No More Weekends - 4 practices for unpicking the working week
It’s Good Friday and I’m working.
I’m a little resentful of this even though I have no rational reason to be. Yesterday I stopped working at midday and went to Aberystwyth with Ivy, spending the afternoon in the lovely museum there and rockpooling on the beach. On Wednesday we drove from North Wales to mid-Wales and I barely even checked my email en route.
So why should I feel hard done by if I spend a few hours on Good Friday writing and catching up on my correspondence?
Re-inventing the working week
Being a digital nomad requires re-thinking your working week. My week is defined by our travel schedule, my clients’ availability, my daughter’s needs and what’s going on wherever we happen to be. Sunday, Tuesday or Bank Holiday means nothing in theory. I work when my clients need me, when the mood takes me, when I’ve scheduled working time.
And I don’t work a lot. Compared with most of my business life when an 8 or 10 hour day was the norm, I’m now down to 4 or 5 hours on a typical day and sometimes less. I’m testing out a belief that most of my “work” was busy-ness rather than value-adding productivity and focusing my working time only on what makes a difference. It shouldn’t matter whether the best time for me to work is Good Friday or 9am Monday morning.
But it’s hard to give up the habits of a lifetime.
The weekend was invented…
The first recorded use of the word “weekend” was in around 1875 and the concept of the long weekend wasn’t commonplace until around 1900.
Of course, most religions have a day of rest but the idea that the seven days of the week are divided strictly into the week and the weekend is an industrial age concept. It’s been with us little more than 100 years and yet breaking the working week/weekend rule fills us with guilt and unease.
The idea of the weekend has very little relevance for us today of course. Many people work at the “weekend” - in retail, hospitality, NHS, the police force, the fire brigade it’s just part of the deal. And, of course, even those of us who are promised a “weekend” in our contracts will often check email, read a report or try to get a head start on the week by doing work on Saturday and Sunday.
As a digital nomad, the concept has even less relevance. And so it should. That’s the reason for choosing the digital nomad existence. Flexibility to blend work with the rest of your life, travel, breaking the rules of the 9-5, is all part of the appeal.
Breaking the 5 day week habit
What makes breaking the habit hard isn’t about scheduling. I can say that I will go to the museum on Thursday afternoon and spend Good Friday morning working and that’s pretty easy to arrange.
Anyone who is allowed to work at home a few times a week or take a half day from time to time knows that actually doing that isn’t hard. But the head isn’t always as open-minded!
What makes it difficult is all the guilt, fear and unfamiliarity we bring to working flexibly, remotely or nomadically.
You’re on the beach but you’re thinking about work. You’re at the café but you’re wondering if you should be going through your email. You knock off at 3 because you’re not productive on this particular day but then beat yourself up for not being at your desk.
If we are going to live a more blended life where work and everything else sits in harmony the solution isn’t to do with diary management. It’s a mental exercise, building muscles that have been allowed to atrophy because we’ve allowed work to take over our lives.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been noticing how powerful to drive to be at my desk is. I’ve made it nigh impossible to comply with that powerful drive because I’ve taken away all the childcare, activities, school, dedicated office space etc etc that I used to have, but the drive is still there. And this journey will have accomplished nothing if I spend 12 months travelling the world but wishing I was in my office.
There are 4 practices that are becoming particularly valuable as I fight the working hours habits I’ve developed over the last 25 years.
If you’re checking your emails before your eyes are fully open you get a shot of adrenaline before you’re even out of bed. Like the first cigarette of the day, once you start it’s hard to stop. Ideally the first 30-90 minutes of the day should be adrenaline free meaning when you start work (or whatever you have planned for the day) you are in a rational frame of mind. Without the adrenaline hit you can make conscious choices about what matters, rather than what’s going to give you another shot of adrenaline e.g. ticking meaningless activities off a to do list.
My morning ritual includes getting my first cup of green tea before I’m really awake (I love that first sip!), doing what Jess Lively calls A Rampage of Appreciation, which is 5 pages of things I’m appreciative about, and listening to my Morning Dance Party playlist on Spotify. This is 30 minutes that I could be “working” but the investment results in me arriving at my laptop calm and peaceful OR allows me to go to the café with Ivy and do some geography or maths with her while we eat our croissants.
We’re almost always trying to get somewhere. We’re working on a project with a looming deadline and we wish we were finished. We’re on a long drive wishing we were there already. We’re playing with the kids thinking about how much housework we will have to do after we’re finished.
Intense Presence is about throwing yourself fully in to an activity and not allowing yourself to think about anything else. Most of us have activities that are all consuming (work can be this way and some hobbies) so we know we are capable of such Intense Presence.
Practicing Intense Presence in other aspects of our lives is pretty much a cure for anything that’s bothering you mentally. When you’re present to what you’re doing there’s no room for worry or guilt or even fear. It does take practice and intentional effort. But it’s a vital skill to develop if you’re disrupting the 9-5 mentality. Otherwise you’re going through the motions with none of the benefit and all of the discomfort.
I messed up a couple of work phone calls in the first few days of our travels by not communicating clearly to my assistant what work I could and couldn’t do from the road. I added stress to the journey to North Wales by putting calls in the diary for the day we were to arrive at the AirBnB. And I didn’t manage Ivy’s expectations about when I was and wasn’t working.
When you do the 9-5 people know when you’re meant to be working and when you aren’t (or they make an educated guess). But if you’re going to do things your own way the need to manage expectations and clarify your boundaries to others becomes much more important.
That means being clear in your own mind when you will and won’t be available. In a way it means being even more deliberate about work than working conventional hours. For me this causes a small inner tension because I want to feel like I’m flowing from activity to activity not compartmentalizing my life. But without clear communication to other people (which starts with clarity in your own mind about your boundaries) you just end up letting people down or working in the car outside an AirBnB pretending that you’re absolutely fine to talk.
Technology Lock Down
People who are giving up an addiction tend not to carry that addiction around with them. Recovering alcoholics don’t carry a bottle of whiskey in their jacket pocket, ex-smokers don’t carry a packet of cigarettes. But we still believe we can carry our phones around with us “just in case”.
I do have my phone with me. It’s my Sat Nav, my camera and my notebook. But much of the time when I’m out and about it’s in aeroplane mode. It’s deep down inside my backpack. It’s on silent. And I’ve turned off notifications for all of my social media.
Sometimes to break a habit you have to get out of the way of temptation. Relying on willpower when the drive to revert back is so great is expecting too much of yourself.
Practice, practice, practice
We’re unpicking 100 years of protestant work ethic here. All of our schooling and work experience taught us that hard work was what delivered results, that being seen to be working was nearly as important as actually working, that being busy was proof that we cared.
So don’t be too hard on yourself if you have to practice some new skills as you start to rethink your working week. At the same time, make it as hard as possible to revert to old habits, removing temptation and managing the expectations of others.
I’ll keep you updated on how my own practices are allowing me more freedom to blend work and life without the guilt. And I’d love to hear about yours too!
If this post resonated with you, please share this post using the buttons below. Or if you'd like help on unpicking your work week, get in touch!
Sign up with your email address to the A Brilliant Gamble newsletter and receive a free three-part "Gamble Guide", full of helpful insights and tips to start your journey to rethink work and design a life that works for you.