IT Employment

The seven day work week

Independent consultant Chip Camden sometimes enjoys work more on the weekend, though he wonders if he should scale back his workload on Saturdays and Sundays.

I'm writing this on a Sunday afternoon. I've written most of my recent articles on the weekend, along with doing a lot of other work. Lately it seems that Saturday and Sunday have become no different for me than any other day of the week, except that I don't get interrupted as often on those days. Should I try to work less on the weekends? Does success as a consultant bring weekend work along as part of the bargain, or am I just not doing it right?

The practice of taking a day or two off work every seven days or so goes back thousands of years. The reasons for doing so aren't limited to religion; most secular cultures also institute a canonical work-week followed by a weekend in which workers get a break, although the scheduling of those days off often follows the dominant religion(s) of those cultures.

Why do we need such regular time off?

For a majority of workers, the weekend provides time in which they can pursue activities for which they don't have time during the week, because they have to be at their employer's location on a fixed schedule. These include not only hobbies and recreation, but also chores like taking care of their home or doing the laundry. One nice thing about being an independent consultant is that I can choose to do all those things during the week if that's more convenient. Thus, I don't need to reserve the weekend for those purposes.

If the whole family goes to work or school during the week and gets the weekend off, then it's easier to plan family activities for the weekend. On the other hand, with today's hectic school-age schedule in which the weekends get eaten up by extra-curricular activities, that advantage doesn't weigh as heavily as it used to.

Perhaps a cycle of concentrated work followed by regular down time provides a psychological advantage, though. We all should know that declaring official "on time" and "off time" helps us to be more productive and avoid procrastination. By having the weekend to look forward to, perhaps we can avoid burnout and be able to push on through the week. On the other hand, I give myself little reward breaks during the week when I get things accomplished. I find that when I come back to the job, I'm refreshed and usually have my best ideas. I wouldn't want to force myself into a standard work-week if that meant I had to give up those regular breaks in order to put in enough time.

Sometimes I enjoy work more on the weekend than during the week. As I mentioned before, I don't get interrupted as much, so I can get into the zone and get things done. It also feels like I'm moving ahead of my planned schedule. Perhaps the trick to that is not to plan to work on the weekend; otherwise, it becomes just another work day instead of a day to get ahead of the plan.

Back in the 80s, I worked for a software house that expected everyone to work weekends (without extra pay or other compensation) during crunch time, which sometimes ran from September through April. That company chewed people up and spit them out. Ironically, I think they probably could have gotten much more productive effort from their workforce by dropping that expectation. Mistakes often happen at the end of the twentieth 12-hour day in a row. I have no intention of ever working that hard again, because it doesn't accomplish anything. But the question remains: how hard is ideal?

After 20 years as an independent consultant, I still don't have definite answers to that question. I'd like to hear your thoughts. Do you take weekends off? If you don't, how do you give yourself relief from your work schedule?

About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

23 comments
Johnny_G
Johnny_G

All, that is nice. But what about people who working from: 4PM to 2AM minimum (because newspapers online) every day. Rest of real day is going to sleep/recharge batteries and minor around stuff, prepare for work. and thats all. U can be inovative, but u are inovative when u have relaxed mind. There has been time when i was not sleep 34 days straight. Just 1-2 hour of.. hm it sno a nap, more like clearing mind, shower, be outside on sun, and go work, that way is functionaly as every else, but not much inovative, ideas not pop out as usual,etc. Jus feel something is missing, that is: brain must change state, u must once a while close eyes, clear ind, let brain process everythin in few hours of sleep, and u must be outside to change eviroment once a while. or u become a robot. Form me on that way is best to take a whole week in wildness at my lake, close all phones, networks, etc. and be offline. Or that go offline. or become a robot with kinda bigger capacity than usual, but not inovative and relaxed.

paul
paul

Try googling work/life balance. I live in France (legal 35 hour maximum per week, 25-30 days paid holiday (vacation in US speak) a year. Total hours worked: US 1966, France 1656. French productivity per hour is greater than the US, and people have lives. In many respects the French standard of living on average is higher than the USA, and certainly is for those in the lower half of income. From direct experience, ,most Americans seem to spend most of their extra hours putting right the mistakes they made because they are tired, stale, and inefficient. Work less, work cleverer, and develop personalities from interests other than the job. It makes sense. Every study ever carried out shows that productivity goes into a steep decline after about four hours without a break of at least an hour, and after 8 hours in any day.

