How we work 5 hour days and why it’s vital for our survival

mountain-goat-5-hour-working-day-blog

Two office workers are talking. The woman says, “Bet you I can make the boss give me the day off.” The man replies, “And how would you do that?” The woman says, “Just wait and see.”

She then hangs upside down from the ceiling. The boss comes in and says, “What are you doing?” The woman replies, “I’m a light bulb.” The boss then says, “You’ve been working so much that you’ve gone crazy. I think you need to take the day off.”

The man starts to follow her and the boss says, “Where are you going?” The man says, “I’m going home, too. I can’t work in the dark.”

Last week I shared an article on why I have turned off my phone notifications (still loving it by the way). In the post I mentioned that we have implemented a 5 hour working day here at stolen goat. Working 25 hour weeks instead of 40-60+ like most folks do is not just a lifestyle choice for us, it’s actually a business initiative. In fact I would go so far as to say it is key for our long term survival and growth. stolen goat is about Adventuring More, and inspiring you to do so. It’s vital that we lead by example. Since running this experiment we have been out on the bike (as a team) nearly every day, we’re happier, more connected and without a doubt more productive.

As a former engineer (I’m still an engineer, just not by job title) I’m very used to the working environment where we stay “until the job is done”. Software engineering companies will never (or very rarely) pay overtime, because people simply wouldn’t go home. But how much more actual work gets done in this environment. And if it is more, how long is that maintainable? Burnout is a real thing in the workplace, I’ve seen it happen and come close to it myself.

I had a debate the other night with a very close friend who is an excellent engineer and manager, and someone I respect and admire infinitely. We were discussing the SG 5 hour a day policy and in his words: “it made him feel itchy”. I get it, I do. Most people see less hours = less productivity. And a whole heap of questions arise. So I’d like to answer the common questions / misconceptions, and also describe how we achieve it…

You need 8+ hours to get anything meaningful done

henry ford quote on success

Nope. The 40 hour week was invented by Henry Ford in 1926. It was a significant reduction in hours and he used it to attract talent to the company and retain staff. It hasn’t been altered significantly ever since. Ultimately it’s a arbitrary number. What you really need to ask yourself is – how many hours of work are people actually doing in those 8 hours? Bear in mind I’m talking about typical modern day office work here – not assembly line factory work with little distraction. My guess is, if you summed it up, it would be around 2-3 hours.

Here’s the thing, Human’s are rubbish at multi-tasking. True multi-tasking like a multi-threaded computer means doing things effectively, in parallel. I don’t know anyone who can do that. But people are continuously juggling tasks – email, documents, social media, online shopping (busted), chit chat, making coffee, you name it, and we are trying to do everything at once. The result is that no-one does anything well, or at least effectively.

Our solution

Focus is our solution to this. Every day before we head home we make a to-do list for the next day. Here’s the key – it is at most 2 points long. These 1-2 things should be the things you would achieve tomorrow if the next day you were going on holiday. Isn’t it amazing how productive we are before a holiday. Yep – we emulate that every day. Prioritise the hell out of your to-do list.

That’s not to say you can’t do more. But you must aim to complete these things before lunch. We like to tick the first one off the list before we even look at emails. We work hard and fast, not long.

Removing distraction

  • We don’t continually check email, we batch answer.
  • We turn off our notifications, including things like dropbox pop ups (and other system tray notifications) on the desktop
  • We keep meetings to a minimum. Meetings are the biggest time suck ever invented.
  • Music is fine, it helps us but may not work for you.
  • No multi-tasking. Complete one job at a time and do it well.

But Most people work 9 to 5

Well firstly, so what? Why do the same just because it’s what everyone else does? Altering the norm has so many advantages. But here’s the kicker… most people simply don’t work 9 to 5. They are at work 9 to 5, but they aren’t working 9 to 5. I know this, not just from personal office experience, but from simply looking at our website traffic…

popular-browsing-hours

Above I have taken a typical Monday to Friday week, and I’m filtering purely UK based visitors to remove any time zone factors. Note that the figures are for sessions not hits. The darker blue line is the time of day that people are visiting and engaging with the website. There’s definitely an evening spike at around 8pm-9pm which is typical for stolengoat.com… well done all you diligent workers who only shop after work (unless you’re all night shift workers haha). But quite clearly the bulk of the traffic comes between 9am and 7pm.

