The 5 day week

It’s holiday time again, and this year both Christmas and New Years Day fall on a Friday, making for a nice 3 day weekend (or more, depending on where you work). But as we all know it’s not like this every year. Some years Christmas will be on a Tuesday, for example, and then you have to come back to work for 3 more days. It’s just not really in the Christmas spirit, right? Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but it’s a minor annoyance at the least that the day of Christmas changes every year.

This got me thinking about holidays in general though, and how they all fall on different days every year. Not to mention birthdays, anniversaries, trash days, and on and on. And then it came to me: What if our weeks evenly divided the days in our year? What if every day fell on the same date, year after year? What about… a 5 day week?

OK, big revelation, right? But’s the thing – we take a 7 day week for granted, but does it really make sense? And is this the only problem with our existing system? Maybe not…

I should note before continuing that this entire post is derived from an idle thought on the way home from work, and subsequent quick research. I am by no means an expert on any of this and I realize that quite a lot of debate and thinking has been done on this subject, well beyond my brief attentions. Still I found the lack of discussion of a 5 day week in particular to be rather surprising, so I thought I’d talk about it a bit.

First, the obvious question needs to be answered: Does it make sense to use weeks at all? Well, clearly it is useful to have a regular cycle of life, shorter than a year or a month, to help us organize the shorter time spans in our existence. So the idea of weeks makes sense, just as day, hour, minute, and second do. We need the ability to partition time into workable chunks.

The 24 hour day makes perfect sense too. It corresponds pretty much exactly to the day/night cycle on our planet. Likewise the 365 day yearly cycle, as it is very close to the time it takes us to complete one orbit of the Sun, and it completes a cycle of seasons, etc. that will repeat on that period. The use of hours, minutes, etc. has different origins, perhaps somewhat debatable in validity, but arguably much less obviously problematic and arbitrary than the 7 day week.

So what’s the problem with the 7 day week? There is of course the obvious issue that this post started with – 365 days is not evenly divisible by 7, and so the days of the week and what day holidays, etc. fall on changes from year to year. This is something we’re used to, so we are able to deal with it, but it’s pretty nonsensical and confusing if you think about it. Actually, holidays are not the only concern. I’ll admit to being a bit absent-minded, but there have been quite a few times I’ve been caught out by the changes to days and dates throughout the year, whether it be for remembering an anniversary, or going to a meeting on the right day. Translating days to date and back again could be simpler. And when you think about it, maybe 7 days is too long anyway, or at least when you think about the amount of working time in it. More on that in a future post.

So why 7 days specifically? Unsurprisingly there have been many different arrangements of “weeks” through the ages. According to Wikipedia, there have been weeks of between 4 and 20 days throughout history. The 7 day week, like many things, was probably popularized by religious effort, and as a source of irritation for me that fact starts to make a whole lot of sense. It’s based on many older week concepts, derived most likely from observable astronomy at the time these things were being worked out, specifically that there were 7 planets (perpetually moving objects) visible in the night sky. This 7 day focus of other ancient societies most likely informed the timeline for god’s creation of the world, and the eventual wide spread of Christianity drove the further adoption of this system. Why visible planets are a good basis for a calendar I’m not sure, but there it is.

The debate over calendars rages quite strongly, and there are many alternative proposals. What’s interesting is that few of them consider different week constructions; most focus on the lunar cycle, changing the number of days in a month, etc. In fact many are unnecessarily convoluted, seemingly in service of preserving the 7 day week and little else. That’s understandable as any major calendar reform is going to have a lot of resistance, and adding to that the idea of changing our fundamental work week is even more radical and likely to fail. Still, if you’re going to reform, I say go whole hog!

Despite lesser recognition, a 5 day week actually makes a lot of sense. Most obviously, it is evenly divisible into 365, meaning that all dates would fall on the same day every year. No more needing to buy calendars every year (unless you want to), and no more guessing what day a date more than a few days in the future will fall on – it would be supremely easy math to figure it out. In fact a 5 day week is the only way to divide the 365 day year into a whole number of weeks!

Certainly there can be other arrangements of partial weeks, just as we have now, and it’s not terribly problematic, but wouldn’t it make so much more sense if every year were the same? There is also the possibility of having out-of-week periods to even out some other arrangement of days-of-the-week, for example counting holidays outside of the regular week schedule (e.g. a 7 day week, with the Christmas holiday in-between, not having a “day of the week” designation besides the name “Christmas”). These are called intercalary days. But this too is complicated and needlessly confusing.

