Entrepreneurs are no strangers to working long hours and having the lines between work and personal time blurred. Many times, the very success of our business correlates with how much time and effort we invest into it. This concentrated effort might be both necessary and sustainable in the short run but can be detrimental in the long run. A light workload day can help maintain some balance in both our work and personal life.
Some time ago, I realized that despite using various productivity tools to schedule and organize my time I will occasionally have a backlog of tasks. This usually occurs when something happens that disrupts my normal work schedule. This could be a power outage, a day when I am sick or a day when other tasks that are not work-related take priority. Whatever the cause, once the schedule gets skewed it is difficult to get back on track. Upon further investigation I realized that this problem was magnified because my workload from day to day was consistently high. This is when I decided that a light workload day was not a cop out from doing work but a tool with numerous benefits.
Benefits of a light workload day
There are many reasons for allocating a day with less work. It is important for both our physical and psychological health. If done well it can also make us more productive than working continuously.
Protecting our relationships
When we already feel like there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything the idea of a light workload day may seem counterproductive. This is an understandable reaction but is ultimately based on flawed logic. There are many factors that affect productivity and creativity besides the duration of work. We are people, not machines and our personal struggles can affect our work despite our best efforts to keep them separated. The time spent working and away from family can strain relationships and these problems can cause stress that distracts us while at work. Taking time off from work to spend with the ones we love can have long term benefits on not just our business but our personal lives. It also helps us to remember who and what we are sacrificing so much for.
Research shows that traditional working hours may not be the most effective use of our time. This should come as no surprise to us. We do not work effectively in long stretches. After a while fatigue, hunger, and restlessness can all become distractions we need to overcome. When we set aside a day with limited assigned tasks there is more time to do what we want instead of what we think we must do. This freedom can help boost creativity and innovation. We may choose to work on the project that is close to our heart. The option to work on what we enjoy rather than what is a necessity of the job releases some pressure to perform.
Google realized the importance of giving creative freedom to its employees when it first introduced its 20% time policy. This system aimed at encouraging experimentation that resulted in the creation of some popular Google products today. While there is some speculation over whether the company still encourages this system, the original concept is still sound. Working on projects that we have a vision for can spur innovation even if they are not directly related to core business functions.
A light workload day gives us an opportunity for internal growth. We can use the time to meditate and reflect on our purpose and our place in the world. Spiritual growth does not have to be associated with a particular religion. It is a common concept in most religions, but it can take many forms that are not limited to congregating in a church. Spiritual growth teaches us social responsibility, encourages ethical behaviour and allows us to think of the long term. Practising to focus beyond what is obvious and what we can control can also have a positive influence on our business decisions.
How to create a light workload day
For a light workload day to work we need to buy into the idea. This means being proactive and not just hoping that it all falls into place. Here are a few things to bear in mind when creating a light workload day.
- Reallocate tasks away from the light workload day rather than to it. Keep this day as free as possible for the tasks of choice rather than those mandated by a regular work cycle.
- Plan to do something pleasurable or relaxing. Schedule fun. This helps break the monotony of hard work that can cause burnout.
- Check emails and messages less. Designate specific times to read and respond to emails and stick to the schedule. This can minimize the constant distractions that these can cause. It also reduces the likelihood of being dragged into a complicated project on your light workload day.
- Let others know about your light workload day. This can help co-workers, clients or other parties involved understand why your work schedule is different on this particular day.
- Be flexible. Sometimes your light workload day may need to be a “no work” day. There are also exceptions when you absolutely cannot take a light workload day, but this should be the exception rather than the rule.
Believe it or not, we can be more productive by taking some time off from our core business functions. Light workload days are designed to encourage the optimal functioning of our mind and body. Great ideas can be born from a change of pace. Passions can be explored, developed or reignited. As ambitious business people we must be able to take time off without feeling guilty of not constantly pushing ourselves to the limit. Burnout is a real and ever-present threat. Light workload days help to balance our passion for our jobs and allow us to also focus on ourselves.
The truth about Google’s famous ‘20% time’ policy (Business Insider, 2015)
Here’s Why the 8-Hour Workday Doesn’t Work (Entrepreneur, 2016)