The 7-Day Work Week Experiment – And the Wisdom of The Day of Rest


Recently, I religiously tried to follow a new routine I created for myself: a 7-day work week routine.

The idea was quite simple: I would work 7 days a week, rest 7 days a week, go to the gym 7 days a week, reflect 7 days a week. This was less about working lots, much more about feeling fulfilled every day, feeling stretched during the day but also rested. I aimed to work less each day, and replace two hours of work with a long break in the middle of the day.

The biggest thing I wanted to do was to satisfy my craving of “why not?” and to challenge the status quo of working 5 days a week and then taking 2 days off. Many of us know that working 9-5 is not the most effective way to work, and I had found this to be true for quite some time. I had a curiosity about whether the 5-day work week might also not be the most effective routine.

Some of the hypotheses I had about my new 7-day work week:

  • I would be much more successful in building solid habits that became ingrained, since I wouldn’t have two days off and then the struggle to get back into broken habits.
  • I would be in much better sync with my team who are distributed around the world, and I would have a better handle on my emails and work by having time in the weekends too.
  • I could work less than 40 hours a week and be more productive, since I would have long breaks between super focused work periods.

The 7-day work week routine

I’ve been an early riser for a couple of years now, and during this experiment I was rising at 4:30am. I aimed to do 5.5 hours of work each day, which is around 38.5 hours a week.

  • 4:30: Rise.
  • 5-6:30: 90 minutes of focused work.
  • 6:30-9: Gym, breakfast, shower, etc.
  • 9-11:30: 2.5hrs of focused work.
  • 11:30-3pm: Lunch, then extended rest period.
  • 3-4:30: 90 minutes of focused work.

Results of the 7-day work week routine

In the end, I have decided that I won’t continue with the 7-day work week routine. Here are two of the things that didn’t work out:

How the world works does affect you

This is one of the things I wanted to avoid believing for the longest time. I don’t think it’s ever healthy to believe things “are the way they are,” and in many cases I think this can be forgotten. After all, as entrepreneurs we are in the business of changing reality by making something out of nothing.

I found that Saturdays and Sundays could never be the same as other days, as much as I wanted them to be and as much as I tried to create a routine that could be exactly the same, every day. There are more people wandering the streets, more noise outside. There is no one in the office. You can’t send certain emails, because they need to hit someone’s inbox in work hours. It’s not the best day to push a new feature or blog post.

You can certainly take advantage of the fact that Saturday and Sunday are different by doing specific tasks. However, the point of my experiment was to have identical days, and in this respect it was a failure. That said, it has been a very interesting experiment and I have kept some aspects of the new routine.

I burned out, even with lots of breaks

I wanted every day to be exactly the same. So I worked each day and rested each day. I went to the gym every day, I adjusted my work out so that this would be sustainable.

I found that even with a gym routine of just a few exercises and different muscle groups, I felt I couldn’t get adequate overall renewal just in a single day period. I worked out for 15 days straight and in the end strained a muscle and had to take almost a week off.

Similarly, I found it interesting to observe how my passion towards the work I was doing adjusted. To begin with, I was excited during the first week and even at the weekend I enjoyed working. The hardest aspect I found was to stop myself working so much during the week, so that I could be fully rested and keep working at the weekend.

Overall, I feel like the 7-day work week failed because of lack of an extended period of renewal. My hypothesis – that a couple of extra hours during the day and fewer overall daily hours working would be enough – was invalidated in my experience.

The wisdom of the day of rest

After trying a 7-day work week, I became quite fascinated by the concept of a “day of rest”. It occurred to me that this is a tradition that has been around for a very long time, and of separate origins. Almost all of the world observes some form of a weekly “day of rest.”

I’m no expert on the Bible, however with a little research I found that the origin of the “seventh day” or Sabbath is Genesis 2:2-3:

“And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made.”

Similarly, in Buddhism there is the concept of Uposatha which is the Buddhist day of observance. I find it interesting how Buddhism teaches the purpose of this day:

“The cleansing of the defiled mind.”

I feel a sense of calm and confidence in the knowledge that many thousands of years of wisdom all converges towards the idea of a weekly day of rest. Certainly from my naive experiment I now feel that this is a very good practice.

6 days of work, 1 day of rest

Both from my own experiment and the wisdom of the day of rest, I have become interested in the idea of a single day of rest. However, I have not once come across anything advocating two days of rest. This is one of my biggest takeaways from this experiment, and I plan to continue to work on the basis of 6 days of work and a single day of rest.