The 5 day week is blindingly obvious. Other arrangements like the Hermetic Lunar Week or the French Republican Calendar are ludicrous in their complexity by comparison. In fact virtually every current and popular alternative proposal has at least one extra calendrical or intercalary day. Yet the 5 day week, with none of these issues, gets no attention, it has no advocates. I ask you, what is wrong with the world?!

Just imagine if we had weeks that evenly divided the number of days in the year. Not just holidays, but all days of the year would fall on the same day of the week. You could use simple division to work out a date weeks or even months into the future, and have the answer in a second, rather than needing to be a prodigy to work it out in your head. Buy less (or no) calendars, save $1000’s over your lifetime. Ok, I’m getting ridiculous now, but when you think about it, 5 days just makes more sense.

Maybe the 5 day week isn’t the end all, be all solution. There is still the fact that a year is not precisely 365 days (but rather more like 365.25), and other issues to contend with, necessitating various methods to handle them. Still as an arrangement of days and a way to structure our lives in the short-medium term, it makes a lot more sense than the current system. Next time, we’ll talk about working hours in the 5 day week…

And on that note, if you’ve made it this far through this silly post, I thank you for reading and wish you Happy Holidays! Join me next year when I plan to post more regularly, while continuing my tradition of epic verbosity and unbridled loquaciousness.

A small update – some projects start rolling

More than 2 months since my last post, but I’ll try not to make that the norm. Right now I’ve got some big posts waiting in the wings that I just can’t seem to polish up and post, but once I get those out of the way I hope to be in a more regular posting habit. I’m trying to build up a decent body of posts before I start publishing this URL anywhere and actually get anyone reading.

In the meantime I’m pleased to say a couple of my projects have either gotten started, or taken an interesting turn recently. One of them I can’t really say much about just yet, but it’s going to be pretty cool for software publishers, and open source projects in particular. The other I haven’t mentioned yet, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, a software benchmarking website currently found at http://www.3dspeedmachine.com/

I started working on 3D Speed Machine with a partner nearly a year ago now, and it was his foundational work that got the site most of the way to where it is now. He started it before I was involved, and he had the gumption to actually do it, while I’ve had the idea for years now and hadn’t even started. But, as often happens, he got busy with other projects, so he has passed it on to me to work on solo, and as it’s been a passionate subject for me for years, I was only too happy to accept. I’ve got some big improvements in mind, and I’m looking forward to dedicating a good amount of time to this project in 2010, along with a bunch of others percolating in my mind.

I suppose now is as good a time as any to mention a tool I’ve started using to help me manage my projects (and, in some ways, my life). I think everyone who has any kind of “projects” they’re working on probably needs a project management system of some type. If you’re working on software and/or website projects, I’d say all the more so. A place to put down your ideas, to organize information, store files, maybe chat with collaborators, and perhaps even ultimately track features, issues, etc.

To handle all of this I’ve started using an awesome web-based tool called Redmine, a complete project management suite with a slick, fast, intuitive interface, a wide variety of useful tools (including wiki, issue tracking, forums, file repository, and more), plus a good range of plugins to add even more functionality. For software developers I highly recommend it as it has a nice issue tracking system built-in, and the wiki functionality can really be helpful to jot down ideas quickly. Forums can be used to discuss with collaborators, with resulting information transferred easily and quickly into the wiki, or the issue tracker. Multiple projects can be managed with sophisticated permissions and workflows. And did I mention how fast and intuitive it is?

I’ve tried a lot of other project management and issue tracking apps, from Trac, to GLPI, to Mantis, to ZenDesk, to Basecamp, and more. Redmine stands above all of them in the interface and usability department IMO. It also seems incredibly easy to modify and expand it. For example, just modifying the CSS of the default template allows you to add the ability to color-code your issue statuses.

So, if you’re a software developer – or just have some complex projects to work on – and you haven’t yet started using a project management system, I think Redmine is a great place to start. You’ll probably find you don’t need to look beyond it as it either has the tool you need, or probably has a plugin for it.

I didn’t really start out this post expecting to do much more than a quick update, but I’m glad to be able to get a useful software recommendation out there. Hopefully I can wrap up my longer in-progress articles and get them out there soon. Wish me luck!