As of today I have been working as a programmer for exactly 8 years (I am including my 2,5 years of apprenticeship here). Today is also my first anniversary at my current company. Two months ago I started working 4 days a week and this is the best change in my career so far.
My career might sound boring at first. I worked for seven years at the same company. I learned a lot and really liked the people there. Last year it was finally time for a change and I got to work for the startup of a good friend. My colleagues are awesome and working for a small company is oftentimes very exciting and can be lots of fun.
But let’s be honest, working on software is not always fun. In my career I’ve always had days, weeks, sometimes even months when the tasks sucked and work is just hard. Programming in flow, creating cool things and seeing the results of your work is awesome. It really depends on the clients, projects and many other factors how much of your work is doing cool stuff or just doing dull work that needs to be done.
I’m really grateful to have a boss who cares a lot about how I’m doing and what can we do to improve our work environment.
Recently, my company introduced a model where you switch your full-time job to a part-time position where every Friday is off. We talked about this in our regular one-on-one meeting in spring, and I decided to switch to this model for the upcoming summer months. It’s been two months now, and I would go so far that working part-time is the best thing that happened to me in my career. I’m a lot happier now than I was in the previous months. The gained free time made me more mindful of how I spend my time. To me, it feels like I spend the work hours more efficient and the weekend is a lot more relaxing. I have more time for activities that are very important for me, like spending time with friends and family and my hobbies.
The weekend just feels longer. Not just a bit longer but much longer. On Saturdays, I am more relaxed now because it’s the midpoint (as we Germans call it: Bergfest) of the weekend. It’s similar to vacations. The start feels a bit weird and the middle days are the best and most relaxing part. At the end you are less relaxed because the end of your free time is in sight. On Sundays, I no longer really feel what I used to call “Sunday blues”. I am usually looking forward to Monday. I do a lot of code reviews, and often I can review new code, fixed PRs and new tasks that happened on Friday. Going back to the work I did three days ago also feels good because I get a fresh look at it. I also try to finish stuff on Thursdays and prepare stuff for a good start on Mondays. Somehow a 4-day week is a lot less frightening than a “normal week”, too. It goes by really quickly and the outlook of the next relaxing weekend is really motivating. In short, I would say a three-day weekend does its job of recovering me a lot better than the normal weekend. Working four days is mentally less exhausting and feels more effective.
Efficiency and productivity gains or losses are probably really important for companies implementing the four-day-workweek or thinking about it. I sadly just don’t have any hard metrics to measure it (also productivity in software engineering is especially hard to measure in general). While you are working 20% less, I don’t think you will lose 20% of work getting done. I feel you spend your time more wisely. It’s only been two months for me, and it probably takes a while to see the effects on productivity. I imagine it also depends a lot on the job, company, people and clients if this model works. Every company needs to find ways to make it work. I really like that we discuss this in the team, and it’s not just a management decision.
Maybe this change is so good for me in particular because it helps me pursue my hobby. During the last few years mountain biking has become my favorite free time activity. Going out on long tours consumes quite some time and the extra day on the weekend opens up more possibilities. It makes it a lot easier for me to organize a “big bike day”, getting chores done and visiting family and friends. The weekend feels less crammed and more relaxing.
I like spending time outdoors in the summer. After work, I don’t really have the energy to sit in front of the computer to work on open-source or passion projects. For now my four-day-workweek is planned until the end of October. Then we will discuss and decide if I go back to a full workweek. In the cold and dark winter I usually work more on open-source and private projects. Maybe I will also use the longer weekend for that. But my company has the Open Source Friday where everybody is encouraged to work half a day each week on open-source projects of their choosing. I can image this would be perfect for me as well.