Having more hours in the day is the dream of just about every busy professional, but what if having more time for loved ones, hobbies, fitness, or relaxation was as simple as deciding you were going to give yourself the gift of more free time?

Study after study shows distractions at work eat up an insane amount of time. One report suggests most of us spend just three hours a day actually working. Another shows we waste a good four hours a day on email. Yet another says we lose as much productivity to distractions as we would if we came to work stoned.

So what if you simply decided to get your work done in less time and then give yourself the gift of an extra day a week off to do with as you pleased? This sounds too simple to be true, but as The New York Times recently reported, an experiment out of New Zealand suggests that, for entrepreneurs at least, all that may be standing between you an extra day off is the decision to take an extra day off.

One less day, same amount of work.

The article, by Charlotte Graham-McLay, charts the progress of an experiment run by a 240-person New Zealand firm, Perpetual Guardian, which manages trusts, wills, and estates. Earlier this year, Graham-McLay reports, the company's founder, Andrew Barnes, decided to see what would happen if he gave his people one more day a week off for a couple of months, reducing the required hours from 40 to 32 for the same pay. He asked a pair of local academic researchers to keep track of what happened.

"Supervisors said staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they were on time, and they didn't leave early or take long breaks," Jarrod Haar, a professor at Auckland University of Technology who studied the experiment, told of the paper. "Their actual job performance didn't change when doing it over four days instead of five."

Let's say that again: employees got just as much work done in four days as in five.

How was that possible? As the above studies suggest, there's a lot of fat that can be trimmed from most of our workdays, and these employees found it. "Workers said the change motivated them to find ways of increasing their productivity while in the office. Meetings were reduced from two hours to 30 minutes, and employees created signals for their colleagues that they needed time to work without distraction," reports Graham-McLay

It isn't a one-off miracle.

This is easier to do for some firms than others, clearly. (And if you're an employee, you'd have to convince your boss, which is obviously a tall order for many). Customer service reps, nurses, and firefighters need to be available when people expect them to be. But other, similar experiments suggest this isn't a far-fetched one-off. A town in Sweden, for instance, made headlines a few years back by switching municipal employees to a six-hour day for the same pay. The town was thrilled with the results.

Even in ultra competitive industries like tech there are companies proving it is possible to hunker down and get more done in less time if you just decide to do it. Online tech training startup Treehouse has operated on a 32-hour workweek for years with great success. "My wife and I just had this thought, 'Hey, I wonder if it's possible to work less and still be effective?' We tried it and it was great," co-founder Ryan Carson told me.

On a more personal note, when I switched to freelancing, I found that working away from the office I get as much done in six hours as I used to in eight. Self-employed friends report similar jumps in productivity. When you don't have eight hours to fill, work seems to miraculously shrink.

All this suggests that a lot more organizations could probably follow Perpetual Guardian's lead if they simply had the will to do so. Experts recommend short bursts of intense productivity instead of long, meandering, distracted workdays anyway. And just think how thrilled your people would be if you marched into the office tomorrow and announced they would suddenly be getting paid the same amount for one less day of work.

If you're a leader who could make this move a reality, it's worth considering: could your people get the same amount done in four days if you just let them give it a try?

Published on: Jul 23, 2018