This article was based on episode 065 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher.
How many hours a week do you work?
In America, we proclaim a standard 40 hour work week of 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday, yet many people arrive early, stay late, continue to work in the evenings and over the weekend. It seems like there is never enough time to get everything done.
As work hours have increased, time for self-care, socializing, volunteering and family have paid the price. It begs the question, is spending more than 40 hours per week working really worth it?
Natalie Nagele says it’s not. Natalie is the co-founder and CEO of Wildbit, the company behind Postmark, Beanstalk and Conveyor. With 29 team members across 5 countries working on multi-million dollar products for developers, she’s proving that you can grow an extremely profitable business while focusing on shorter work days, an enjoyable work-from-anywhere environment, and staying small.
THE SECRET TO A SHORTER WORK WEEK
Natalie’s team started with a hypothesis: A shorter work week will enable us to generate even higher quality work because we’ll be less stressed (due to the extra renewal time out of the office) while accomplishing the same quantity of work (due to re-designing our processes, priorities, and providing for uninterrupted focus time).
The book Deep Work by Cal Newport was highly influential for Natalie and her team. The goal was to enable people to elevate their efficiency and effectiveness by facilitating large blocks of time to do focused work. Research has shown our brains max out and we get diminishing returns by forcing work beyond 4 or 5 hours per day.
In order to realize the benefits of a shorter work week, everyone needed to change their mindset and ways of working, not simply show up for fewer hours.
By eliminating unnecessary meetings, turning off notifications that cause distractions, and prioritizing more effectively, one year into a 32 hour work week, Wilbit experienced its best year every. The quality AND quantity of their work had increased!
EFFECTIVE WAYS TO REDUCE YOUR WORKING HOURS
Natalie’s team experimented with ways to reduce their work hours, discovering along the way what worked best for them.
Identify the Highest Value Activities. It was easy to measure work when the goal was to build 20 widgets per day. The faster you did them, the sooner you could be done. With knowledge work, we’ve shifted to measuring productivity based on hours in the office. It’s time to return to a mindset of value delivery. Each week, identify the high value activities that must be completed. When that work is done, it’s been a solid week. Let go of the mentality that we must cram additional work into every waking hour.
Have Fewer (and Shorter) Meetings. Most teams experience an unnecessary number of hours spent in meetings each week. Try canceling all your recurring meetings for a month and then adding in meetings as you discover a specific need. Explore different types of meetings that may better suit your team’s needs. For example try holding shorter, more focused meetings with a single agenda item.
Turn Off Chat (Notifications). If your team uses Slack or another chat tool, try not using it for a week or see what happens when everyone turns off all their notifications. Align on chat as a non-urgent communication tool in which people will respond when they are between bigger task items. No longer will chat be an ‘instant’ messaging tool that interrupts focused work.
Schedule a Time to Talk. Much of our time gets wasted in the back and forth communications of email and chat. Instead of interrupting someone (with a tap on the shoulder or direct phone call), or sending dozens of messages back and forth, schedule a time for a quick 10 minute chat - in person, over the phone or via Zoom. (Hint: using a link system like Calendaly or Mixmax makes this even easier!)
FEWER DAYS OR FEWER HOURS?
There is no one right way to design your team’s week or working hours. For some, a 4-day work week makes the most sense while for others, a 6-day, 5 hours per day routine might be better.
Natalie suggests working with your team to identify why you want to change and what benefits you expect the organization and each individual to experience. Explore various options–how many days, hours and with what level of flexibility–and agree on what feels like the optimal design.
Then position the shift as an experiment. Check in weekly with each person and as a team to discuss how the new structure is working and how they as individuals or the team collectively can optimize their ways of working to realize the full benefits of a shorter work week.
Join the Modern Manager community and get a copy of Natalie's 4-day Work Weeks Update Document which includes their policy on time-off.
This article was based on episode 065 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.
You can also listen to every episode here.
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