How to Make 4-Day Workweeks Work

As summer-Fridays season starts and more firms offer flexible scheduling, doing more with less time has become invaluable.

What began as “summer Fridays” in many industries—the weekend starting at lunch in the warm-weather months—has now morphed into “Fridays off” in some sectors. Almost forty companies in North America have begun official four-day workweek pilot programs, with others conducting their own experiments. “Companies are recognizing that the new frontier for competition is quality of life, and that reduced-hour, productivity-focused working is the vehicle to give them that competitive edge,” says Joe O’Connor, CEO of 4 Day Week Global.

Post pandemic, and amid the Great Resignation, many companies are seeking ways to combat employee burnout (a major cause of turnover) and improve work-life balance. They’re also bolstering benefits packages to attract and retain ambitious professionals at all levels. For these reasons, buzz about the experimental four-day (or 32-hour) workweek is everywhere as the northern hemisphere heads into summer.

Career experts say that this schedule’s many benefits include lower stress levels and more time for exercise, sleep, and family and friends, as well as increased creativity and engagement. But how do you keep productivity up in less time? Whether your company is toying with the four-day workweek or you’re planning to make a case for it to your boss, it’s key to prove that your productivity won’t drop. Here’s how to get more done in less time.

Trim the fat.

“Working 32 hours instead of 40 forces people to focus on priorities and to work smarter,” says Val Olson, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. Instead of jumping straight into the shorter workweek, transition gradually, cutting three to four hours each week until you land at four days. During this period, track what you spend your time on. It’s likely that you’ll find a good amount of unproductive time to cut out: watercooler chats, long coffee breaks, scrolling social media, unnecessary meetings, etc.

Zone in.

Part of the reason so many time-wasters creep into our schedules is that we get interrupted constantly. Our phones, always inches away from our work computers, light up with notifications. People stop by our desks to say hi. While a certain amount of socializing at work is important—especially after COVID— you may need to hide out when it’s time to focus. Find an empty conference room in a remote part of the office or post a sign on your door. Then, use your phone’s “Focus” or “Do Not Disturb” setting to temporarily silence all notifications. (Don’t worry—you can program most smartphones to let important calls come through.) You’ll be amazed how much faster you work.

Practice batch working.

A University of London study found that multitasking reduces productivity by 44%, so try single-tasking to succeed within the four-day workweek framework. Batch working is a method that groups similar functions together, allotting just one or two hours to each task. For example, you could block out Tuesdays for all your sales calls and schedule all your meetings on Thursdays. The key is to “batch” it all so you can focus on one task instead of several. Perhaps most important, try batching emails a few times per day instead of responding to each one as it arrives.

Block your time.

“Technology was supposed to create a world where people work less and enjoy more leisure, yet for most people, it has just created more work,” Olson says. But there are ways technology can help you take control of your productivity. A simple calendar tool is one of the most effective ways to manage your time. If you intend to accomplish every item on your to-do list or project-management tool, you need to formally schedule time to get it done—as well as buffers in case other tasks run long. That way, you can see when your week is filling up and say no to commitments that aren’t high priority