Jim Rohn, who I have been very inspired by, also said it well:

Work was so important, here was the original formula for labor. If you have forgotten it, remind yourself. Six days of labor, and one day of rest. Now, it’s important not to get those numbers mixed up. Why not five/two? Maybe one of the reasons for six/one: if you rest too long the weeds take the garden. Not to think so is naive. As soon as you’ve planted, the busy bugs and the noxious weeds are out to take it. So you can’t linger too long in the rest mode, you’ve got to go back to work. Six days of work, then rest.

I think one of my biggest takeaways from trying a 7-day work week is: despite the conclusion that rest is important, a single day is the perfect amount, no more. I am working to consistently live by this method for as many of the weeks as I can during the year. I believe that this will be a key to success.

Have you considered experimenting with your work week? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Photo credit: David Joyce

  • aajhiggs

    Great experiment. It’s funny how sometimes seemingly ancient standards to have some unlikely truth even if it’s no longer obvious why. It seems the concept of the two day weekend is something that wasn’t really around until the end of the C19th/beginning of the C20th. Much like modern sleep and workday patterns, it seems to be strongly related to the development of industrialisation and consumerism, rather than to align with any natural human cycle. I guess the question it leads onto is how important is a 7 day cycle…?!

  • Olivia van Rooyen

    What an interesting experiment! I agree that if you rest for too long it becomes difficult to get ‘back into it’ but I do thoroughly enjoy my 2 days of rest. I have some bits of work that I would rather do at a quieter time of day so the weekend is great for that. Not sure I could get into a routine of doing it that way but will have to give it a try to see.

  • http://www.twitter.com/allenkristina Kristina

    Very interesting! I think the number of rest days needed per week is probably dependent on the individual and situation. For example, if you had a wife and children you might feel that more than one rest day would be nice so you could spend more quality time with them (assuming your children are in school and your wife works a 9 to 5). Having no children myself, I can definitely see how one day would be enough as I do sometimes get antsy on the weekends! Then again, as a runner, when I’m training for a big race, a long run on Saturday might wipe me out and I would need Sunday as my true weekend day :)

  • http://belovednewo.blogspot.com/ Laura

    I often wish I had the freedom to play around with my work schedule! While I enjoy my two days off, I often wonder if I could get more done if I dedicated a chunk of work time every morning, then had every afternoon off to run errands and do important life things that can only be done during the week, such as visit the DMV, pay bills, schedule doctor appointments, etc. Evenings are basically a timesink for me these days because I have to pick up my son from daycare, prepare dinner, take care of my pets and son, try to spend quality time with my husband, get my son ready for bed, and prepare for the next day. I swear time instantly goes from 5PM to midnight.

  • http://www.jasonbedunah.com/ CopywriterJason

    I think the main hiccup with this experiment was trying to keep the 7 days the same. I work 7 days a week and have for about 5 years now… but everyday is not even close to the same. I also will take a day or two or even three off when I want to which is roughly every 4-6 weeks.

  • http://ashleycohen.com Ashley

    It is less about the amount of days of work for me and much more about the traditional time to work during the day. I have found that 8-5 is a challenge to my personal productivity. I’d certainly be more productive with 2 to 3 “shifts” throughout the entire day.

  • http://about.me/jacksmith1 Jack Smith

    “You can’t send certain emails, because they need to hit someone’s inbox in work hours. It’s not the best day to push a new feature or blog post.”
    couldn’t you schedule the email to be sent at a later time (using boomerang for gmail or similar) and schedule teh blog posts to go out later?

  • http://www.postplanner.com/ Scott Ayres

    Interesting experience. Working 7 days per week will lead to burn out big time! I’d like to get down to 4 days of work personally.

  • Yolanda A. Facio

    I love this experiment! I agree with Kristina that each person is different so how we design our work time is individual. I also agree with CopywriterJason in that trying to make the days identical might create overload… in your case, Joel, burnout. I’ve been experimenting this year with a four-hour work day but my work load on any given day can exceed four-hours, even with focused time. I continue to experiment with my work day to determine what works best for me, more importantly what I enjoy. Rather than regiment each day, I have a very loose list of priorities for the day, some will get missed. For instance, working 4 hours every day before Noon on low cognitive tasks (busy work), going for a run or bike ride (not everyday but it is on the loose schedule everyday, some days it doesn’t make sense physically), playing with my dogs, 2-4 hours of high cognitive work i.e. writing, research, strategy, and, of course, rest. I like to break in the early afternoon to rest, during that time I read, nap, draw, whatever I feel will help me relax and clear my mind. I find myself working in the evenings as well, especially if I get an idea and want to get some words on paper. What I’ve found is that I need at least one rest day a week and that I’m most productive when I divide my work time up. It is a constant and fluid process.