The light blue line is the average session time (how long people stay on the site for). Interestingly it’s lower at 8pm and 9pm than in “working hours”. People want to get back to their TV watching I guess :-)

Below is the time spread for when our facebook fans are on facebook…

facebook-fans-online-times

Hey I’m not criticising, we’ve all done it. And frankly, without people shopping in working hours… we’d be struggling! My point is that people’s minds are wondering when they are expected to be working.

Your customer service will drop

Nope. If anything it’s actually gotten much better. Here’s why,

  1. most of our customer service questions come in via email, which we now focus on as a task at key points in the day that correlate with our warehouse operations and popular ordering times. By truly focusing on this, it remains a priority, rather than a distraction. The difference is subtle but meaningful.
  2. Having less time to get stuff done makes you re-evaluate how you do stuff. We realised that our F.A.Q page was out of date a little and more importantly it wasn’t easy to find. Now when you “click here for help” (bottom of the screen) you get our F.A.Q.s along with a contact form. They are both there together. Anytime we get a regular question that isn’t answered we add it to the list. People much prefer to serve themselves if possible.

On a working day, the longest people will have to wait for an email response is 3 working hours. The reality is much less than that on average. That’s we below the average response time of 17 hours!

What if you have a crisis and the staff won’t put in the extra time?

This is fear talking. Problems occur, that’s a fact – if it wasn’t then this would be way too easy! But solid teams pull together to make it right. We make our team solid by creating a genuine culture of “work hard – play hard”. If you value the company you work for & the team you work with, you pull your weight when required. It’s as simple as that.

In my engineering role which was 9-5 we often had Friday afternoon critical issues. I would stay like many others because I took pride in my role and the product. It was beyond my contracted hours, but it was a part of the job every now and then. Nothing is different here.

What if your staff take a separate job in the spare time?

CFO: What happens if we train them and they leave?
CEO: What happens if we don’t and they stay?

Again this is fear getting the best of you. Just to point out the obvious – an 8 hour day typically includes a 1hr lunch break, so 5 hour days are only 2 hours less than the norm.

We split our day like this – 9am to 1pm is solid task-smashing work. 1pm to 3pm is lunch and exercise. 3pm to 4pm is final hour to clear up any issues before the cutoff and set the tasks for the next day. So it’s not like there’s half a day to spare.

Regardless, people work multiple jobs for 2 main reasons:

  1. They don’t get paid enough to meet their personal requirements. The solution to this is to pay them correctly if they are underpaid. If they are paid correctly then it’s up to the employer to train the employee well enough to move up into more prosperous roles.
  2. They are bored, under worked or fed up. I’ve been here, pro-active and efficient people need stuff to do otherwise their mind wanders. This is rife in a typical office environment. I had several side gigs during my 7 year stint in the corporate jungle. I didn’t need the extra money I just wanted more challenges. The solution here is to ensure people are being creative in their roles and taking ownership of the goal setting.

This entire business started as a side project, so as CEO it would be a little hypocritical to frown on such activities. Allow people to be creative, the real value comes when people get to do at work what they want to do in their spare time.

Conclusions – Is the 5 hour working day better?

Is this right for every business? Absolutely not, particularly those with critical job functions… the emergency services obviously springs to mind. Although arguably if they weren’t so under resourced and the shifts were staggered correctly it would be a much more efficient working environment.

We aren’t an emergency service, so we have the luxury of being a little experimental. What I’ve discovered is it’s OK to be experimental in this regard. I’ve read a few cases of companies trying this on a 3 month experimental basis only to commit to making it work permanently.

So far, for us it’s extremely enjoyable and we are putting in some of the best work we’ve ever done. We won’t be stopping the experiment anytime soon.

Suddenly dropping your staff hours requires a plan. You need to adapt the way you work, cut out a lot of the wastage and keep on improving, in a marginal gains type strategy. What I can tell you is that the more limited your time is, the more you seek out improvements to the way you work, both as an individual, and a team. We have gone with 5 hours, I’m curious to see how far we can push it. I’ve certainly had a lot of people enquiring for positions in the company recently haha.

It’s a lot of fun, give it a try, what have you got to lose?

Adventure More…