Johnny_G
Johnny_G

I wonder, Seven day work week is counting as u on job that 8-10 hours, Or(almost) All 24 during day.

TGGIII
TGGIII

The interesting this about IT is that it is both hobby and work. The learning and creating never stop. So in many ways rest cycles of learning and creating between the times of "grinding," create the necessary disengagemnt the counts as rest...except those being ground by employers who choose to strip mine instead of nurture employees. Some other thoughts for fodder: Micro Cycles There are numerous books that support the ideal work block in modern society is about 50 minutes followed by a strategically planned 10 minute break in which the mind is completely disengaged. (The Corporate Athlete is the source for many of these) I have read accounts from people writing books and doing other work where this seems to work well. It is hard for me because once I am on a roll, getting back into a design framework can be difficult...maybe a personal problem :-) Macro Cycles The Soviets experimented with a ten day work week and found that it did not work with natural biorhythms. I look to Hebrew wisdom literature for the optimal pattern of 1 day off in seven.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

Sometimes it's great to work on a weekend, especially if I get in a "zone" or are otherwise inspired and can count on less distractions. I've worked this way for 25 years. I've always loved the ability to swap weekend hours for weekday hours to run errands, my volunteer activities or to just blow the day off. I did find that when I got married and my wife had more of a traditional weekday job, that I had to change that somewhat as she didn't appreciate my working on her day off. So as long as she had a M-F job, I worked relatively few weekends. But much of the time when we're both home, I can work on the couch or outside as she reads or watches TV.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Three days work, three day weekend... and yes, that means having rotating days, but it also means (when wages are reduced as a result) that a company can have more employees at the same time, and operate seven days a week. Also should reduce burnout.

najwalaylah
najwalaylah

Since most of mankind who ever lived have-- until this generation or so-- been involved in agriculture that almost never entirely takes a day off and on most of those days did not even take most of a day off, the practice of taking a day or two off once a week is probably still pretty new, and pretty much a privilege of relative affluence or at least of escape from agricultural work, don't you think? But the point I really wanted to make is that maybe most workers today are getting treated (even) more nearly like farm animals, in that those who benefit from our labour and output have figured out that we can be more thoroughly milked for some amount at hours that are convenient for them.

l_e_cox
l_e_cox

I've been taught that a production activity suffers if it periodically has to completely close down, then start up again a day or two later. A constant flow of activity helps build a kind of momentum, and interrupting that flow takes actual effort, as does starting it up again. So these activities have a kind of inertia associated with them. For better or worse, the body doesn't fit perfectly into the ideal "physics" of a production activity. It needs regular maintenance time. Even machines need this. And people need time to do other things besides produce. Production is only one of roughly 21 different categories of activity performed by most people in the course of a week. But managers, in an attempt to keep up the momentum in their production operations, have devised various ways to keep them running every day, or even around the clock. These methods are usually based on the nautical system of "watches." You divide the day into "watches" (or "shifts") and bring in a different crew to man each one. In a service organization, this can also be done by having one staff man the operation weekdays and another staff man the operation weeknights and weekends. For the individual, the main concern is that he does not become so driven by production demands that he neglects other important parts of his life.

alexisgarcia72
alexisgarcia72

As an IT Manager I normally needs to do "something" on the weekend: service pack installs, patch deploys, etc but I normally try to do that only one saturday and use only weekends during big migrations or projects. But I always try to use my weekend to enjoy the time with my wife and family. This is really important and I normally work every single day too hard just waiting for the weekend.

