Channeling “Lord Heart of the Matter”

Some of us are working longer hours than ever; others are working for Jason Fried.

In a piece in Sunday’s New York Times, the co-founder and CEO of software provider 37signals detailed how his company switches to 32-hour weeks (from the normal 40) between the months of May and October. “Nearly all of us enjoy three-day weekends,” Fried wrote. “Work ends Thursday, the weekend starts Friday, and work starts back up on Monday.”

Fried, also possibly known as the best boss ever, noted that the benefits of time off aren’t restricted to enjoyment.“Better work gets done in four days than in five,” he asserted. “When there’s less time to work, you waste less time. When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. Constraining time encourages quality time.”

While we’re unlikely to go down to the four-day week here at the Drucker Exchange, we do take Fried’s advice to heart. “It is amazing how many things busy people are doing that never will be missed,” Peter Drucker wrote in The Effective Executive. Although Drucker never took much vacation himself, he saw no point in putting in hours for the sake of hours (as we’ve explored before).

He pointed to the example of Harry Hopkins, an adviser to Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II. “A dying, indeed almost a dead man for whom every step was torment, he could only work a few hours every other day or so,” Drucker wrote of Hopkins. “This forced him to cut out everything but truly vital matters. He did not lose effectiveness thereby; on the contrary, he became, as Churchill called him once, ‘Lord Heart of the Matter’ and accomplished more than anyone else in wartime Washington.”

Results in most lines of work, especially knowledge work, simply aren’t measured by time spent at the desk or at the grindstone. “Productivity means that balance between all factors of production that will give the greatest output for the smallest effort,” Drucker wrote in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. “This is quite a different thing from productivity per worker or per hour of work.”

Would you be more productive with a shorter workweek?