It’s Wednesday, which means that in companies around the world, everybody’s celebrating “hump day”: the motivational realisation that you’re halfway through the week, and that Friday - and the weekend - is almost in reaching distance. And when we finally reach the weekend, we’re often too exhausted to make the most of it. But does it have to be this way?

Here’s a short video from YouTuber CGP Grey which is worth considering:

For sure, we don’t all get the chance to select the days that we work. But with flexible working on the rise, maybe we want to think of Wednesdays as the perfect day to carve out some flex time? When we’re given the opportunity to opt for time off, we’ll often select Fridays - after all, it means the weekend starts sooner, right? But all it means is that you have to work that extra bit more intensely to complete Friday’s work by the end of Thursday, and then your free Friday is spent feeling exhausted, with the knowledge that you’ve now got three more days to wait before you can fix it.

I’m not sure that many of us would be willing to sacrifice our Saturdays for this arrangement, nor do we all have the ability to control changes in company policy like this. However, if you’re somebody that works a four-day week, then there’s a compelling case for making Wednesday your free day, rather than creating a three-day weekend.

Yet while CGP Grey espouses some of the benefits of “having a day off when everyone is working” (fewer queues! less traffic!), there is evidence to suggest that we achieve significant psychological benefits when we’re off work at the same time as our friends and family. There are several studies cited in Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks, including this example from the Soviet Union, which in 1929 introduced a system of “four days’ work, one days’ rest” with the workforce split into five colour-coded groups, all of whom had a different day off, with the expectation of maximising workforce productivity:

The main effect for ordinary citizens of the USSR […] was to destroy the possibility of social life. It was a simple question of scheduling. Two friends assigned to two different calendar groups would never be free to socialise on the same day. Husbands and wives were supposed to be assigned to the same group, but they often weren’t, placing intense stress on families […] the Soviet government had inadvertently demonstrated how much of the value of time comes not from the sheer quantity you have, but from whether you’re in sync with the people you care about most.

At the very least, I hope that this video has made you pause to think about some of the working values that we believe we’re beholden to - and to think about whether there are opportunities to modify the status quo, in order to increase your happiness (and maybe even your productivity as a happy by-product).

Key takeaways 📝

  • The working week is structured to leave us drained by the end.
  • With part-time or flexible working, don’t jump straight to “Fridays off”.
  • It’s what you do with your time off that counts.