  • http://creatro.com/ Sean Hodge

    Interesting experiment. I’ve definitely experimented quite a bit with my work week. Yah, the idea of identical days everyday of my life doesn’t sound too appealing. But I do practice some similar strategies of longer breaks and shorter, more focused works sessions like you did here. Also, I work weekend mornings, but take the rest of the day off on the weekends. I find that’s often enough time off, but once in a while I’ll take a random day off to catch up if I feel burnt. Thanks.

  • NikiRane

    The best adjustment I had to my work week was taking a 1.5 – 2 hour break before lunch to do yoga or attend a class at the gym. I had the energy to work a little later in the evening while knowing my workout and mental health break was incorporated into my day.

  • Kirk Kraft

    A lot of good things come out of experiments like this one, Joel. I think you can gain a greater understanding of how all the important pieces of your life fit together and discover the best way to make them ultimately work in the most efficient manner. For me, I do my best work before afternoon, whether writing or business. It would make sense for me to work early and work in exercise, rest and the remainder of commitments in the afternoon and evening. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Agnes Dadura

    Wow! I know you guys love your job :) Who wouldn’t. But yeah, we need regeneration time, and I think we need to know there is that “weekend” you will wait for. Don’t you like the freshness of starting a new week? I have had to work 6 days a week before, and I did not love my job all that much then… it was not easy. The worst part was it was a waste of time, because I could not contact anyone professionally because they were out of offices. It was one of the main reasons for me to leave that place.

    As for working out, I know that very well from my own experience – working out every day (and I mean more than simple 20 min stretching/jogging) is not so good for you. If you want to build muscle, you need to give them time of rest when they can regenerate and grow. After heavy workout, 1 days of rest is advised.

  • Gwenna Hunter

    As someone who in a former life worked 7 days per week (by choice) I understand the burnout. I was able to work this way for years because I really loved what I did at that time so much. However when the burnout came it was with a vengeance. I fried, burned & sizzled. It would have been better to balance my days and give my mind the proper detox it needed. Lesson learned. Excellent read. Thank you!

  • http://www.AndreaVahl.com/ Andrea Vahl

    Great experiment! I can definitely attest to the fact that when I go long periods of working 7 days a week I get totally burnt out. Even though I’m not putting in 8 hour days each day I get really frustrated when I don’t get a solid day off to unplug.

  • http://www.digytouch.com Konrad W. Gorak

    3 or 4 days of work never worked out for me. I’ve been also inspired by Jim Rohn and the quote you gave us here Joel is so true. 6 days of work and one rest is the most balanced system i’ve ever used. Not so long ago my day consisted of 14 hours of work, 6 days a week. It was crazy but I was so passionate about the thing I was creating that it didn’t feel so bad to be overloaded. But after a while it hit me with the full force, i wasn’t even able to work 5 hours a day. I had to learn to be patient even though my brain was exploding with new ideas. Passion kept my mind going for hours but my body didn’t follow.

  • Andreas Tischler

    How do you think about the concept of holidays, meaning taking 2-3 weeks off?

    I think it’s really replenishing and minds cleaning which can’t be accomplished by one or two days off.

    For my part, I like the 6 days routine and implement it myself.

  • http://tomgibson.eu/ Tom Gibson

    This is a really interesting experiment!

    Have you read NN Taleb’s ‘Antifragile’ or ‘Black Swan’? He’s of the opinion that randomness is an intrinsic part of natural processes (including ourselves!), and the more we try to control against randomness or volatility, the more we risk a ‘collapse’ of the system. For example, trying to maintain a constant workout level led to a longer ‘off’ time than would have been taken with normal rest periods.

    Have you considered a second experiment (not necessarily 7×7) to determine the effect of allowing more volatility/randomness into your schedule? I’d love to see a comparison!

