I find all the talk of the four-day workweek quite fascinating. First, because I know that this has traditionally been an option that a lot of mothers take when they return from maternity leave (and that has inevitably involved doing a full-time job but being paid for part-time). Second, because the five-day workweek is an arbitrary construct in itself. And, finally, because I am in fact currently working a three-day workweek, with the kids at nursery three full days a week.
“How is this possible???” I hear you cry. Well, let me try to answer that question.
Here’s how I work a three-day workweek…
1. I am crystal clear on my priorities
From a big-picture perspective, I’ve done a lot of work over the years on my values, my purpose, and what really matters to me in my life.
I use my 5Ls model to ensure that I’m working towards a meaningful and holistic definition of success that includes the different areas of health and wellbeing, relationships and belonging, learning and development, career and impact, and fun and spontaneity. (Let’s be honest, that last one is the hardest one to prioritise…)
From a business perspective, I identify annual goals, quarterly focus areas, and monthly and weekly action steps.
Here, too, I’ve developed a model of 5 priority categories: Income, Visibility, Service, Operations, and Legacy.
I’m full of ideas and easily distracted, but I always try to bring myself back to those priorities so that I’m making intentional choices to focus on the things that will make the biggest difference.
2. I have a (flexible) plan
I’ve long been a fan of designing my ‘ideal week’ and then blocking time in my calendar to match that ideal schedule as much as possible. This allows me to take my big vision and anchor it into my day to day.
A lot of people resist this kind of structure and prefer to be more spontaneous in the interest of having more freedom. In my experience, however, it’s having that structure that enables you to have the very freedom that you wish for.
Importantly, this plan for my week encompasses not just my work priorities but also my personal ones. My calendar blocks include nursery drop-off and pick-up; gym workouts, tennis, and running; and studying for my micro-masters in organisational psychology.
3. I am fiercely protective of my time
There are endless distractions that can pull me away from what really matters and I’ve had to get very good at setting boundaries and learning to say, “no”.
I can’t just “have a chat” or “grab a coffee”. I filter potential B2C clients through an application process before I speak to them. I send free content to the people who say they can’t invest right now.
I still have to fight my inner people pleaser, but I channel Brene Brown, who says “discomfort today to avoid resentment tomorrow”. I have to say “no” to make space for the right “yes”.
4. I’m in it for the long haul
I’ve heard that we tend to overestimate what we can do in a day but underestimate what we can do in a year, and I’ve found that to be true.
There will always be ups and downs in my own energy and focus, there will be illnesses in the family that get in the way (especially with two little ones in nursery), and the dreaded ‘life admin’ can take up far too much time away from the big rocks in my life.
I’m focused on the bigger picture and trust that I will get to where I want to be – it just might take a little longer than I’d like. Showing up consistently, taking little steps over time, will create momentum and ultimately deliver the results that I’m after. I just have to be a little patient…
5. I don’t do everything I want to do
I’m full of ambition and bubbling with ideas. I have a never-ending to-do list. And I always want to do more… But I recognise that I will never tick all those things off my list, which I’m always adding to – and that’s okay.
I won’t be able to implement all the strategies I come up with. I won’t be able to put myself forward for, or accept, all the opportunities that I’d like to. And I will, undoubtedly, drop the ball in some areas despite my very best efforts.
I recognise that this will always be the case, and resist the urge to try to get more work done while I have the kids, or sit back down at my computer in the evening after bedtime. I trust that being present with my family and taking time to rest and disconnect will be far more effective in getting the results that I’m after.
I hope I’m not giving the impression that I have it all figured out, or that this is a perfect system.
But I also hope that this can inspire you to take a step back and look at what really matters to you; to get super clear on your priorities at work and at home and to practise saying “no” to everything else; and, above all, to be compassionate with yourself and realistic in your expectations of what is humanly possible (without stress, ill health, and burnout).
What would your ideal schedule look like? How does that differ from how you’re working today? And what small tweaks, or big shifts, can you make to get closer to a better balance?
Looking forward to your thoughts…