A major database upgrade project a few years ago forced Steve Nesseler to arrive at his office hours before his coworkers got there and logged on to the network. His workday stretched to 10 hours, but his workweek shrunk to four days.

Three and a half years later, he’s still working four days a week and loving it.

“It’s just a real positive thing. The reason I kept [the four-day workweek] is it really is a quality of life issue,” Nesseler said. He works for the Food and Drug Administration in Washington, D.C., as the Senior Program Manager for the Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

There are several reasons why Nesseler believes his four-day week is more productive. He begins his 10-hour day long before anyone else arrives, so he is able to work on his network before anyone else logs on, uninterrupted by telephone calls and meetings. Having Friday off allows him to complete personal chores and errands to clear the decks for weekend plans.

But Nesseler warns that there are drawbacks to consider before you ask your boss if you can adopt a four-day workweek at your shop.

Working while the world sleeps

Nesseler starts his backup when he arrives at work about 5:00 A.M., gets a cup of coffee, and then works on any imports or fixes that need to be completed.

Along with running his backup program, he has the chance to do any imports or fixes to his database.

His early start time also helps in avoiding morning rush-hour traffic in the busy Washington, DC, metro area. Nesseler estimates that he has reduced his commute time by an hour every week, and the commute is more pleasant than it would be during rush hour.

“It sometimes takes me an hour longer to get home than it takes me to get here,” Nesseler said. “Plus it’s a much higher quality drive. Instead of being hunched over and someone giving you the one-finger salute, the only things you have to watch out for are raccoons and deer.”

Nesseler produces reports that draw from the database and require intensive database searches. This process goes much quicker in the morning before he has to share the network with other users.

“It is sort of like the commute. I’m doing the same things but at a different time. You get the same thing done, but you get it done in a lot less time.”

It may not be for you

Ten-hour days and four-day workweeks may not be for everyone.

One major drawback for Nesseler is that he goes to bed early and skips the evening movie on television.

“I hit the bed 8:30 to 9-ish. When my kids were younger, I’d put them to bed and hit the bed myself. So, if you don’t like getting up at 3:30 or 4:00 A.M., then maybe these hours aren’t right for you.”

He also had to rethink how he spends the hours in his day. A 10-hour workday requires stamina, and Nesseler admits his energies begin to wane later on.

“All my super important tasks, I try to schedule for the morning. Every meeting that I can [schedule] or anything I have to author, I try to do those things first.

“Then in the afternoon, that last hour of the day is sort of a slowdown hour. I try to use that to tidy up, clean out the rest of my e-mail, go through my computer magazines, [and] do housekeeping things to get ready for the next morning,” Nesseler said.

He’s also flexible about which days he works, he said. When he has an important Friday meeting, he will substitute another day off during the week, an agreement he made with his supervisor when he took on the four-day week.

In case of Friday emergencies, he has the option of covering them remotely. But in the more than three years working a four-day schedule, he has had fewer than five instances where he had to handle a crisis remotely.

Weekends were made for…

While the 10-hour days and early starts have distinct business-related advantages for Nesseler, the four-day workweek also benefits his personal life.

“It makes Saturday and Sunday more quality days. I can do that chore Friday morning at 10:00 A.M. and be the only one in line getting something, instead of doing that same thing Saturday morning and being 12 people back in line.”

“I’ve tried two or three different schedules—and just going to work and getting it done in a more compact time works for me.”

Getting approval for a four-day workweek possibly is less of an issue for those who work for the federal government because flexible scheduling is guaranteed by contract, according to Nesseler.

Sign me up for this sweet schedule

It’s unclear how many IT professionals work a four-day workweek in the United States. However, it may not be as rare as you might think. TechRepublic received dozens of e-mails when we asked our members if they work four days a week. Here’s some of the advice that we received on convincing your boss to let you work this schedule:

  • Make sure your organization supports workers beyond the normal working hours. (Are the lights on? Does the heat work?)
  • Show that your work is not constrained by time elements that would require you to be at work on the days or hours you plan to be off.
  • Explain how the day off during the regular week benefits you and the organization. (This is particularly useful if you are continuing your education on the day away.)
  • Explain how it is a morale boost that doesn’t cost the company any money.