As any college student will tell you, scheduling classes is an art form. My first semester I didn’t have much choice and had to take whatever was available. My second semester I loaded up on Monday and Thursday and had the rest of the week off. It sucked – Mondays and Thursdays wore me out and the rest of the week I had to spend 10 hours doing homework. My third semester I put large gaps between my classes so I’d have time to get work done during the day, but all I did was bone around on ESPN.com and AIM.
My fourth semester I finally got it right: 1 – 3 hour breaks between classes, equally spread out throughout the week. I got the same amount of work done in a 2 hour break that I’d get done in a 5 hour break the previous semester. I didn’t mess around and waste time because I was under a time crunch. A 2 hour break really means like 70 minutes of work when you factor travel time and setup time into the equation. You don’t have any time to mess around with 70 minutes: you’re always under a bit of pressure and that’s why you get so much done. You’re focused. This one lesson has stuck with me ever since.
Read the following excerpts and stop and think for a few minutes before continuing the post.
If you’re an employee, spending time on nonsense is, to some extent, not your fault. There is often no incentive to use time well unless you are paid on commission. The world has agreed to shuffle papers between 9 and 5, and since you’re trapped in the office for that period of servitude, you are compelled to create activities to fill the time. Time is wasted because there is so much time available. It’s understandable.
Most entrepreneurs were once employees and come from the 9-5 culture. Thus they adopt the same schedule, whether or not they function at 9 AM or need 8 hours to generate their target income. This schedule is a collective social agreement and a dinosaur legacy of the results-by-volume approach. How is it possible that all the people in the world need exactly 8 hours to accomplish their work? It isn’t. 9-5 is arbitrary.
Since we have 8 hours, we fill 8 hours. If we had 15, we would fill 15. If we have an emergency and suddenly need to leave work in 2 hours, we miraculously complete those assignments in 2 hours.
Tim Ferriss – The Four Hour Workweek, pages 73-74
ROWE stands for Results-Only Work Environment. In a ROWE, each person is free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done. Currently, there are two authentic ROWEs—Fortune 100 retailer Best Buy Co, Inc. and J. A. Counter & Associates, a small brokerage firm in New Richmond, WI. At both organizations, the old rules that govern a traditional work environment—core hours, “face time,” pointless meetings, etc.—have been replaced by one rule: focus only on results.
In the 4-Hour Workweek, you helped people understand that because of technology, people don’t have to defer living until retirement. They can design their own lifestyle. Now imagine what would happen if the entire culture of a workplace went through the same transformation. That’s what a ROWE is. A ROWE is a work culture that gives people the power to take control of their lives. As long as they get their job done, they’re free.
One of the misconceptions about ROWE is that it’s a work-from-home program. It’s not. If you want to work in a cube, that’s great. If you want to work from a coffee shop, then that’s great, too. The question in a ROWE is not “where is everybody?” but “is the work getting done?”
Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson in an interview with Tim Ferriss
The United States leads the world in two categories: work and waste. American employees put in more hours and take fewer vacations than just about anyone else in the industrialized world, and our individual ecological “footprints” are much larger.
Coincidence? I think not. The way we work drives our habits of consumption and waste. The more we work, the more we drive, the more energy we burn, the more styrofoam to-go containers we use. At the end of the day, we’re so tired, we devour more takeout and TV, often falling asleep in front of the latter. If we want to accelerate the recent trend of reducing waste, it may be time to consider the radical step of, well, relaxing more, consuming less, and living fuller lives. May the Wall Street Journal editorial board strike me down.
Naturally, most businesses blanch at the notion of giving up any competitive edge in a globalized economy. But it’s not as if moving to a four-day (or 32-hour) workweek would simply lop 20% off the economy. Cutting hours may actually raise per-hour productivity. France, home of the 35-hour week, creates more GDP per work hour than the United States ($37 versus $34, as of 2003). Norway spanks us too ($39), and Norwegians work 26% fewer hours a year than Americans. It’s a myth of modern hypercapitalism that an overworked, sleep-deprived, stressed-out workforce is a necessity. Studies have consistently shown that longer workweeks increase productivity only in the very short term. In a recent survey by Salary.com, workers copped to wasting about 20% of the average day Web surfing and gossiping. Sound familiar?
Companies can take the first step by reinventing the workweek. Then it’s up to us to devote our increased leisure hours to activities with low environmental impact — and not to driving around gas-guzzling cars or booting up power-hungry electronics. Then we could enjoy both continued wealth and improved planetary health.
David Roberts – Reinventing the Workweek, Green Business Practices – Fast Company: May 2008
OK, soak those in for a second…got it? Here’s what I think when I read excerpts like that:
The Logical Thought
So if I’m not an employee, and we’re in long term growth mode (past the start-up phase), and 9-5 is completely arbitrary, and it’s shown that less time working will make me more productive per hour spent, and if I’ll be healthier/happier by spending more time on things outside of work, and it’s better for the environment, why the f*ck am I working so many hours?
In the startup phase there’s a “cavalier” attitude that you have to have. Life = work and work = life, and that’s OK. But I’ve been doing that for two years and I don’t want to become that guy who works 24×7 for their entire life and misses out on everything else. I enjoy new experiences and new people. I enjoy experiencing life. A large part of that is being an entrepreneur, but there’s also a lot that has nothing to do with running a business.
