Why we decided to work only 4 days a week (and why you should too)

Productivity
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Cristian Rennella
Senior Programmer, founder
elMejorTrato
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When we began eight years ago, like most entrepreneurs, we worked practically all day, non-stop and even on the weekends. The main goal was to find, as it is known today, product-market fit. In other words, to find a product or service that had a high demand, and would solve a real and concrete problem.

This is how MejorTrato.com was born, the first online site for comparison of services in Latin America. However, unfortunately, after two years of work and having landed clients and income, we realized that continuing on in this way would be impossible over the long run.

Furthermore, as shown by Brooks' Law, adding programmers to an already functioning and advanced project does not save you time, but just the opposite. For this reason, we decided to limit our work time. At that moment, we asked ourselves; why does it have to be five days a week, why not try with four?

Starting cautiously, we proposed an initial three-month trial period. When the trial was up we saw that not only did our productivity not decrease, it actually increased. We decided to keep this internal work policy, which we maintain as of today. Our income rose 204% last year and our team is now made up of 34 people.

I wanted to share three points that can help you be able to work 4 days a week over the long term and even increase your productivity while doing so.

1) Work exclusively using scrum

When we began near the end of 2007, after finishing university, the only model for development we were familiar with was the traditional one known as the Waterfall Model.

Using this method, we first define the requirements, then we design the architecture, we implement it and then, lastly, we test it out. This may seem very logical and absolutely correct, but it is far from reality.

Fundamental to a startup, as in any other project, the only constant is change, and thus, having fixed requirements and an architectural design based upon those from day one, does not reflect on the reality of client's needs weeks, months, or years later.

The market changes quicker with each passing day and adding to this is the need for listening to our client's comments from the very beginning - advancing based upon those needs is the key!

For this reason, we decided to change our work methodology to Scrum, where we defined “sprints” for the week (sprints are predetermined intervals of time for which we will set forth tasks to do and to accomplish, and upon their completion the results are analysed in order to plan the next period). For our case these are four days instead of five, so the planning will be done with 32 work hours in mind.

An excellent reference for learning about Scrum is the book: “Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time” by Jeff Sutherland. This is a good starting place and will prove to be very helpful.

With these specific changes, based on work methodology, you will be able to increase production, even while investing less time.

2) Eliminate email

The second step is to stop using email as the means for internal communication in your company. One of the biggest disadvantages in communicating via electronic mail, even more so if your team works partly or fully remote, is that the information in the mail remains behind closed doors to those that have sent or received it.

No one can call for a meeting outside of the only mandatory one that we have every day at 10am, which lasts no more than 15 minutes.

This creates a huge hurdle in communication. With other existing tools such as Basecamp, Slack or Asana, you can keep the valuable information within reach for everyone to use at any time they wish, from wherever they are in the world.

For example, if tomorrow a new programmer or designer comes on board to your project, you are not forced to go back and re-send hundreds of emails in order for them to be up to speed. Just by sending them the necessary information to log into the system, they will be able to see all the information (and interactions) organised in a clear way.

3) Limit your meetings

Lastly, we decided to limit all of our company meetings as much as we could. No one can call for a meeting, whether it be one-on-one or in a group, outside of the only mandatory one that we have every day at 10am, which lasts no more than 15 minutes.

If you really want to see your company working only four days a week while achieving better results, you must understand that meetings are your enemy! As shown by The Economist in this article, a manufacturing company was able to save the equivalent of eliminating 200 workers just by limiting meetings to 30 minutes with a maximum attendance of seven people.

The idea is that each programmer or worker can focus exclusively on the job that they need to carry out, and in order to do this, they need four continuous, uninterrupted hours. If you can give them four hours in the morning and four in the afternoon, you will raise their productivity significantly.

Each interruption does not just represent the time lost in attending a meeting, but also the time involved in preparing for the meeting and the time it takes to re-focus, being able to once again produce quality work.

If you think otherwise, I invite you to think back to the last time that you wanted to finish a task, but you were not able to because some interruption took you away from your focus and ability to progress. It isn’t a coincidence that we often finish our best work while on the public transportation system to and from work, in an airplane or even in a café. The work that genuinely produces value ends up being done outside the office and the root cause of this is the constant interruptions (specifically meetings!).

In closing, after working 4 days a week for over six years, and thus having 50% more time to dedicate to family, sports or hobbies, we realized that there were three additional bonuses that we did not expect:

a) You will have fewer absences in your company for things like doctor’s appointments etc. because they can easily get these things done on Friday

b) It is a strategic advantage that is highly useful when seeking out new employees, especially when you want to find the best available. The best programmers can work three times faster than the average ones, and even 10 times faster than those that are sub-par. The important thing to keep in mind is that the amount of work is not what truly counts in the end, but the quality of work

c) Less time is lost in news and social media sites, as everyone is focused on getting five days of work done in only four

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14th Apr 2016 09:32

What a fantastic article. Really interesting results about the 4 day week. Totally agree with email and meetings taking up a lot of time and great to see that you have done something so effective in it's place. Thanks for the book recommendation - going to check that out

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