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Embracing Summer Hours: A Personal Experiment in Productivity

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

(for those in Ireland, apparently, it’s summer somewhere 🙄)

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Work 4 day week during summer. Productivity experiment. Make work better.
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto - Pexels

Welcome to this week's Twork – and no, it's not about dancing; it's about making work better. More fulfilling, engaging, interesting work is what we are so passionate about. This weekly tweak to your work (TWORK) is all about teeny tiny changes that can change work for the better, no matter what level you are at in an organisation (or even working for yourself).

Today, I want to share my experiment with you and invite you to join in and create your own work/life experiment that works for you. So keep reading to find out what I did, what I learned and how to adapt it, so you can make work better.

The challenge

So here's the deal: I'm currently conducting an experiment. For years, I’ve looked on with a little envy at social posts announcing extended summer breaks, and reading about Basecamp and other progressive companies offering summer hours. I always thought, what a lovely idea, but in the real word it’s just not possible.

Case and point, I always think summer will be quieter and spend some time thinking and planning what I can do with this extended time, but it ends up being as busy as any other time of year. But after years of envy, this time I’m calling bullshit on myself. This year, I've decided to break free from that mindset and by hook or by crook work reduced hours until September 1st.

The commitment

My commitment is simple but challenging: I'm working until 2 p.m. every day, and I'm taking Fridays off. Yes, you heard that right – I'm giving myself a three-day weekend every week during the summer. 😎

Research on 4-day work week (reduced hour - 32 hour work weeks at the SAME pay) indicates that four-day work weeks work. Through the trial period revenue increased (based on the same time the previous year) and company satisfaction was 9 out of 10 (not one company involved has made the decision to go back to full hours). Employee satisfaction was 97%. More than two-thirds of employees said they felt less burnt out. Employees loved it so much that 13% said no pay rise would be enough to entice them back to full hours and a further 13% said they would need a pay rise of 50% or more. But let me be honest; it's easier said than done.

The struggle

I'm two weeks into this experiment, and it's not been as smooth as I thought. The first day, I finished at 2:15 p.m., and on the second day, I made it to 2:45 p.m. 3rd day 2pm on the button… 5th day writing this at 3.10pm.

The realisation

So far on this experiment, I've come to realise that my own mindset was the biggest barrier to making this work. There's always more to do, and I could easily work until late in the evening. I’m in the habit of working late. I know I can, so I do.

However, when I imposed a constraint on my work hours, I started prioritising more effectively and focusing on tasks that truly make an impact. I may need to tighten up and get better at leaving at 2 on the button but I’ve interrupted the habit of working late and my productivity hasn’t dropped off a cliff. If anything, I’m more laser focused, more decisive, better at priotising impactful work. Maybe the only thing I’ve cut is chronic procrastination.

Setting expectations

To hold myself accountable, I shared my plan with my team, clients, you and anyone who will listen. This not only puts a sense of responsibility on my shoulders but also helps set expectations about my summer hours. Once clear boundaries and expectations have been set, it’s a lot easier to manage.

Implementing summer hours means I’ve spent time coming up to this planning projects effectively around my reduced hours.🙌

Twork (tweak for better work) - build your own summer hours experiment

What can you do to create your summer hours? Here are some steps to get you started.

1. Define your summer hours - working shorter hours, ensuring you leave on time

Defining Your Summer Hours
  • What change can you make over the summer period?

    • Clearly define your summer hours. The clearer you are, the more likely it is to happen. Write out your new working hours and block your diary for anything outside those hours.

    • Clearly set expectations with those around you.

    • Of course, I understand that not everyone has the flexibility I have, but you can still find ways to create your summer hours. Whether it's leaving work on time, taking proper lunch breaks, or starting and ending your day promptly, small changes can make a big difference.

2. Prioritise

  • If you are struggling to see how to reduce hours, examine what is essential & impactful.

  • Sometimes we see tasks as essential because they are expected or part of how things are always done but are they impactful? Or are they a nice to have (and therefor at least in the short term get dropped)

  • What tasks can you reduce or eliminate during this period?

3. Mindset

If you are reading this thinking ‘I couldn’t possibly’, then I invite you in Adam Grant's words to ‘think again’.

I thought I absolutely could and the reality is really tough to navigate. My own long-ingrained beliefs that my value is in working harder and longer make it near impossible to leave my desk at 2pm unless I’m compelled to.

Hold yourself accountable, create a personal to do list that gives you a reason to stick to your new hours and tell everyone so they hold you accountable too.

What beliefs do you need to let go of to make this possible?

“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” Henry Ford

Break the Late Work Habit

- Summer is the perfect opportunity to break the habit of working late.

- Trust me; you can achieve more by focusing on priorities in a shorter timeframe.

- Realise and accept it will take time to implement, sometimes we are undoing years of habitual late working.

Extra tweak to the twork

The Temptation to Stay

Believe me, it's so tempting to stay glued to my desk, ticking off those to-dos. But to counter this, I've added personal appointments and activities to my calendar that force me away from my workspace. Having external commitments keeps me in check and reminds me that life exists beyond my computer screen. For me that might be doctors appointments for the kids, self care, days out (yet to happen) or committing to my summer project of decorating the kids rooms (time is ticking by way too quick).

Set up something in your day at end time that forces you away from your desk. Send the childminder home, book an exercise class, promise the dog a walk - whatever works for you.

A lot of overworking is habitual.

Habitual expectation to be present and available regardless of outputs. This is the time to break the habit.

The Unexpected Productivity

Despite leaving my desk at 2 p.m., I've noticed something fascinating. Throughout the afternoon, my mind continues to churn with solutions and ideas for challenges that arose during the day. I'm not checking emails or Slack; I'm simply allowing my brain the space to process and innovate. It means I can still be present with the kids or whatever I’m doing after 2pm but my head is clearer and solutions and answers come way quicker when I’m back to work in the morning.

Join me in making our work lives better. Let's challenge the notion that more hours equal more productivity. Instead, let's embrace focused work, creativity, and a healthier work-life balance.

So, are you ready to take on the summer hours challenge? Can we make this experiment a game-changer for productivity and well-being? Until next time, happy tworking

If you want to be intentional about your culture, about creating the conditions where people thrive and be at their best, then reach out to us 📞 . 👋 We love exploring this stuff and are happy to help.

Let’s make work better together.

Michelle Wallace


A Better Work


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