I spent a lot of my engineering days in college, on internships, and in the work force working on Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing projects and always thought to myself “why can’t these principles be applied to areas in business outside of manufacturing?” What 4HWW did for me was validate that increasing effectiveness and efficiency not only can be applied to all areas of a business, but in all areas of life too. Like everyone else I have become conditioned to 9 -5 and needed a little push to realize that I didn’t have to stay a part of it.
What I Want us to Become
I badly want us to become a model of efficiency and effectiveness. I want it because it makes us a more valuable company. I want it because removing the mundane and repetitive improves the quality of our lives.
In my head, all of this starts with our business processes. Unless you’ve got a ton of money (we don’t) you need to do the equivalent of hiring people by automating anything that is repetitive and can be done without human input. It started with our shopping cart software that automates inventory and shipping (side note: we had the owners of a large e-commerce store that’s been running for twelve years come visit us recently. The founder turned to George and said “I could fire two employees if I had that technology”. That made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside). It continued by moving all of our data to the web and automating backups and with George automating his accounting. In the future we’ll automate more of our marketing – while things like Google Base submission are automatic, niche newsletters based on customer behavior aren’t quite there yet…but they will be.
Once the business processes are set we can move on to us. We all want to work less hours. Some tasks – like packing and shipping – cannot reasonably be automated with technology so the way you “automate” them is to hire employees. I feel that by the end of ’09 we’ll have the 2-3 people in place that we need to allow us to work 20 hour workweeks. That’s my personal goal for each of us – the other guys might be thinking less or more, but that’s what I’m pushing for.
How did I come up with 20 hours? In 4HWW Tim Ferriss asks the question “If you had a heart attack and had to work 2 hours per day, what would you do?” He asks the question to challenge you to think about what you really need to do to successfully complete your job. However, he bases this on the premise that you don’t like your job and want to work as little as possible. That’s not me/us. I love this stuff. One of the things I really want to do a lot this summer is white water rafting – I’ve been twice and it was fun as hell so I want to officially make it one of my hobbies. I’m pumped. But I equally want to expand upon an email marketing system that we recently launched (right now we send follow-up emails to everyone who makes a purchase asking them to review their products on the DI blog or TD forum, but there’s a ton of growth potential there). I also equally want to hike every state park in the Albany area. Of course I also equally want to bulk up my AJAX skills and improve the user experience on our cart.
Clearly I love our company as much as I love non-work related things. It’s a good place to be in life. 20 hours limits you just enough so that you get excited to work. If I can only work 20 hours the intensity in which I work will be multiplied many times over. I’ll also really look forward to those few hours a day instead of letting my mind drift to things that I might rather be doing.
What I’m Doing About it
I realize that this all starts with me. I’m the one usually “proposing” these wacky things to my partners so I have to prove the concept before I can expect them to get on board. 20 hours isn’t realistic right now because we don’t have an employee and won’t for a while. However, I’m always looking to make progress and prove my point so I’ve decided to limit myself to 35 hours of work each week. After a few months, I’m going to make it 30. Then I’ll stay at 30 until we have our 2-3 employees in place and trained.
What counts as “work” you ask? Good question. I’m counting everything that is related to running Pure Adapt with the exception of:
- Commuting time
- Blog posts on this blog
- Time spent reading business books or business magazines
- Time spent learning (for example, I have a few AJAX books that will take a lot of time to work through…those don’t count)
Everything else is fair game. I purposely waited until the end of Thursday to do this post because I wanted to test my limitation this week. This week is the perfect test week – if I can do it this week I can do it 95%+ of the time. Being that I got NOTHING done last week with our server mess, my to-do list was backed up a ton. On Sunday night I took all 20 action items and split them up equally among the days of the week. In my head I said to myself “you’re only going to have 6 or 7 hours to do all of this, so you better be focused”. It has worked. Every day I knocked each item off. I am getting at least as much work done in far less time. Some days I worked right up to the last second and others – like today – I was done early. Thus far here are the hours I’ve worked:
- Monday – 7 AM – 2:30 PM (7.5 hrs)
- Tuesday – 7:30 AM – 4 PM (8.5 hrs)
- Wednesday – 7:30 AM – 1:30 PM (6 hrs)
- Thursday – 7:30 AM – 1 PM (5.5 hrs)
That puts me at 27.5 hrs through Thursday. We each have four days at the warehouse and one “off”. My off day is Friday, so I generally do the most work Monday – Thursday. 7.5 hours for Friday – Sunday sounds just about right. I’ll probably work about 4 hours tomorrow, 3 hours on Saturday, and just check email on Sunday (Indy 500 baby….anyone else pumped!?!?!).
This past four days has been the best of my life in terms of work-life balance. There’s nothing outside of work that I wanted to do that I didn’t. That’s huge for me. I’ve also stopped doing work at home – I do most of my work at the warehouse and the rest at Starbucks/other local coffee shops, which helps me mentally unwind when I walk through the door of my apartment. Continuing this schedule will go a long way to ensuring I get the fulfillment I’m looking for out of both work AND life.
I’ll definitely continue to post updates as this unfolds…should be interesting.