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The four-day work week and what to do with the fifth day

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The morning rush is over, and the house is quiet. The remnants of coffee and cereal indicate that everyone has left for their daily responsibilities, except for me. Today is my fifth day, a day off from work. It’s the day when I’m supposed to have time for myself, but I find myself pondering over what I should do with this newfound freedom. The concept of a four-day work week has been gaining traction globally, with many believing it to be the solution to the work-life balance conundrum. Economists and employers argue that productivity doesn’t decline when work schedules are condensed. From my perspective, as someone who enjoys a four-day work week, I can attest that it’s indeed beneficial. However, it’s not without its complexities.

The Plan

As the fifth day stretches ahead, I feel the weight of its infinite possibilities. Questions flood my mind. How can I make the most of this day? Can I justify not working on a weekday? Can I prevent work from creeping into this day of leisure? Or should I simply allow myself to rest? It felt somehow wrong to have an additional day off without a tangible justification. I grappled with feelings of selfishness and unproductivity.

Workification of leisure

In the past, leisure was considered a symbol of social status. Resting and pursuing personal enjoyment were indicators of an elevated position in society. However, in today’s world, busyness and time demands have become markers of status. Our identity has become intertwined with our working selves. Philosopher Bertrand Russell, almost a century ago, criticized the belief in the virtue of work and the harm it inflicts. Fast forward to the present, where technological and social advancements have led to the workification of leisure. Now, doing nothing is often seen as self-indulgent luxury rather than a necessary part of a fulfilling life.

The Rest Test

Thus, when I told my friend that I intended to keep my fifth day off, I did so with a mix of trepidation, privilege, and shame. The prospect of rest carried with it a burden of guilt. A 2019 study called “The Rest Test” revealed that many people associate resting with anxiety and guilt. So, I meticulously planned my day, trying to strike a balance between leisure and accountability. In the morning, I dedicated a set amount of time to household chores. It was precise, with alarms set to keep me on track. I tackled tasks that usually consume my time during the rest of the week. As I completed each task, I felt a sense of accomplishment that served as insurance against guilt.

Time for Relaxation

By midday, I drew a clear boundary. From exactly 12:15pm to 1:15pm, I engaged in an exercise class I enjoyed. During this hour, nothing else could intrude. It was my time for pure enjoyment and relaxation. It became my insurance against resentment. The remaining hours until the end of the day were amorphous, a time I hadn’t quite figured out how to utilize. I started the day with a long to-do list, and it gradually dwindled as I accomplished a few administrative tasks. I indulged in listening to podcasts, read an intriguing article at a local café, and allowed myself moments of reflection without guilt. The day wasn’t magical, but as it came to a close, I felt lighter, less stressed, and grateful. I felt ready to tackle work again.

The Debates

The four-day work week has sparked a flurry of books on time, work, and rest. There’s a growing movement advocating for more time away from work and re-evaluating our perception of leisure. These books delve into the importance of reclaiming our right to leisure and questioning the societal expectations that prioritize productivity over well-being. They confront the paradox that, despite living in an era of abundance and leisure, many of us still feel a lack of both.

Throughout history, demands for more leisure time have brought about significant changes. Movements like the Early Closing Movement and the fight for the eight-hour workday aimed to improve workers’ social and moral conditions by prioritizing leisure. They recognized that the advancements in technology should grant workers more time for themselves.

The Path ahead

Although implementing a four-day work week may not completely revolutionize our mindset, it can revolutionize our schedules. Disconnecting from the constant need to work and the belief that leisure exists solely to recover from work is crucial. It’s time to view our time as our own and challenge the notion that our worth is solely determined by our productivity. The road to achieving work-life balance and reclaiming our time may be long, but embracing the four-day work week is a step in the right direction. It’s an opportunity to redefine our relationship with work and leisure, fostering a society that values well-being and personal fulfilment.

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