  • https://twitter.com/jenniferxjoseph Jennifer Joseph

    When I worked for myself, I worked 7 days until I burned out. I learned to let go a little and hired a team of people who did parts of my job better than I did. After that, I stuck to a 6 day work week.

  • michaelddavis

    What must be defined for the individual is “Work”. Lest we forget, there are many responsibilities and activities that don’t meet the criteria of corporate or business “work” but are required to maintain a healthy household and living relationship. Sadly, many of these activities and responsibilities fall disproportionately within the familial unit. This causes stress, which leads to problems during work with focus and sustainable productivity. Experiments are greatly encouraged. However, reality dictates the true efficacy of any change in work/life structure.

  • Alecia@Detoursinlife

    It was a great experiment in theory. I can see how you burned out and the weekends became a problem at times. I think the problem with most of us is finding the best balance of work/life and also being able to optimize our schedules to take advantage of our “best” times of the day. For me, my best time is late at night which doesn’t work well for my other responsibilities but I am still trying to work around it. It is unfortunate that many traditional organizations fail to realize productivity would sky rocket if they provided better scheduling options and work/life balance. Think outside the box!

  • http://www.clearviewelite.com Eric Pierce

    It would be interesting to try a 5 day work week but with the two off days spread apart. Maybe take Wednesday and Sunday off so those weeds don’t start growing.

  • Rabbi Ruth Adar

    When I was a student in Israel, I had a six day work week. Fridays were often half days or short days, because the Sabbath actually began when the sun went down (which could be at 5pm in the winter.) Saturday is the Sabbath, completely off. Sunday is a regular work day there.

    In Jerusalem, where I lived, everything completely stopped for the Sabbath, so when at all possible, some of Friday was devoted to making sure that one had food, etc on hand for the Sabbath.

    It took some getting used to, but I liked it. I have slipped away from that routine somewhat here in the States, but I found that making a sharp division between work and rest was good for me.

  • pellanti

    Interesting experiment – I also wonder how long you did the experiment for? The old adage of you need to stick with something for at least 1-2 months before it becomes a habit comes to mind. For me after a good solid month of routine, I am not a regular early riser, which I find in itself does wonders for your energy levels for your entire day.

  • Alex Absalom

    Fascinating article, and some great comments too! Two further ingredients for the conversation:

    1. Community – I think part of the principle of the shared day of rest is that we are designed to live life with others. In other words, family life, friendships and neighborliness are best formed when we have a regular shared day where it is easier to have a common agenda – physical, emotional, mental, relational and spiritual renewal. While a good chunk of that will be with some of those important people, that doesn’t preclude introvert time either. Overall, there is real value in a community having a recognized day where things do feel different (as you commented), even (especially!) in the midst of a globalized, multicultural society.

    2. Work from rest – It is interesting to look at that section that you quoted from the beginning of the Bible. As a narrative, what you see is God putting in 6 days of work, then he rests. But human beings have a different experience: they aren’t created until day 6, and the first thing they’re commanded to do by God is to have a day off! So if God rests from his work, humanity is to work from a place of rest.
    I think that means we are meant to be pre-emptively charged up and refreshed before we go into the busy-ness of work and activity, rather than working and working before we collapse into a heap for a day!
    For the team that I lead, one application I take from this principle is that I ask them to set their vacation dates months ahead of time. They are asked to plan ahead (with their family) when would be the most strategic points in the year for them to receive refreshment and renewal, so that they can perform well throughout the year. Of course things can change, but this does make us intentional about creating healthy rhythms to live by throughout the year (and, of course, the same principle applies to the weekly day of rest).

  • http://www.thehectorfund.com Gins

    I’ve been working 6-7 days a week for months, not out of desire but necessity. It does burn you out, regardless of the passion for or quality of the work to be done. A schedule like this depletes you mentally, without adequate recovery time. I’m still working 6 days a week, and usually checking in for an hour on Sundays, but have found that starting my Saturday with a leisure activity first and then clocking in for 3-5 hours of solid work with a short 20-minute break in the middle makes for a more productive day and still allows me to enjoy the weekend a bit. It’s still hard to fully unplug for a day without anxiety about the coming week creeping in…but that’s a separate issue for another blog post. :) Love the blog Joel! Longtime reader.

