One Week On, One Week Off

February 16th, 2010 by Steve Pavlina

If you’d like to boost your productivity far beyond the results you get with the 9-to-5 grind, an interesting alternative work schedule to consider is the One Week On, One Week Off approach. Instead of working week after week, you alternate between one intensive work week followed by one vacation/personal week.

This method isn’t very well publicized, but it’s commonly practiced by some of the most successful business people in the world. I first learned of it several years ago when Jay Abraham mentioned it on one of his audio programs. He said that it was a method Napoleon Hill had learned from many successful people while doing the research for Think and Grow Rich but that Hill didn’t comprehend why it was so effective and therefore didn’t integrate it into his book.

There are many variations on this method. Some people work for one week and then take two weeks off. Some do two weeks on, two weeks off. Some do one week on, three weeks off. The basic concept is that you work in fairly short intense bursts of no more than a week or two at a time (one week seems to be an upper limit for most people), followed by a period of no work for at least a week.

On Weeks

During your “on” weeks, your focus is on work, work, and little else but work. You can limit yourself to 40 hours, but it’s wise to experiment with longer hours. Try pushing yourself to do 60, 80, or even 100+ hours of work during this week. Fully engage in what you’re doing. Play full out.

Pick one project, and make a big dent in it during this time. Don’t get caught up in minor busywork. Bite off a meaningful piece of work, and get it done quickly and with solid focus.

Work hard. End your days with a feeling of being spent.

Put off distractions. You can always watch TV and surf the Internet later.

Tell yourself that it’s only a week… really just a few days… little more than a cup of coffee. The time will pass quickly if you immerse yourself in a project. Your goal is to fully engage in what you’re doing for this short period of time.

Allow yourself to become obsessed with your work during this time. Everything else can wait. Friends and social outings can wait. Family can wait. Personal tasks can wait. Recycle your dirty clothes if you must, but stick with solid work tasks during this time. Remember — it’s only a week.

Off Weeks

An “off” week is all about sharpening the saw. Let me clarify that this is NOT the same thing as having a lazy week. It’s not about taking time off and chilling out. That’s the equivalent of putting the saw down. The blade won’t get any sharper if you just put it down.

Off weeks are a time for personal renewal and fun. This is the time to really live. Go out and have a life.

Think of your off weeks as vacation weeks. Treat them as seriously as you do your work weeks. However, instead of focusing on your work life, focus all your attention on one or more aspects of your personal life.

Go travel to another city during this time. Have some fun new experiences. Go skydiving or scuba diving. Read a few new books. Go out and spend many hours with friends. Attend a workshop or seminar. Learn to dance. Do something that will enrich your life instead of just spinning your wheels.

If you have a family, consider taking a week to be with your family, giving them your full attention during this time. But don’t just sit around doing nothing. Go out and do fun activities with them each day. Travel to a new city with them. Go to the beach. Go camping. Go outside!

You can also “work” on personal projects during this time. Clean out your garage. Purge and donate unwanted items. Replant your garden.

Benefits of This Method

Why would you want to manage your life this way? Here are some of the benefits.

Motivation

Because of the time constraints, you’ll likely see a major boost in your motivation. Knowing that you’re going on vacation in a few days can help you flow through a lot of work. And knowing that your vacation week will soon end can help you pack in a lot more renewal time.

You will typically hit the start of your workweek with a strong desire to work. (If that doesn’t happen, you should definitely consider a career change.) And you’ll hit your off weeks with a strong desire to focus on your personal life for a while. Before you have a chance to start feeling demotivated and bored, it’s time to switch cycles. This keeps life fresh, interesting, and fun.

Focus

Instead of trying to work on all parts of your life in a single day or two, you focus on one important slice at a time. It’s okay to be largely unavailable for your significant other during your on weeks if you know you’ll be 100% present for him/her during an off week. This is far superior to not being fully present week after week.

Would you like it better if you had a significant other who was 100% there for you, enjoying your company for days at a time, but you also had breaks of several days where you each focused on other parts of your lives? If this sounds interesting to you, then try it. You can always switch back if you don’t like it.

