The 10/4 Experiment

Lessons learned from switching to a 4-day work week.

During a Start, Stop, Continue exercise on day three of last year’s Chromatic Team Retreat, I scribbled the words 4-day weeks (optional) on a post-it note which I stuck to a large glass window overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains.

post it notes on a window grouped by topic

The 4-day work week is something I’d chewed on for a while and I thought it would be interesting to gauge how much interest, if any, it would garner from my teammates. I was surprised to see this idea get the most votes in the entire exercise.

Jump to January of this year, when —with the blessing of Chromatic leadership— I set off on a 6-month trial of what I’ve come to call the 10/4 Schedule: 10 hours per day, 4 days per week. It’s been an interesting few months during which I learned a lot about my habits and how to make the most out of my productive energy. But most of all, it has allowed me to embrace a particular trait of my personality which, for many years, I had regarded as something to push back against.

But Why?

If you’re anything like me you thrive during long, focused work sessions. Once I’m on a productive roll, I want to keep at it for as long as I can stay productive. This applies not just to my work, but to my hobbies and other interests. If something is worth spending time on, I want to spend that time in a few large, consolidated chunks, not many small, scattered chunks.

In other words, I have a one-track mind.

For the longest time I saw this as a flaw, but I’ve come to realize that it just means I’m more productive during long, focused work sessions. Perhaps more importantly, it also means I’m more likely to spend my free time on useful, engaging endeavors if I have bigger chunks of it available. I don’t do a whole lot with a couple of extra hours of free time at the end of a workday, so my hypothesis was that the 10/4 Schedule would turn those (roughly) 8 hours of killing time on the couch into a whole day of actually engaging fully with things that are important to me.

Thankfully, I was right. The 10/4 Schedule is not for everyone, but it has worked wonders for me.

Lessons Learned

Overall, switching to a 10/4 Schedule has been a great experience, but it brought with it some challenges. Here’s what I’ve learned…

Think in terms of hours, not days.

Often times we think of work in terms of “days”: we work five days a week and we take days off. Working fewer days per week is incompatible with this because a “day” for me is not the same as a “day” for someone on a conventional 5-day schedule.

One of the first things I noticed when I started working 10-hour days is that holidays can’t really be thought of as just a day off, but rather 8 hours off. For example, the week of MLK (when we took Monday off) I worked ~10 hours Tuesday through Thursday, for a total of ~30 hours. It didn’t seem fair to the company or my teammates for me to get 10 hours off that week while everyone else gets 8 hours off, so I made sure to put in a little work on Friday morning. On the other hand, take this past 4th of July holiday: Chromatic took both July 4 and 5 off. Since I typically have Fridays off anyways, working my usual 10-hour days Monday through Wednesday would have resulted in a 30-hour work week, while the rest of the team enjoys a 24-hour work week. So, I worked lighter days that week.

In both cases, thinking in terms of hours (as opposed to days) was instrumental in making my schedule not just fair to my teammates and the company, but fair to myself as well.

You’ll need time to ramp up.

This is probably one of the hardest lessons learned early on. I thought I’d simply start on this schedule one day and be done. We’ve all had long days before, and one of the reasons I wanted to try 10/4 in the first place is that I handled 10+ hour days pretty well in the past.

However, logging 10 hours every workday as standard practice felt, at first, like a bit of a grind. I quickly found myself working shorter days once or twice a week, then making up the difference on Friday morning. It was over a month before I was actually completely off on a Friday and totally comfortable with how my week went. This was—at least in part—due to this ramp up. Other factors played a role, however, which leads me to my next point.

There is less room for error.

We’ve all had something (i.e. life) cut a workday short in the middle of the week. Usually this kind of thing pops up and you don’t really get to formally request time off. You take care of whatever it is and then it’s usually easy to make up the difference later in the week.

The 10/4 Schedule, however, makes this a little harder in two ways:

  • An interruption in your day is more likely to result in more time lost. The degree to which this affects you depends on your actual schedule, but working more hours in a day implies that an unplanned interruption will likely result in a higher number of hours to make up for later.
  • Making up for lost time is harder during the rest of your work week. When you’re working 10-hour days, adding extra work time may be inconvenient, unproductive, or simply not feasible for you. Personally, I avoid working more than 11 hours on a given day so I’ll have enough quality time (and energy) for family in the evenings. This is wonderful for my personal boundaries, but it limits my ability to compensate for unexpected interruptions.

Because of this, I generally make up for lost time on Friday mornings.

Communication and flexibility are paramount.

As with most things, communication can go a long way towards setting the right expectations and preserving boundaries. You might be surprised to learn that people for the most part won’t take issue with you working on a different schedule if you’re transparent about it.

That said, keep in mind that clients and teammates are working five days a week, and a legitimately urgent, unavoidable issue might come along that requires your attention. Being reachable on that extra day off is essential to making sure my schedule is not a sticking point for the people I work with. So long as they know they can reach me in the event of a real emergency, everyone’s happy. (If you’re curious, this has only happened once in the six months I’ve been on this schedule.)

The 10/4 Schedule In Practice

In practice, I tend to log an hour or two at least once a month on an early Friday morning (I’m putting some final touches on this post on a Friday, actually). I’m OK with this because it’s still better for me than the conventional 5-day work week. I feel more productive throughout the week because I get to focus for longer chunks of time, and I get more out of my free time because my weekends are longer, even if I have a bit of work to knock out on a Friday morning.

This experiment has yielded a higher quality of life for me. I get to leverage my one-track mind and feel more satisfied with both my work and how I spend my free time. What’s more, I’m happy to report that this 6-month trial has culminated in an official 4-Day Week Program for Chromatic employees. Now it’s not only something I get to continue doing for the foreseeable future, but also a perk that my teammates can enjoy.

Have you experimented with unconventional work schedules? I wanna hear about it! Tweet @ChromaticHQ with the ways you make the most out of your productive time.