  • http://topknotsundays.com Kelsie Baher

    While I was working on my thesis in college, I felt most productive when I could work in “binges.” So I’d get a massive burst of inspiration and rise very early and work 10 hours a day for four days, and then take two or three days off completely (or just edit and do less intense work here and there), and then start again. This was an incredibly rewarding and satisfying process, but I’m not sure it’s practical for a career–although I would love to have the flexibility to work extensively when I’m most energized and inspired, and recharge when I’m feeling burnt out. I love companies that recognize how different everyone’s working styles are, though, it’s so refreshing to challenge the 9-5!

  • Esther Mozo

    I like your article! Thanks for sharing your results. If I may, I’d like to see it from another perspective also; namely that of finding the optimum amount of rest from work, rather than the optimum amount of hours working. If the work involves thinking and planning aside from writing, then a person could be working ALL the time 24/7, week after week. That is to say, he could be thinking while commuting to the office, planning while working out and so on. The rest of the time, he’ll be writing out his thoughts, implementing his plans, delegating, networking etc. Same thing for stay-at-home moms and dads; taking care of the house and the kids never stops. The challenge, then, is how to organize the day in order to set aside personal “me” time that’s totally unrelated to work or job, but focused only on self-renewal and catching up with family and friends. This, in addition to the essential whole day of rest and regular vacations would be an ideal recharge for me. Just my two-cents worth.

  • albertkaufman

    4 hour work week. A great book.

  • pcontiman

    I would have thought the extended rest each day would be refreshing. Interesting that it was not and I can see the repetition leading ot burnout of enthusiasm. On your six day work week, is that 6 days of office with one day to work around home and/or relax, or 5 days office, 1 day house work and then 1 day of actual rest ?

  • Mark Bailey

    Count yourself lucky for having the option. Dairy farmers work 7 days a week and even on the ‘weekend’ a minimum of 5 hours a day. The cows’ gotta be milked!

  • https://BeautyHum.com Lara Solomon

    Interesting experiment, I am personally with the 6-1 route, although one of my 6 days is a work at a leisurely pace day, i.e. start later and have breaks more… I quite like those days when there isn’t a huge hurry to the day it gives me more thinking time :)

  • markkoeks

    Cool experiment Joel! In my experience training consistently is not ideal, but active rest is good. I’ve just started doing Tai Chi as a meditation/recovery practice during “training days” which is really great. Sundays is often a full on rest day. Work wise though, I think daily habits like your focus times are key, and planning time for learning, blogs, etc are critical in productivity. Thank you for sharing!

  • http://janded13.wordpress.com Oana Cristina

    Interesting! It sounds so easy, but considering that I have moments of pure laziness it will be a real challenge to try to implement this strategy. Challenge accepted!

  • Karen Hoch

    Great article! I’m always experimenting with schedules or processes. When we work for ourselves (esp at home), we are always “in the office” so without a plan it’s easy to work yourself right into burnout.

  • Pingback: 154 rest | year of creative habits

  • http://innovationarchitecture.com/ Doug Collins

    Several years ago, the musical group Loverboy shared with us that…

    Everybody’s working for the weekend
    Everybody wants a new romance, hey yeah
    Everybody’s going off the deep end
    Everybody needs a second chance, oh

    Your experiment helps to prove the wisdom inherent in their lyrics. That “second chance” offers the possibility for mental refreshment — a reset, or second chance that seems critical to the human condition.

  • kathleen waltrip

    I tried a similar experiment of a structured week. It failed for similar reasons to yours. It didn’t allow for the unforseen things or other key people’s schedule. It gave me a view on how I could get more accomplished during my peak times. So it wasn’t a complete failure.

  • YoggerMan

    1 day never worked for me. I like to rob banks once a month then go on sabbatical.
    YOG HAS SPEAKETH

  • http://www.bpjoneslivesitup.com Barbara Palazuelos

    I started working nights, on top of a full-time day job, last winter and had very sporadic evening shifts. For the new season, the boss put me on four consecutive nights – over the weekend. That allowed for 0 full days off, but my day job is very flexible and let me try out taking Mondays and Tuesdays off, while working doubles Saturdays and Sundays. I think I made it through two weekends before I realized this was not going to work. First, a weekend, is a weekend, is a weekend. I had baby showers, bridal parties, BBQ’s, etc. all scheduled for the weekends. I’d try to make up the hours during the week, but that would’ve meant a 12-hour Wednesday, and that wasn’t an option. I’m still working on an ideal schedule, but working everyday, without one full day to yourself, doesn’t work. At least not for me.