pgit
pgit

I am adamant about having at least one solid "no IT work" day every 6-8 days. If I let work encroach on this, things go bad swiftly. I have no clue why, but I've tested the theory enough to have finally gotten it through my thick skull: you NEED a day off, completely O-F-F. I suggest anyone thinking "that's impossible," good luck with that," "must be nice" or the like: just keep that in the back of your mind, and try to nudge your reality toward that goal. I am walking testament to the massive positive effect of having a day to yourself. The first steps on the road to a more natural existence (always a good thing) are to try to free up small blocks of time throughout the entire week to take care of the little tasks that if left undone, would soon pile up and become a daunting mess of it's own, compounding the negative pressures. I elected to reach for less money in order to have more of a life of my own. You only live once. Few really consider that obvious fact, I mean really ponder it. I have been too close to death, several times, to miss the importance of striving to enjoy every second of my trip through space on this rock. I never have personal tasks festering, no household chores taking the back seat, when I have a personal need, I prioritize it. It's a lot easier than you might think. It amounts to 'just do it,' you'll see in retrospect that you are more productive on the job knowing all your personal affairs are in order first and foremost. BTW I work my tail off Saturday and Sunday, and usually set aside Wednesday, Tuesday or Monday for 'my day,' in that order. Wednesdays are ideal for me because of other people's schedules. Nothing mystical about Wednesday. And I would estimate I get upwards of 70% of all my work done on those 2 days. Silence is golden. People in an office who are themselves working on "the weekend" usually have a more sympathetic, even a more 'team oriented' perspective. They want to get their work done and get out. Fortunately most of the people I'd run into on a "weekend" are the proprietors, professionals who themselves appreciate the quiet on weekends to get things done, or are a more 'skeleton' type of staff, the type who wouldn't be tugging at my sleeve to help them with their Excel problems, and who's answer to almost anything I could ask would be "I don't know." I have quite successfully morphed my interactions with clients ever more to my favor, which seems to be to the clients favor as a result, my being happier and under less pressure from outside my relationship with the client has been a win-win. I got here by keeping those two time considerations I mentioned above in the back of my mind for a long, long time. 1) Insist on a solid day off all to yourself. Don't force yourself to accomplish anything, either. If something does get accomplished on this day, it's bonus. That's because of point 2), you're going to get most of life's tasks and chores done as they impose themselves, a few minutes here, a few hours there, try to prioritize your needs and try to take whatever time, whenever, to get that stuff over with. This can only be attempted by an independent contractor, of course. If you're punching a clock, and the job is eroding your health and/or well-being, your only option is to walk. Now, I wrote this as fast as I could so I can get back to work... I apologize for any typos or other errors as there may be. :)

mercedesman1981
mercedesman1981

The demands of our employers and the convenience of modern workday technologies like the ipad and cell phones our work life has changed dramatically over the past 15 or so years. I feel what disintegrates families the most is not being able to balance the time between work, family and yourself.

cd003284
cd003284

For me, it's the rhythm, not the days; the curves on my mental and physical "sine waves." I'm a 63 year old consultant, tech, and teacher/tutor and although I'm in good shape, there are frequent reminders of my age. I often feel like a 30 year old gymnast. I run my business with reference to stress management and that helps me make my decisions about schedule, workload, rest and rec, etc. I also take full advantage of whatever maturity and wisdom I've somehow managed to earn. When I look at what so many of my younger colleagues do to themselves, it's no wonder that they crash or burn out. Too many simply haven't yet learned how to live their lives. Best wishes everybody.

MrBrightwork
MrBrightwork

Working to keep the work hours under 50 hours is a challenge, so i living in the feast or famine world of consulting. I have found that sleeping in on the weekdays after spending late nights working on servers, or taking off on a Wednesday because the prior Sunday was spent doing work maintenance is the secret to happiness. Work Hard, Play Hard. Work might not always be there tomorrow, but making mistakes because of being burned out is just as bad.

reisen55
reisen55

One is driving to a client and enjoying a morning on the road, treat yourself to a good diner breakfast if you can. Secondly, if you have access to client location, it is a wonderful time to do normal chores without being bothered by shoulder taps!!!! Peace and quiet is a wonderful time. Third, you can raid their food pantry. And on the way home, take a detour, shop a bit and enjoy it as an extended day. AND LEAVE ROOM for the weekend as well. Dinner with spouse is a good way to finish it all off.

seanferd
seanferd

But I'm not an IT consultant of any sort. You raise some interesting points in the article, and consultants who have, more or less, full control of their time could benefit from considering these.

apotheon
apotheon

That's where you need to take some days off, pretty much without exception. Thirty-four days straight is not a good idea under those circumstances.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

in fact, after about 6PM I'm not productive enough to keep working. It usually ends up about 10 hours, with a few breaks during that time.

mokele
mokele

From what I understand, hunter/gatherer cultures have more leisure time than agricultural or industrial ones. Information technology may make this possible once again (while including features like modern medicine). Or, it could make possible a hell-on-earth where every aspect of workers' lives are controlled. Arguably, the independent worker is advantaged in either scenario.

najwalaylah
najwalaylah

Gotta feed and water (and more) all animals regularly. Guess I should have specified I didn't mean monocropping!

Editor's Picks