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The reduced working hours experiment


Due to covid there was no real reason to take vacation in the first half of 2021. Other than to have a lie in. Which is always welcome. But not the right way to spend time off. Which is always limited.

I work as self-employed. With one client. The agreement is to commit 40h/week spread around 5 working days (Mon-Fri). With reasonable unpaid time off allowed for vacation days, sick days, national holidays, etc. The number in line to what you get in a standard employment. With some leeway baked in.

So in the first half of 2021 I managed to “accumulate” a lot of this “virtual” time off. I planned to somehow take it “easier” when the summer comes.

Summer is here.

The 5-hour workday

I have agreed with my client to work ~5 hours/day instead fo the usual ~8 hours/day.

This sounded like a great arrangement:

  • My energy levels are usually much higher in the AM than the PM.
  • Summer in my location implies several heatwaves. With temperatures in the PM going above 40°C, or 104°F. And airconditioning doesn’t agree with me.
  • Will be able to hit the beach every day.
  • While still being available to the team every day. This is important given my role as “backend lead”.

Yet I shelved this arrangement. Why?

Feeling like I haven’t done enough

Working from home has its challenges. One of them is feeling accomplished at the end of the day. To help with this I aim to have delivered some key “result” by the end of the day. Examples:

  • Opened a PR for a specific ticket.
  • Reviewed that team mate’s PR and worked out any requested changes till it’s approved.
  • Designed the implementation for a massive feature. Divided the original ticket into definitely-scoped sub-tasks.

Since I work in a team (see next point), it’s usually one such item per 8-hour work day.

I found it really challenging to reduce the key “result” to fit the 5h workday. And I ended up working more like 6-7h instead.

Chunk of time taken by working in a team

Pull request reviews. Calls/meetings. Pairing with fellow team members. These daily activities add up to a significant chunk of time. Sometimes up to half a day. Half an 8-hour day!

This chunk didn’t shrink in the 5/8 ratio. As my “allocated” working hours in theory did.

In some cases I didn’t really get much time to work on “my daily goal” I just described.

No real time gained except that 1-2h every day

“Life errands” still need to be done. In the 1-2h gained it’s not really possible to “hit the beach”.

In fact I managed to do it only once. And because I set it as the priority for that day. After work itself of course. But before any errands.

Making “flexi time” work

In an 8-hour day you can work 2 hours extra on Monday to go offline a couple of hours earlier on Tuesday.

How does this work in a 5-hour day? It doesn’t. I felt I lost my “flexi time” advantage completely.

It’s still 15 hours per week “off”.

I did feel I had “some” more time, but not a lot more time. I also felt bad leaving all my colleagues online while I left slightly earlier. On a daily basis.

On to some basic math:

5 days * 3 hours = 15 hours per week. This arrangement has the advantage and disadvantage of not really getting disconnected from work.

How much would two days off per week amount to? 16 hours per week. Duh!

Way forward

I will go for a more standard break of taking a contiguous block of days off. This should be easier to “manage” considering I work in a team.

Time will tell. But I feel lucky I got to try this out. I thank the management at the client I currently work for for allowing me to do so.

On working remotely and productivity: