Focus Fridays: the pursuit of productivity (and magic)

Idea Lab with Alex Fallon: Challenging the norms of Saskatchewan business and economics

Times change. We know that. We also know change is hard, so sometimes we don’t change (with the times) like we should. Take work, for example. The Monday to Friday, “9 to 5” model of working harder and longer to get ahead… it’s based on old times – 1817 to be exact (ish). That’s when Robert Owen coined the slogan “Eight hours’ labour, Eight hours’ recreation, Eight hours’ rest.”

The idea worked during the industrial revolution. Factories needed output, and more hours equaled more widgets. Productivity was about working longer and harder. But times change.

Today, to succeed, modern factories (or businesses) need productivity and creativity (or entrepreneurship, innovation, whatever you want to call it). And some businesses want to reach world-class levels of greatness where they’re the best they can be – I call it magic – but how do you do that in this new COVID world?

To call the last year challenging would be an understatement. Things have changed! COVID impacted how we worked. Where we worked. It changed work-life boundaries. It affected teams’ wellness, including ours.

That’s when I knew the time was right to introduce an idea I had been mulling over for a while: Focus Fridays. Almost a year later, we plan to keep them indefinitely.

What are Focus Fridays?

Focus Fridays have enabled us to perform while fostering enough flexibility to ensure we reach new levels of productivity – and create magic. It’s about quality vs quantity; as Robin Sharma says, “It’s not about how long you work, it’s about the quality of your genius that you bring to your hours that matters.”

Here’s how they work:

  • Monday to Thursday are typical work days.
  • On Fridays, we don’t schedule any internal meetings and we limit emails within the team.
  • We pare back to the essentials, allowing time for focus, flow and personal development.
  • This focus can be on a combination of personal and/or professional priorities.

If that sounds a little blurry, it should… Focus Fridays look different for everyone, but they can include a morning of tackling high-focus tasks without interruption followed by an afternoon learning from an online course and going for a meditative run. In other words, taking ourselves to the next level.

One team member summed them up nicely: “Focus Fridays are about growing to be better employees as well as better people.” By doing things that make us better as individuals, we’re making a better team and therefore a better SREDA.

Finding our flow

The concept of flow, the deep involvement in a task or activity coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has been popular for years. Studies show that reaching a flow state increases productivity significantly – by up to 500% in a McKinsey study of top executives. An improved ability to reach a flow state boosts effectiveness, and we’ve intentionally made room for finding that flow on Fridays.

Could it work for you?

Because of the many approaches to working hours and schedules, there is no single way of implementing a modified work week. Focus Fridays are just one example, bringing together increased opportunities for flow and productivity with lowered stress, sick leave and retention costs. If you’re interested in examining how Focus Fridays might apply to your organization, let me know. I’d be happy to discuss SREDA’s experience and how it could work for you.