Lessons from a nine-day fortnight

11 June 2018

At the start of this year, I asked to switch to a nine-day fortnight. Technically, it's part-time but my favourite description of it is most-time. I've had every other Friday off and it's been my work experiment for 2018.

I've been curious about working less for some time. 2017 was especially busy, with extra responsibilities and travel. So when I was asked to work on a short-term project at the end of last year, it seemed like a good time to ask for my ideal hours.

Originally, I planned to use the extra day each fortnight to work on my blog and pitch stories to my favourite food magazines. But the time off also taught me some things about myself that I didn't anticipate. I wanted to share them here:

1. It made me get my finances in order

When I opted to work a day less every fortnight, I was given two options: work an extra hour on the days I was in to make up the time, or take a pay cut. I wanted more time for myself, so I decided to earn a bit less.

In between working full-time and transitioning to most-time, there was the Christmas break, which helped me prepare. I bought a copy of The Barefoot Investor.... and felt a bit embarrassed about it! But it helped me set up a system that kept my spending in check. If you're curious, it's essentially this: you set up automatic transfers that allocate different percentages of your pay to everyday expenses, long-term and short-term savings, as well as spending money.

Over summer, I got rid of my credit card and stuck to the amounts that were allocated for each category. It helped me manage the change in income (a privilege in its own right), while still saving.

Two small adjustments: I now buy gifts that are less extravagant (but no less thoughtful I hope!), and 90% of the books I read are reserved and borrowed from the library.

2. I learnt how to relax

I have a habit of packing a lot into my weekends. Usually they're a mix of things that have to be done (food shopping and meal prep), and fun stuff like trying out new recipes, seeing family and friends, and doing yoga. Trying to fit it all in means that sometimes I'm exhausted by Sunday afternoon.

Having an extra day meant that I could do all of these things and still have some spare time. Early on, I used this time to pitch stories, and apply for an exciting-looking job that popped up. When I interviewed for that job and got it, my focus for the year shifted.

I put less pressure on myself to be creative or productive on my long weekends. Having that extra time helped me see that being well rested helped me feel happier, clear-headed and possibly more creative overall.

It's also changed my expectations of regular two day weekends, which are now less about getting everything done and more about finding things that can wait or be dropped completely. It might sound silly but I've gone from trying at least three new recipes each weekend to cooking once or twice and spending the rest of the time reading, walking and watching movies.

3. I never thought about quitting my job

There have been moments in the past few years where my life has mainly been about work. And so when I've not been enjoying it, or when there have been some big changes like a restructure, it's had a huge impact on my outlook on life and sense of self.

At its most extreme, I considered doing something else altogether. I read books and listened to podcasts about entrepreneurship and overcoming fear. I'd quiz friends who ran their own businesses or freelanced about how they did it. I had this feeling that there was a better way to work and have a life.

Working less shifted the balance in my life ever so slightly. It coincided with my sister's move to Canberra, which made catching up with her and supporting her family in small ways easy. Another highlight was regular brunch dates with my friend who went on maternity leave, and then spending time with her and her newborn baby.

4. And maybe most surprising of all... it didn't need to be a permanent thing

When I started working a little less, I hoped to do it for a year to really give it a go. But lately, I've had a strong sense that I'm ready to return to full-time work, excited about it even. Having some time off has given me time to think, rest, read and get my energy back.

I would totally do it again if it's something I need. Even having the courage to ask several managers for the option (and getting their approval) has let me know that it's a possibility, and one that comes with no judgement.

As of this month, I'm heading back to full-time work. I'm excited... and a bit nervous too. I'll keep you posted :)

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