The benefits of taking Wednesdays off

    Today is a Wednesday and I’m taking a half-day off today and tomorrow as it’s half-term for the kids. But, pre-pandemic I used to take Wednesday off in its entirety which was absolutely amazing and I’m not sure why I don’t still do it.

    There’s a real movement growing at the moment for a four-day week, which I think is a really positive thing for humanity. Let’s just hope it’s not just white collar workers who can afford to reap the benefits.

    One-offs, like a deadline for a big project, may temporarily restructure our lives, but cyclical pacers, like a two-day weekend followed by a five-day work week, have outsized psychological influence, partially because of repetition, and partially because they mimic the cyclical natural of our most fundamental pacer—day and night.


    A Wednesday holiday interrupts the externally imposed pacer of work, and gives you a chance to rediscover your internal rhythms for a day. While a long weekend gives you a little more time on your own schedule, it doesn’t actually disrupt the week’s pacing power. A free Wednesday builds space on either side, and shifts the balance between your pace and work’s—in your favor.

    Source: For Maximum Recharge, Take a Wednesday Off | Quartz

    Taking breaks to be more human

    I have to say that I’m a bit sick of the narrative that we need time off / to recharge so we can be better workers. Instead, I’d prefer framing it as Jocelyn K. Glei does as asking yourself the question “who are you without the doing?”

    The point isn’t just that it’s nice to goof off every so often — it’s that it’s necessary. And that’s true even if your ultimate goal is doing better work: Downtime allows the brain to make new connections and better decisions. Multiple studies have found that sustained mental attention without breaks is depleting, leading to inferior performance and decision-making.

    In short, the prefrontal cortex — where goal-oriented and executive-function thinking goes on — can get worn down, potentially resulting in “decision fatigue.” A variety of research finds that even simple remedies like a walk in nature or a nap can replenish the brain and ultimately improve mental performance.

    Source: How to Take a Break | The New York Times

    Burnout-prevention rules

    I’ve used quite a bit of Ben Werdmuller’s software over the years. He co-founded Elgg, which I used for some of my postgraduate work, and Known, which a few of us experimented with for blogging a few years ago.

    Ben’s always been an entrepreneur and is currently working on blockchain technologies after working for an early stage VC company. He’s a thoughtful human being and writes about technology and the humans who create it, and in this post bemoans the macho work culture endemic in tech:

    It’s not normal. Eight years into working in America, I’m still getting used to the macho culture around vacations. I had previously lived in a country where 28 days per year is the minimum that employers can legally provide; taking time off is just considered a part of life. The US is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee any vacation at all (the others are Tonga, Palau, Nauru, Micronesia, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands). It’s telling that American workers often respond to this simple fact with disbelief. How does anything get done?! Well, it turns out that a lot gets done when people aren’t burned out or chained to their desks.

    Ben comes up with some 'rules':
    1. Take a real lunch hour
    2. Take short breaks and get a change of scenery
    3. Go home
    4. Rotate being on call — and automate as much as possible
    5. Always know when your next vacation is
    6. Employers: provide Time Off In Lieu (or pay for overtime)
    7. Trust
    8. Track and impose norms with structure
    9. Take responsibility for each other’s well being
    All solid ideas, but only nine rules? I feel like there's a tenth one missing:
    1. Connect with a wider purpose

    After all, if you don’t know the point of what you’re working for, then you’ll be lacking motivation no matter how many (or few) hours you work.

    Source: Ben Werdmuller

    Deliberate rest, cognitive momentum, and differentiated work hours

    Appropriately enough, it was during a lunchtime run that I listened to the latest episode of Jocelyn K. Glei’s excellent podcast. It featured Alex Pang, writer and futurist, on the benefits of rest for the creative process.

    He talked about a number of things, but it confirmed my belief that you can only really do four hours of focused, creative work per day. Of course, you can add status-update meetings and emails to that, but the core of anyone’s work should be this sustained, disciplined period of attention.

    Four really concentrated hours are sufficient to do one’s most critical work, they’re sufficient to do really good work, and for whatever reason they seem to be the physical limit that most of us have.
    In addition, he introduced terms such as 'deliberate rest' and 'cognitive momentum' which I'll definitely be using in future. A highly recommended listen.

    Source: Hurry Slowly