My Seven-Day Workweek Experiment (And Why I Won't Stick With It)

For the first two weeks of last month, I religiously tried to follow a new routine I created for myself: a seven-day work week routine. The idea was quite simple: I would work seven days a week, rest seven days a week, go to the gym seven days a week, reflect seven days a week. This was less about working lots, and more about feeling fulfilled every day.

Picture: jcjgphotography/Shutterstock

I aimed to work less each day, and replace two hours of work with a long break in the middle of the day. The biggest thing I wanted to do was to satisfy my craving of “why not?” and to challenge the status quo of working five days a week and then taking two days off. Many of us know that working 9-5 isn't the most effective way to work, and I had found this to be true for quite some time. I had a curiosity about whether the five-day workweek might also not be the most effective routine.

Some of the hypotheses I had about a new seven-day work week:

  • I would be much more successful in building solid habits that became ingrained, since I wouldn’t have two days off, followed by the struggle to get back into broken habits.
  • I would be in much better sync with my team who are distributed around the world, and I would have a better handle on my emails and work by having time in the weekends too.
  • I could work less than 40 hours a week and be more productive, since I would have long breaks between super focused work periods.

The Seven-Day Workweek Routine

I’ve been an early riser for a couple of years now, and during this experiment I was rising at 4.30am. I aimed to do 5.5 hours of work each day, which is around 38.5 hours a week.

  • 4.30: Rise.
  • 5-6.30: 90 minutes of focused work.
  • 6.30-9: Gym, breakfast, shower, etc.
  • 9-11.30: 2.5hrs of focused work.
  • 11.30-3pm: Lunch, then extended rest period.
  • 3-4.30: 90 minutes of focused work.

Results from Two Weeks of the Seven-Day Workweek

In the end, I've decided that I won’t continue with the seven-day routine. That said, it has been a very interesting experiment and I've kept some aspects of the new routine.

Here are two of the things that didn’t work out:

How the World Works Does Affect You

I found that Saturdays and Sundays could never be the same as other days, as much as I wanted them to be and I tried to create a routine that could be exactly the same, every day. There are more people wandering the streets, more noise outside. There is no one in the office. You can’t send certain emails, because they need to hit someone’s inbox in work hours. It’s not the best day to push a new feature or blog post.

You can certainly take advantage of the fact that Saturday and Sunday are different, by doing specific tasks. However, the point of my experiment was to have identical days, and in this respect it was a failure.

I Burned Out, Even with Lots of Breaks

I wanted every day to be exactly the same. So I worked each day, and rested each day. I also went to the gym every day, and adjusted my work out so that this would be sustainable. I found that even with a gym routine of just a few exercises and different muscle groups, I felt I couldn’t get adequate overall renewal just in a single day period. I worked out for 15 days straight and in the end strained a muscle and had to take almost a week off.

Similarly, I found it interesting to observe how my passion towards the work I was doing adjusted. I was excited during the first week, and even at the weekend I enjoyed working. The hardest aspect I found was to stop myself working so much during the week, so that I could be fully rested and keep working at the weekend.

Overall, I feel like the seven-day workweek fell apart because of a lack of an extended period of renewal. My hypothesis that a couple of extra hours during the day and less overall daily hours working would be enough was invalidated in my experience.

The Wisdom of the Day of Rest

After trying a seven-day workweek, I became quite fascinated by the concept of a “day of rest". It occurred to me that this tradition has been around for a very long time, and of separate origins. Almost all of the world observes some form of a weekly “day of rest".

I’m no expert of the Bible, however with a little research I found that the origin of the “seventh day” or Sabbath is Genesis 2:2-3:

And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made.

Similarly, in Buddhism there is the concept of Uposatha, which is the Buddhist day of observance. I find it interesting how Buddhism teaches the purpose of this day:

the cleansing of the defiled mind

I feel a sense of calm and confidence in the knowledge that many thousands of years of wisdom all converges towards the idea of a weekly day of rest. Certainly from my naive experiment I feel that this is a very good practice.

Six Days of Work, One Day of Rest

From my experiment, I've become very interested in the idea of a single day of rest — and I have not once come across anything advocating two days of rest. This is one of my biggest takeaways from the experiment, and I plan to continue to work on the basis of six days of work and a single day of rest.

Jim Rohn, who I have been very inspired by, also said it well:

Work was so important, here was the original formula for labour. If you have forgotten it, remind yourself. Six days of labour, and one day of rest. Now, it’s important not to get those numbers mixed up. Why not five/two? Maybe one of the reasons for six/one: if you rest too long the weeds take the garden. Not to think so is naive. As soon as you’ve planted, the busy bugs and the noxious weeds are out to take it. So you can’t linger too long in the rest mode, you’ve got to go back to work. Six days of work, then rest.

I think one of my biggest takeaways from trying a seven-day workweek is: despite the conclusion that rest is important, a single day is the perfect amount, no more. I'm working to consistently live by this method for as many weeks as I can during the year.

Experimenting with a 7 day work week [Joel.is]

Joel Gascoigne is the cofounder of Buffer, a smarter way to share on social media. Follow him on Twitter @JoelGascoigne, and read his blog on startups, life, learning and happiness here.


Comments

    Very interesting stuff. While I don't have the liberty to test these types of hypothesis, I have always been fascinated with how our minds cope with working.

    One thing that I've had an inkling towards is that two days of rest is just long enough for your mind and body to begin "relaxed" mode - it's a tipping point where come Monday morning, your body is all ready to keep relaxing. Hence why Monday mornings are so bad. I've noticed this with going on holidays / long weekends - the first day is for recharging, the second for relaxing, and any extra days after that will remain as "relax".

    I'd be interested in your follow up about the 6 day week.

    Also, have you considered interspersing this with Polyphasic sleeping?

    He had to do some research to find out God rested on the seventh day? :P

    Working six days a week is great for anyone who doesn't have to commute or includes their commute in working hours. After I was seriously ill I was given the ok to do some part time work, either 3 days full time or the equivalent over 5 days. Given that working 5 days would add around 5 hours of commute each week the choice was a no brainer.

    I suspect all those "breaks" were your problem. Doing six or seven (or more) hours straight through works well for me.

    I'm religious - I follow Torah (the old testament), so I found your experiment very interesting. Keeping Sabbath is one of the most frequent commandments in the bible.

    You might be interested to know that the commandment isn't just "rest of the seventh day". I don't have the book out right now, but off the top of my head it's more like this:

    "For six days you shall work and the seventh shall be a Holy Sabbath".

    So the Torah actually teaches to work for six days, not five. Rest for one. My wife tells me that looking after the kids on Sunday counts as work. ;)

    I have been working 7 days/week for about 3 years now, Every second or third week, I would have a day off. It is hard for the first couple of months but then you become used to it, there is no "mondayitis" either. Once you work out a plan, you are set. I still see my friends and go out on the weekends, just not get drunk like every other idiot and enjoy my weekend properly.

    I've worked 4 days a week for the last few years; that extra day of brain "rest" really matters for me. Also; I'm able to get a day in of "me" time before spending the weekend with the family :)

    I do paid work 5 days a week, on Saturdays I wash, vacuum, mop, clean the bathroom, dust, deal with the household bills, tidy the garden, wash the car(s).....with occasional help from my husband....I NEED my day of rest.
    I assume, Joel, that you have someone to do most of that for you, as it never figured in your program? Curious as to how you fit that stuff in, too....

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