Working from 9 to 5 - what a way to make a livin’. The song is awesome, but the actual practice is pretty outdated. Yet, these hours are still firmly enforced by a lot of workplaces. Let’s talk about why it might be better for you to abandon that ship (if you can).
I first started really thinking about this topic when I was collaborating with Alexander from Weekdone. At some point he said that he’ll have a look at our project around 6 in the morning the next day, because that’s when he wakes up and starts working. Six in the morning.
After I had finished throwing up in my mouth a little, we had a discussion about our daily schedules. Even just based on the two of us, it’s obvious that personal productivity hours can be drastically different. He wakes up at 6AM. Way too often, I go to sleep at 6AM. And yet, here we both are - happy and productive.
The “traditional” work hours are nine to five. There are a few theories as to where and why this started, from the British Industrial Revolution which required maximising output on production lines to making the most out of daylight time back when electricity wasn’t really a thing yet.
Regardless of the origins of this practice, the bottom line is that people and their individual needs are everything but traditional. For examples other than me and Alexander, check out this article on Lifehack about entrepreneurs talking about their most productive times of the day. Pretty wall to wall, eh? Also, digging back in time, take a look at some very different sleep habits of famous writers.
“Indeed, many great writers have created prodigious bodies of work by rising early. But many others have created prodigious bodies of work by rising late. So perhaps it’s all a wash in the end—more a matter of personal preference than anything else.”
Not only are personal preferences different and don’t necessarily fit these norms, work is increasingly moving towards being largely “untraditional” as well - more and more people are working remotely and freelancing, which means we have a lot more flexibility on our hands.
Silver has mentioned this issue once before me:
“The 9 to 5 workday is a relic of the past – it does not capitalize on the differences of our hedonic arousal curves and forces us to operate in artificial and non-optimal conditions. It might serve its purpose in blue-collar work, but its effects on creative work are questionable. We are more productive when we work on our own time!”
I understand that a lot of jobs require you to work set hours whether you like it or not. However, if you do have the freedom to choose, we should probably talk.
"You're just lazy/weird."
The first thing I want to get out there is that a lot of people and organizations are still stuck on the traditional hours and have a bit of a salty attitude towards people who stray from them. Just a heads up - you’ll probably have to deal with it.
I have always had a problem with early hours. Always as in literally as far back as I can remember. School - and even kindergarten - was a nightmare, because I had to get up early. I’ve severely struggled in every job I’ve ever had where the work hours start before 10. Most of my life has been a continuous haze of coffee-guzzling, sleep deprivation and hitting the snooze button.
It’s not about me not being able to get up, it’s when I get up - I just hate mornings, always have. I hardly ever wake up before 10, and get to the office maybe 1PM-ish. The later in the day it gets, the more I Hulk out on my to-do list. Generally I stay up until 2 or 3 AM before packing it in.
Bottom line is - in most cases, I would rather gnaw my own leg off than wake up before 10. Call it being lazy if you want. Go ahead. I don’t care.
Actually, don’t. For some reason, the traditional “9-5 people” are usually considered “hard-working” and “efficient”, but when you do exactly the same amount of work and stay awake for the same amount of time, but just do it later (or earlier for that matter), you’re suddenly either lazy or just a plain ol’ weirdo.
Think about it - we’re judging people’s hypothetical productivity based on an idea and a solution that started literally centuries ago. It’s dumb. We don’t all work in factories anymore and we have lamps. Let’s all stop judging each other’s power times - it’s most likely absolutely none of your beeswax. All we want is to be happy and productive, right? Why does it matter how someone else does it? Group hug.
If it isn’t essential and required for you to work certain hours and you choose not to, there’s a simple sentence to use whenever someone gets naggy on your habits - “It works better for me and my productivity.” That’s it. Don’t even be sorry.
How do you even know if you should rearrange?
If you’re a-ok with the traditional 9-5 arrangement, good for you! If you feel like something is off, the first thing to do is to simply take some time to observe when your performance levels are the highest.
Feel like you usually get tired before the workday is over? Try waking up and getting started earlier. And vice versa - if you feel slow and unproductive in the earlier hours, try snoozing a little longer and power-walking your way through the evening instead. Switch it up and see what happens - you may be surprised.