Productivity

The productivity boost can be significant due to your increased motivation and focus during the work weeks. But it’s also interesting to note that your personal weeks can be just as productive. Instead of wasting your personal days on idleness, you’ll be putting those days to good use.

Also, the weekly flip-flopping helps you think more realistically in terms of planning and scheduling. You’ll be inclined to start thinking ahead and allocating certain weeks to projects, travel, etc. This is a good discipline to develop. It helps you avoid biting off more than you can chew.

In one solid week of focused work on high value tasks, you can easily exceed the normal output of two regular weeks. So even though it seems like you’re taking a lot more time off, this overall method is geared to produce a net productivity gain compared to sustained back-to-back 40-hour weeks.

Don’t overlook the positive impact this method can have on your personal life. When you work week after week and only take weekends off, it takes a huge toll on your personal life that you don’t even see. Weekends and evenings just aren’t enough to have a life outside of work. You need to devote significant chunks of time to the personal side as well. Otherwise your work will seem endless, and your motivation and passion will eventually tank, even if you normally enjoy your work.

Money

Higher productivity can easily generate an income boost. Money isn’t a result of time spent at the office. Hourly rates are largely a joke. Money flows from completing important tasks that deliver value. During your on weeks, you’ll be focused on completing meaningful projects and tasks. What can you finish before the week is up?

Also, your off weeks will give you more motivation to boost your income because that’s a great time to enjoy your money. You can expect to spend a lot more money during your off weeks, especially if you love to travel, eat out, and enjoy fun experiences that cost money. When you get a taste of what your money can do for you if you spend it wisely (to enrich your life instead of creating clutter), you’ll be more motivated to earn even more, so you can continue the pattern. Imagine how fun it would be to take one or two weeklong vacations each month — and still get more work done than you do now.

A lot of very wealthy people use this method or something similar. For example, in the personal development field, many friends of mine will put on a seminar for a week, during which they’ll work very hard, sometimes 12-16 hours per day. After that week they’re totally spent and hardly capable of productive work, even though their work is very fulfilling. So they’ll take off for a week or two or three and go travel, play golf, or spend time with their families. They try to do very little work during their off weeks. Once they’re restored they return to the office and begin working intensely on another project for a week or two, and their families don’t see them much during this time. Because they focus on high-value tasks while working, they can generate more than enough income during one solid workweek to offset a month of expenses, even while traveling and vacationing.

Balance

This method may look unbalanced at first, but it can actually create more balance in the long run because it helps ensure that you attend to your professional and your personal life without allowing one side to overpower the other.

You’ll work hard with this approach, but you’ll also play hard and have a lot of fun. Your life will become both productive and enjoyable. It feels great to be in such a state of flow.

Think of all the cool personal projects, experiences, and vacations you’d love to indulge in — if you only had the time. Well, just imagine what it would be like if you devoted 26 weeks — minimum! — to that side of your life this year.

No one is stopping you from making this a reality but you. You really hate it when I remind you that you’re 100% responsible for your results in life, don’t you? ;)

Perspective

Alternating between your work life and personal life helps you regain perspective periodically. For example, during your work weeks, your subconscious mind will be processing some of the experiences from your last off week. How could you have enjoyed that week even more? Did you hold back? Did you overindulge?

During your off weeks, you’ll be processing many work-related ideas in the background. When you start on a fresh week, you’ll be kicking it off with a fresh perspective, inspired by new ideas. This helps you avoid getting stuck in long-term patterns that don’t serve you.

There are other benefits of course. These are just a few to get you thinking.

Personal Experiences and Some Tips

I’d like to share some extra tips based on my personal experiences that may help you avoid some pitfalls and gain some additional insights. I haven’t used this method religiously, but to the degree I’ve applied it at various times in my life (sometimes accidentally), it’s been effective. This year I’m aiming to apply it more deliberately than I have in the past. So far I’m off to a great start.

First, it’s important to keep a reasonably solid line of separation between your work weeks and personal weeks. Decide what goes in each week, and do your best to prevent cross-cycle leaks. During your on weeks, put your personal life on the back burner, and focus hard on your work. During your off weeks, do as little work as possible, and indulge deeply on the personal side.

