I've been freelancing full-time for almost four years now, and while I'm proud of the business I've built, I've definitely made some mistakes along the way, chief among them being my time management. I adore being my own boss, but it does mean I have to...be a boss. I have to set my schedule, my meetings, and my workload, and when I'm trying to maximize my productivity and my income, I don't focus on my own needs.
Because of this, I ended up burning out hard. I found myself unable to focus on anything at all, I was putting out sub-par work, and I was stressed out of my mind. I never had time for myself and my home life suffered because of it; I constantly felt overwhelmed by the housework, chores, and responsibilities I have as a mother. This led to me constantly on the brink of breakdown.
My partner is a fantastic human being; through all of this, he's supported me endlessly. Still, it hurt him to see me hurting, so he made a suggestion: why not limit my schedule?
This made me pause. Limit it? I would lose money, I wouldn't have time to finish my responsibilities, I would be more stressed...wouldn't I? No, he explained. There was popular research that suggested a four-day workweek was better for a lot of reasons.
The Benefits of a Four-Day Work Week
In early 2023, a UK research team conducted a massive study involving 70 British companies and over 3300 workers to determine whether a four-day work week (with no reduction in pay) would affect productivity and attitudes toward work. The study ran for six months and during that time, companies reduced their employees' working hours from the standard 38-40 hours down to 32-34 hours. This usually meant giving them either Monday or Friday off from a traditional five-day workweek (though some attempted staggered schedules or shorter overall days).
The results were encouraging. After six months, about 40% of the workers involved reported lower stress levels and improved mental health, including a decrease in anxiety and other "negative emotions." Additionally, more than 70% of respondents reported lower burnout levels. Many reported better physical health and feeling less tired than before, often attributing this to the extra free time to invest in self-care such as engaging in hobbies, spending time with family, exercise, and a more appropriate sleep schedule. Also notable is the fact that 96% of the workers who responded reported that they preferred the four-day schedule and many reported that they would be unwilling to return to a five-day workweek.
It wasn't just good for employees, though! The employers for the study reported a boost in revenue and productivity during the trial period. They also noticed a downturn in employee turnover and absenteeism - people were showing up more when they weren't required to show up as much.
Why I Chose My Work Schedule
Exploring the benefits was enough to convince me that I should try a shorter workweek for myself. So, I set about looking into options for implementing it.
My partner suggested that, instead of taking Fridays off (a valid approach to this schedule), I take Mondays off instead. This was an interesting suggestion, and when I questioned his reasoning, he said that taking Mondays off would help to eliminate the "Sunday Scaries" - the feeling of dread you get on Sunday nights before returning to work. I argued by asking, wouldn't that just transfer to Monday nights? He agreed that it might, but suggested that using Monday productively for things outside of work, on a more relaxed schedule, might help make that transition easier.
I also considered the option of taking Fridays off. This would make my weekends feel longer, I thought and would match up with the schedules of some of my clients, who do not meet on Fridays anyway. That being said, the more I thought about it, the more I didn't like the idea. After having worked a full week, I wouldn't want to do any of my non-work chores on Fridays. I'd be more inclined to spend the day doing nothing at all, which wasn't the goal. I supposed it would be convenient to pick up my son from school, given his after-school program doesn't run on Fridays, but since I work from home anyway, that didn't seem like a major motivator.
Some research suggested taking Wednesdays off, breaking the work week into two shorter blocks. I liked this idea, but it doesn't gel well with how my motivation cycle works - I tend to be most productive on Wednesdays, so dropping that day might impede my motivation instead of improving it.
So, I elected to follow my partner's suggestion and take Mondays off and work slightly longer days Tuesday through Friday. I set a date for this to begin, alerted my clients, and altered my schedule.
How a Four-Day Work Week Works for Me
It's been fascinating to see the differences in my work and the balance of my life since I started this experimental schedule.
To start with, I feel significantly less overwhelmed and exhausted at the end of the week than I used to. Because I'm not working on Mondays, I have time to get more of my personal to-do list done - and as someone living with pets and a small child, that list is never-ending. I can prioritize my home life on that day, cooking meals that I might otherwise be too tired for, taking care of responsibilities I don't normally have time for, and giving myself space for self-care.
I also don't feel guilty about taking "time off" to do these things - because it's my set schedule, I don't have to worry about the work I "should" be doing and can focus on my other tasks more completely.
My working days are also a lot more focused. Because I know I have a more limited amount of time to get tasks done, I'm able to prioritize and schedule my time more effectively. I like to combine this with the Pomodoro method of doing intervals of high-focus intercut with short breaks that give my brain time to relax without dropping productivity completely. I'm actually getting more done now than I ever did while working five days a week!
When it comes down to it, designing your work week should be a decision that makes your life easier. I'm happy to have found something that works for me, but it might not work the same way for you. Whether you take on a four-day workweek, stick to a five-day standard schedule, or add a different flair, as long as you're getting your work done without burning yourself out, your schedule should match your needs and style. Don't be afraid to experiment with your time and methods to find the best way to work.