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The League of Less Work

3 months into our expedition, what are we learning about reducing our working hours?

The League of Less Work is a collaboration between Huddlecraft and LearnJam. We are hosting the expedition, but we are also very much peers in the process. LearnJam began piloting a 4 day week in 2021 and at Huddlecraft we’ve been piloting a 90% fortnight this year.

We are now 3 months in, travelling with a small group of peers, representing a variety of work circumstances including freelancers, full time employees, company Directors… So we have both personal and organisational perspectives within the group, and a shared intention to reform our habits and approaches so that we can reduce the dominance that work has in our lives.

“I’m not alone, this is like workaholics anonymous!”

— League of Less Work participant

So far it seems there is generally consensus in the group that we are; strengthening our alignment around this shared goal; experimenting with new habits and mindsets; and prototyping strategies. But we are yet to fully crack how to make our new habits stick. And actually, this mindset of seeking to tick ‘less work’ off the to do list (as opposed to grappling with it as a practice), might just be part of the problem.

For me personally, I started 2022 with ease, with the 90% fortnight at Huddlecraft working like a charm. I stuck to my Fridays off, I felt more relaxed, balanced and enthusiastic about the week ahead when it came to Sunday night. But then some coinciding deadlines hit, I got married (which was a bit like having a second job even though we played it pretty low key), I caught covid, we faced bad luck and turbulance as a team, the team caught covid… and it has felt almost impossible to regain the balance I began with. So far at least. But the good news is that work has spilled over into Fridays OFF instead of into weekends. Credit where credit is due!

What are we doing in the League of Less Work sessions?

So far we have; formed as a group; shared a lot more about our motivations and respective approaches and challenges; co-designed and voted on a series of themes to tackle in our sessions; designed some less work prototypes which we’re each putting into practice before we meet again.

Here are some of the themes we’re identified and voted on as a group:

What are we learning about less work?

Whilst there are many fascinating reflections emerging from this process, here are just a couple that stand out:

Whilst this is not the central motivation for most of us, we have come to acknowledge that working less is so counter-cultural that even trying to implement it can be considered activism. The projected benefits of a mass societal shift to the 4 day week are so holistic that whatever political causes matter to you, they are likely to intersect with the idea of less work in one way or another.

We have explored how less work intersects with climate, equality, economy, wellbeing, health, relationships and more.

“If we spent 10% less time working, our carbon footprint would be reduced by 14.6%, largely due to less commuting or grabbing high-carbon convenience foods on our breaks. A full day off a week would therefore reduce our carbon footprint by almost 30%” — BBC article ‘How shorter work weeks could save Earth’

There’s no getting away from how divisive this topic is. For some the 4 day week is a no brainer, for others it is a “radical, even heretical, economic argument”.

Writing is a useful analogy here. It is usually much harder to contain your intended meaning in just one or two sentences than it is to ramble on for an entire paragraph. It takes more skill to distill down than it does to leave it dilute. Taking away, to leave just what is essential, is much harder than endlessly adding.

Trying to work less is a bit like embodying this truth. You’re trying to contain the same level of potency within a smaller amount of time. This requires distillation and artfulness — and that requires reflection, experimentation and, well — effort! So it feels a bit counter intuitive.

But hopefully, we can prove to ourselves, through the League of Less Work, that just as you can develop your skills in editing your writing, you can do the same with your approach to work and how you use your time.

We’ve been taught to equate more work with more success, more money and more security. And these equations are a very powerful force which work against us every time we aim to distill, reduce and simplify. Doing less requires us to go against the very human impulse to accumulate (which quite possibly sits at the root of the great big environmental pickle we’re in). So perhaps it is even more than a skill in some cases, and could even be seen as a spiritual practice! No surprise that the idea of ‘less is more’ runs through most, if not all, spiritual paths. If we could grow past our impulse to accumulate as individuals, this could be reflected in the society we co-create.

When we start to aim for a perfect work life balance that never tips one way or the other, but flatlines infinitely into the future… We ignore everything we know about life, and we set ourselves up for failure.

Instead we might think about how we can fluctuate between a reasonable ‘floor and ceiling’ so that we’re neither extracting so much from ourselves that we become a self sacrifice on the altar of work, nor extracting so much from the system (e.g. from an organisation or employer) that we become a parasite that will eventually destroy its host.

Fluctuation means sometimes giving a little more, sometimes taking a little more. Continual flex and movement feels more organic, more reflective of the natural world and just more realistic. In practice this might mean that if, for example, less work has been harder to maintain lately, instead of feeling like a less work failure, we can ask ourselves when and how the tide will turn, and how you we encourage that to happen.

Here’s a sketch from one of the League of Less Work sessions, borrowing the shape of Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics model, to show how less work might fluctuate within a ‘safe zone’, occasionally crossing our permeable boundaries (e.g. I usually like to finish work at 6pm), but never crossing our rigid boundaries (e.g. I would never want to work through the night).

We all have patterns. Some of those patterns serve us. Some served us when we developed them, but no longer serve us now. Some serve us in one way, but not another.

When it comes to work we may have developed patterns very early in our careers, for example taking on the working practices of the organisations that ‘raised’ us. It might be that we learnt to overwork in order to prove our value, and even though this is no longer expected of us, we find it hard to stop. Supposedly for some young people in their first jobs the idea of the 4 day week is unappealing because they want to pour all their energy into work so that they can learn.

Changing our own habits and behaviour is hard but by taking on a very real and tangible change challenge, like working less, there is so much we can learn that is transferable to other domains. Having a felt sense of change in one area can help us embrace change in another, because it seems less frightening. If we can work less then why couldn’t we start running? Or stop flying?

This relationship has come up time and time again in our discussions thus far. Whilst I’m not sure if we know yet exactly how this relationship can be reimagined, it seems clear that exploring it is a significant peice of the puzzle.

De-coupling the concepts feels appealing, but almost impossible to do! So far a variety of experiments and strategies have been mentioned that feel useful to capture:

  • Values based pricing (pricing work based on the value of that work to the client instead of only based on how many days it might take)
  • Pay formula (paying team members according to a transparent, fair formula, such as Huddlecraft’s pay formula)
  • Collaborative price setting (instead of prices being set behind closed doors and unveiled, could the price be set collaboratively between parties?)
  • Price setting mentors (ask others to price your work or your time for you)
  • Charge more! (learn to lean into the discomfort of this)
  • Flexible rather than set wages (team members agreeing to change their wages according to circumstances)

No doubt we will continue to reflect on this across the rest of the League sessions, and might be able to say more about what we’ve learnt in the next post.

Learnings and insights have been distilled from discussions involving all members of the League of Less Work. Thank you to Lucy Williams, Jo Sayers, Julia Slay, Danielle Cadhit, Yulia Ivanova, Lora Krasteva, Andrew Telfer, Katie Slee for your thoughtfulness, participation and daring!

This is part 1 of 3 posts sharing reflections from the League of Less Work: an 8-month peer learning ‘expedition’ for people and organisations exploring reduced working hours in 2022.

Interested in what a peer learning expedition might look like for a different theme, something you’re working on? You could create your own through the Host Fellowship.

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