I still check email and handle some communications during an off week, but I keep it to a minimum, ideally just 15-30 minutes per day, sometimes less. I delay any complex business communication until the next work cycle. People understand if I respond with a quick note to let them know I’m traveling and will follow up with them in a week or two.

If you’re sloppy about keeping a hard line of division between your on weeks and your off weeks, you’ll lose the benefits of immersion. It’s like getting non-restful sleep and then being a zombie the next day.

Second, don’t neglect your off weeks. This isn’t just time off to hang out and be lazy. This is an active time for growth, renewal, or completing personal projects. If you need a break or a lazy day (which is totally fine), use the weekends for that, or give yourself a down day or two between cycles. But don’t go through your off week in a semi-conscious haze of web surfing and TV watching. This is the time to really go out and have a life.

Travel is a terrific use of an off week, especially if it keeps you away from your work environment. Attending a workshop is another great use of off weeks. Even immersing yourself in computer games for the whole week is great if you love playing a certain game. Indulge fully in your personal desires — guilt-free.

Third, the perspective shifts that come from switching cycles are really powerful. They can accelerate your growth tremendously by giving you time to reflect with some distance.

During an off week, I keep getting ideas for new articles I want to write, so I’m bursting with ideas when I finally get back to work. I also gain a better perspective on which work tasks are worthwhile and which aren’t. When I have limited time for work before going on vacation again, low-value work tasks become annoying really fast because they steal time from high-value work. Low-value tasks don’t generate serious income, which means they don’t help me on the personal side either.

Emotional feedback plays an important role here. How I feel during one cycle has a lot to do with what happened during the previous cycle. If I blow my work week on trivial stuff, I don’t feel as good during an off week. I regret that I didn’t work as intelligently during the last work cycle, and it’s a little bit harder to fully enjoy the personal side. This helps me commit to a better work cycle the next time. However, since the off weeks are still guaranteed, I don’t have the option of deluding myself into thinking that I can steal time from my personal life to make up for low productivity at work.

While I’m in the midst of a workweek, I get ideas for how I can improve my next off week. For example, my girlfriend and I were a bit too indulgent food-wise during our last week together. (L.A. just has so many incredible vegan restaurants.) That can be fun every now and then, but it’s not a wise idea to do that every week we spend together. So next time we may want to tone down that aspect and incorporate more exercise (the vertical kind, that is). An overindulgent week now and then is okay, but in the long run it’s important to strive for balance. On the bright side, it became clear that we both love traveling together, and we have the flexible lifestyles to make that a reality, so we’ve been discussing other cities we might explore together this year.

Fourth, the intensity that comes from such immersion is really awesome. When you give yourself permission to blow off all personal concerns and fully immerse yourself in work for a week, it seems clear that you can get a lot done. But more important than the quantity of work is the quality of work you can produce during the times you can work for days on end without distractions.

This is especially powerful on the personal side, especially when it comes to relationships. Instead of going on dates for a few hours at a time with big gaps in between, imagine diving into a new relationship by spending days on end with each other 24/7. Consider what it would be like to go on a date — even a first date — for a whole week instead of for a single night, including sleeping together every night and sharing every meal together. That can get pretty intense, but if you can handle it, you can build a connection in a matter of days that might otherwise take months.

Applying this to dating might sound strange, but take a moment to ponder all the good practices you’d have to adopt in order to commit to a weeklong first date with someone. You’d probably get really good at pre-screening people for compatibility, so you wouldn’t have to deal with bad dates. And your communication skills will advance very quickly if you’re going to be with the same person for a full week. But since you also know the week will eventually end, it motivates you to enjoy the time spent with your partner as much as possible without taking him or her for granted.

You can use this approach with your family too. Instead of being a half-assed parent on nights and weekends because you’re burnt out from weeks of endless work, consider spending a week out of every month with your family. Give them your full attention during that time. Lately I’ve been thinking about how I might travel with my kids and explore different cities with them, especially when they’re in their teen years and capable of enjoying more of the grown-up stuff.

