haul yourself to work? There would be those mornings when you would inevitably wake up late, running around the house and racing to get dressed to catch the train on time.

And somehow, without knowing how, you would manage to shave the amount of time it took you to get dressed by half - or even more! Then you would still end up at your office looking smart and ready-to-go, maybe even with a coffee in hand. You had the same amount of tasks to achieve, but managed to do it in a smaller amount of time.

What we do know is that in order to get the most out of this short week, the four-day work week is not about cramming five days into four. It's about being laser-focused with our tasks. It's about working smarter, not harder.

So how do you actually work smarter? The key is implementing a strategic use of your time and this requires deep work. According to Cal Newport, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University and key author on this subject, this refers to  activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive abilities to their limits.

It means giving yourself a fixed period of time to work on the important jobs - and being strict with yourself. The more you stick to a particular schedule for each task, the less likely you are to take up the whole day, dithering on minor word changes or thoughts, when you could have done just as good a job with less time.

This is a great way to avoid burn-out and reduces stress when you already have so much on your plate.

Tips to increase your productivity 

There are other great ways to get the most out of your four-day work week and stay productive.

1. Know the benefits 

New Zealand company,  Perpetual Guardian, trialled a four-day work week in their company in 2017 and found that not only was job performance maintained, but work-life balance also increased significantly from 54% to 78%, with employee stress levels falling from 45% to 38%.

Having an extra day for yourself means more free time, reduced stress, and greater opportunities to focus on other meaningful areas in your life, allowing you to feel happier and more engaged with your work as a result.

2. Utilise the 80/20 rule

Also known as Pareto's Law, the 80/20 principle states that roughly 80% of your results come from just 20% of your activities. So - it's time to get forensic with your work responsibilities and ask, which tasks yield the most results from your job? From this, you can work out how to prioritise your most important tasks within your four days. Write down three key things you want to achieve each week - and one key thing a day - in order for you to progress significantly.

3. Make a small wins list

As you achieve tasks throughout the day, whether it's finishing your presentation, holding a successful meeting or getting a particularly hard chunk of your report done, add each win to a list so that you feel more motivated to get things done.

Get into the habit of doing this daily, and you'll start to develop new neural pathways in your brain that accustom you to seeing the wins and driving yourself to continue achieving more with a positive mindset.

With these tips in mind, it may be worth having a conversation with your employer about changing to a four-day work week. Remember to address how you plan to continue producing the great results you have up until now, and how you will communicate with other members of the team. Doing so will help you achieve the freedom to work, live and play on your terms.

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