Friday, February 19, 2010

Working for the Weekend

I have happened upon an intriguing new job trend/idea. I read about this recently (can't remember where) and saw it mentioned again today on Gala Darling's blog, and it's something that got ye olde creeky wheels  inside my head a-turning.

The trend/idea to which I refer is that of working One Week ON, One Week OFF. This is the work method that personal development blogger Steve Pavlina practices and promotes.

The idea is that, rather than working Monday to Friday all day with weekends off, one works full out for one full week, than takes one full week off. Pavlina explains that during your ON weeks, you work full out (50-60-100+ hours in the week) on work-only tasks and responsibilities (no personal distractions) and during OFF weeks it's really just the opposite, with you focusing 100% on your personal life with no intrusion from work. The OFF weeks are not to be seen as "lazy time" where you just sit around and watch tv all the time, but rather time for you to pursue things that are personally fulfilling and that you wouldn't normally have the time to focus on in your free evenings/weekends - for example, spending time with family, taking a class, taking a trip, or taking care of personal "chores" around home, such as gardening or painting.

This, of course, flies directly in the face of what 99.99% of the population consider to be a normal, modern work schedule, so naturally it sounds a little wierd and unfathomable when you first consider it. I have to admit, I wasn't entirely convinced it was a realistic approach when I first read about it. But Pavlina makes some compelling arguments as to its merits, and I now think there is definitely something to it if you do it right.

First of all, I like the idea of splitting up time equally between your professional and personal self; I think all too often, many of us don't spend enough time on our personal selves, and often we simply CAN'T because we only have comparably few hours in which to do this (a few hours in the evening and two days on the weekend may seem like a lot of time but really it's not, especially when you add things like errands and appointments in there).

Using the OWO (I'm going to use this acronym from now on as I'm too lazy to type out the whole name every time) method, you have a whole week, 7 days in a row, to focus on these things. It just gives you a larger chunk of time, and all at once rather than in smaller segments. So, even if you have errands and appointments to get to, you still have plenty of other time to just "be" and have fun. And you have more flexibility - you can schedule that haircut for 10am on a Tuesday, or go to that 3pm Thursday yoga class if you want, and you don't have to work around being back at the office at a certain time, or making up time for missing work hours. You can take a trip out of town for more than two days, for one!

There's something to be said for having a "mental" break. I really try and balance my time between working and resting, being social and being alone, etc. But this can be hard when my time is so scheduled and segmented. My brain doesn't always have the chance to take a real break, and this can profoundly affect productivity in a negative way or eventually cause burn out.

Beyond this, when you devote strictly clear-cut weeks to work and play, you may be less tempted to cut into all-important time with your loved ones to take care of work. You can really create a clean separation between these two areas of your life and be able to spend extended periods of time with each. If you are working on a project you are very passionate about, it can be reassuring to have a full, uninterrupted week to work on it. You can really get into a "groove" and run with it, getting a huge amount of work completed. You don't have to worry about your flow being interrupted by the clock tolling 5pm.

This all being said, I do feel there are some negatives to this method. First of all, this type of work schedule is really only realistic for people who either work from home or are self-employed. Let's be honest, most managers in a traditional office environment wouldn't be keen on their employees taking every other week "off". And most workplaces today run on this schedule so you would be hard-pressed to find a job where you could follow the OWO scenario. Many people work for themselves and/or have a lot of flexibility in their jobs, but many people don't.

Not to mention that your activities would not necessarily be in "sync" with the activities of the rest of the business world, which runs on a 9-5, weekday schedule; trying to get a hold of a colleague or contact midday on a Saturday may not necessarily be easy. Plus many businesses you may have to rely on heavily, including couriers, call centres, etc, are only open during the week, during the day. In most cases, you would still need to concentrate the majority of your productivity within the traditional 9-5 Monday to Friday schedule in order to meet yours and your clients/colleagues needs.

Also, it's impossible to ignore the fact that much of the traditional working world is deadline-driven. Even if you are self-employed, often you may be working for a client and many clients have very specific needs and very specific times by which these needs must be met. What if you have a client who wants your work due during one of your OFF weeks? Would you insert an extra ON week in there to make up for this? Wouldn't this mess up your entire system? Would you be upfront with the client and say that you cannot have this done for next week because you're "off" or "away"? Not every client would be flexible to your unique schedule, and frankly many might frown upon it.

I know something that might be an issue for me when following the OWO method would be motivation. I mentioned before about getting into a "groove" with a task, and sometimes once this is broken it can be hard to get back. I find when I walk away from a task and come back to it, I sometimes find that I've lost that "spark" or my train of thought, and I have to struggle to find that again. While I do feel that walking away from a task and coming back to it later can be beneficial (being able to look at work with "fresh" eyes can sometimes allow you to see things with a new perspective), this would really depend on the task and how long one was away from it. One full week away from something could be too much, forcing you to start from square one when you return. This is certainly not productive. Also, I know from experience that it can be REALLY hard to come back to work period after having a week off. You may really have to psych yourself up to get back to the grind once your ON week comes around again.

Obviously, all of these negatives I mentioned would depend on the type of work you do and what your obligations are. The great thing about the workplace today is that there is a kind of growing flexibility; many more people work from home or for themselves today than ever before and many companies are beginning to recognize the value of building flexibility into their employees' schedules. Many are discovering that a kind of balance between work and home is very important to employee productivity. My boss, for one, is always willing to give us time off if we need it and is more concerned with the work getting done than "putting in time". Happier employees = more productive employees = more company profits > more and more employers are picking up on this. Living to work is no longer the norm.

In my two years out of University working full time, I've certainly realized that I'm not a live to work person. It's important to me to have a job I enjoy and feel appreciated in, but it's also important for me to have enough time to devote to myself, my loved ones and my personal passions. I really like the idea of having a full week on/off, as I find I often end up "cramming" my personal interests into periods of time that aren't really long enough. I find this makes me rush through things more, procrastinate more, and I also feel burned out more often.

So, given all this, I've realized that I may not be someone who is cut out for a traditional desk job with someone working over my shoulder; I need creativity, I need change, I need flexibility and I need personal autonomy. I like the idea more and more of being my own boss and setting my own hours. I guess this is part of the reason why careers like graphic design and journalism intrigue me, as you are able to make a living doing these activities "freelance". I've also thrown around the idea of someday starting my own pet-sitting business (cue amused chuckling), and this is also something that would allow me to work for myself and possibly initiate the OWO method.

Working for myself would require a lot of self-discipline on my part, of course, and I would miss the social aspect that working in an office provides, but it's certainly an idea that intrigues me. And I feel that half the battle would be getting used to the schedule; once you did it for a while I think it would become like second-nature and you'd wonder, "why haven't I always worked like this?!".

Some people need structure and a segmented schedule; some people need flexibility and longer periods of time off. It's really about finding what works best for you; not only what makes you the most productive, but also what feeds your soul the most. I'm still trying to figure out what feeds my soul the most, but I'm getting there, and this is partly because I'm aware now that there are options. Options which I plan to explore as I move forward.


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