Fifth, the alternations are more important than the durations. It’s not that critical how many days you spend on each side. What matters most is that you keep shifting back and forth to keep your motivation for both sides sky-high.

At the start of this year, I spent a week working hard to prep for the January Conscious Growth Workshop. I also spoke at a friend’s workshop. Then I spent several days hanging out with my girlfriend Rachelle, during which time I didn’t do much work at all. Then I did the workshop, after which I felt totally spent, and less than 48 hours later I was in Puerto Rico for a weeklong leadership retreat. I gave a one-hour presentation there, but the main focus of the week was personal renewal, so it was definitely an off week for me. Next I returned to Vegas and spent more time with Rachelle, had a poker night with friends, and spent a day at Circus Circus with Erin and the kids. Then Rachelle went to Hollywood, and I worked solo in Vegas for a few days. Next I headed to Hollywood to spend a few days with her there for her birthday, “kidnapped” her back to Vegas with me for the weekend, and then returned to Hollywood to spend another week with her there. When we were in Vegas, she and I also enjoyed a night of wrestling, video games, and hide-and-go-seek with the kids, and we saw two movies and a show on the Strip.

While I was enjoying my off time, I did virtually no work. I didn’t do much blogging and spent only minimal time on communication. Most of that time Rachelle and I were busy having fun together 24/7. Last week we enjoyed a day at Disneyland, explored the L.A. Natural History Museum, strolled along Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica and the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, shared a walk along the beach under the stars, attended an L.A. social meet-up, and indulged in a lot more gourmet vegan and raw food than we should have (including a 6-course gourmet raw dinner for Valentine’s Day).

At the end of the week, Rachelle and I noted that we had committed 4 of the 7 deadly sins. During breakfast yesterday I tried to piss her off so we could check off wrath as well, but my best efforts only made her laugh at me and roll her eyes. Later that morning she definitively kicked my ass at Star Trek trivia for the second time in a row. “Khhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaannnnn!”

Today I’m back in Vegas, and after so much indulgence in my personal life, I’m filled with a renewed drive to get some serious work done, starting with this blog post. No girlfriend in town (which is good for Rachelle too because she needs to work on her next play — she’s a playwright and an actress). Then in a few more days it will be time to shift into personal mode since my family and Erin’s family are coming to town this weekend to celebrate my daughter’s 10th birthday. Wow… 10 already. They really do grow up fast. :)

These back-and-forth shifts don’t fall cleanly on weekly borders, and that’s okay. The benefits come from the shifting. The duration of each cycle isn’t as important as the fact that you do cycle — and cycle often.

A weekend — even a 3-day weekend — simply isn’t long enough to complete a serious renewal cycle. Six to seven days is a more realistic minimum. It normally takes a few days just to let go of work and become fully immersed in vacation mode (or personal project mode). Taking off every weekend doesn’t cut it. Think of taking a full week off as the minimum, not the maximum. You’d be surprised to learn how many people achieve awesome productivity results with cycles closer to one week on, two or three weeks off. After taking so much time off for personal renewal, they’re itching to get back to work, so their on weeks are highly productive.

* * *

If you’ve never tried this method before, I encourage you to experiment with it. If this is the first time you’ve heard about it, it may sound a bit alien. You may have a hard time grasping why it works. But don’t reject it out of hand just because you’ve been conditioned to work a certain way. For now simply let this idea sit there in the back of your mind, and remain open to trying it at some point when that becomes realistic for you. This idea will resurface and nag at you when the time is right.

Obviously you need a flexible work schedule to pull this off, so it’s up to you to create that. Whatever you do, don’t succumb to lame-ass excuses like “My boss won’t let me.” (If you were about to blurt out some wimpy, whiny, give-away-your-power crap like that, you need to read this article and then this one. And for good measure, this one too.) You chose your boss, your employer, work environment, and your work schedule after all. You can’t pretend you don’t have the freedom to make this work schedule happen if you really want it. If you want the flexibility to experiment with higher levels of productivity and a richer personal life, then you’re always free to make new choices. You’re responsible for your results in life. Are you getting the results you desire?



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