Towards the end of 2019 I asked my manager if it would be possible for me to start working six-hour days. We didn’t have a precedent for this in our company so we decided to try it out starting the following January.
As the concepts of a workday and a workweek can differ depending on the region, line of work, contracts and so on, I should begin with a couple of definitions. We follow a common model in Finland of an eight-hour workday which includes a 30-minute unpaid lunch break. So 7,5 hours of work is expected during a day. A six-hour workday does not include a lunch break1 so the expected amount of work is 80% of a 7,5-hour day. An alternative model of working four days a week instead of the usual five would deliver the same amount of work as six-hour days.
I work in the field of software development where much of the work is of a creative nature and often involves a lot of problem-solving — for me usually an even mix of thinking about how to solve the problem and figuring out why my solution does not work. Sometimes meetings interrupt the development flow. Sometimes context switches throughout the day can’t be avoided. What I found was that the final stretch of the workday was often the most tiring and unproductive period. That part of the day was simply less enjoyable.
The amount of time we spend working also felt like quite a lot to me. It seemed like a nice solution if I could cut out the less productive part of the workday and get that time for myself instead. I was also considering that I might use some of that additional time and energy on my own projects.
At the end of 2019 and during the beginning of 2020 we knew very little of how the year was about to unfold. Unsurprisingly the additional time gained from shorter workdays did not amount to advancing my personal projects a whole lot. As 2020 was a bit of a crummy year I’m not stressing at all about not having been more productive.
When it comes to work it quickly became apparent that the six-hour model was a pretty good fit for me. As we expected, it effectively removed the less good part of the workday. I didn’t expect though that with a shorter day it would be easier to remain focused on the tasks at hand also throughout the day. Overall my days had less downtime than before.
During March 2020 I switched to working fully remotely and have been working remotely since then. This did affect the six-hour experiment somewhat. As I tend to now sleep a little longer in the mornings and sometimes have a slightly longer lunch break it turns out that my remote six-hour day doesn’t very often end any earlier than a 7,5-hour day at the office would have. I can’t see this as much of a downside as this is still much preferable to a 7,5-hour remote day.
In light of both the data and how I feel personally, the experiment was a success. We kept the shorter workdays through the entire year and I’ve continued with this model for 2021 as well. Mostly the saved time from the shortened workdays has converted into free time with a close to 1:1 ratio, which I’m OK with. Currently I see this as a permanent arrangement and can’t really see myself going back.
In our case the working hours are flexible and one can have a lunch break whenever it suits them. The distinction between ”a 30-minute unpaid lunch break” and ”no lunch break” therefore makes no practical difference for me. ↩︎