Tracking your time by project or tasks can also help you realize what your best time windows are - see how long it takes you to finish certain things. Do something similar or even the same task at a different time of the day - did you do it faster or more effectively? Did you feel like the result was in any way more adequate than usual?
The “on a roll” feeling is probably the best indicator - you know when sometimes you just feel like you can and want to do everything, and right at that very minute? Basically, if those mega-productive times of your day fall outside of your usual work hours, maybe you should consider moving them closer together?
Honestly, though - if you have the freedom to go for trial and error, I suggest you try switching things up even if you don’t feel like something is horribly wrong - sometimes we get so used to something we don’t even notice it’s making us feel crappy anymore. Give it a whirl - you might just discover a whole new wonderful work hours land of Oz.
If you’ve realized that your power hours are indeed something a bit more “unconventional” and you’re free to go with them, there are a few things you should keep in mind before you get into it.
First of all - remember that you’re still most likely an exception, and make sure to keep everyone updated. If most of your coworkers are doing “normal” hours, it’s important to let them know things have changed. Pro tip: if you’re a Teleport Sundial user, you can now set your working hours and availability for your team to see.
Also, coworkers is one thing, but remember that this new arrangement might start playing into your personal life, too. Again - it’s a new and weird thing for people in your life. In addition to letting your coworkers or clients know what’s up, make sure your loved ones know as well, before you start working up a storm at 5AM or keeping people you live with up until 3 in the morning.
It might be hard at first - for me, it was basically a constant plethora of “normal” working people and family members calling or messaging me at 10 in the morning with a genuine “why the heck are you still asleep” - they’ll get used to it eventually. Now, my team mates are genuinely concerned any time I show up before 11AM because they think something's happened.
Another thing is tracking your time. 9 to 5 is a piece of math that everyone knows, because it’s the “traditional” way. If you shift those hours, it’s easy to get lost, because your brain isn’t used to making that same calculation with different times of the day. You’ll learn to do it eventually, but I’d suggest tracking at least when you’re getting started.
I use Toggl - a free time tracking software - for both work and personal projects. It rocks my world, because:
- You can see how much time you’ve spent working that day in total. “Unusual” hours and breaks can create some confusion – closely tracking your time prevents lost hours.
- They’ve got some seriously sweet tracking reports that help you understand what you spend most time on, how long something takes you, etc.
- You can see when to take a break – you’ve done a few hours of something – probably time to take five.
- You can connect it with a bunch of tools including Gmail, Asana, Trello etc.
Your unconventional hours might massively benefit you - we’ll get to that in a minute - but if you let the new arrangement trick you with its weirdness, you might actually do less work and be less productive. So - keep track of what you’re doing and when.
Why is this even important?
Alongside accepting the fact that I’m probably a vampire, I realized how crucial it is for me to be able to work in a place that allows the flexibility for me to adjust my daily schedule to my productive hours. Crucial for a very simple reason - because my life kind of sucked before.
I could force myself to work the normal times and show up at the office at 9AM just to drool at my desk for a few hours before I’m coherent enough to do my job. So could you. But why? Working in a remote team, freelancing or any other kind of work flexibility pretty much makes the time you work irrelevant, as long as the work gets done. The main point here is that you getting to choose your hours benefits both you and your coworkers.
First things first - you and your health. Back when I had to get up early, I was constantly tired, unmotivated and stressed out. Sure, we all get stressed every now and then regardless of our schedules, but having to force myself to adjust to these “normal” hours was constantly eating away at my mental and physical health.
- Sleep better, wake up easier and feel rested most of the time
- Am way more productive with work as well as personal projects
- As a result of the previous two, feel happier and less stressed out
- Burn extra calories by being 90% more savage than before
In addition to personal gains, there’s also a very obvious work related benefit connected to this.
This infographic by Podio explains where the 9-5 workday idea came from, and why it doesn’t suit everyone. The whole thing is cool, but it’s got one especially important point in it - you should plan your most demanding task to your most productive hours.
So, say you schedule the most challenging things on your personal power time - whether it’s at 6AM or 10PM - you’ll get them done faster and better. Getting more stuff done is obviously good for your entire team, not just yourself. Everyone wins.
I’ve worked at Teleport for over a year now, and been able to exercise these habits without any issues. Teleport is a remote team. If our people in Canada work during the night for us Estonian based folks, then why can’t I, even though I’m right here? Why would it matter, if we’re both happier as a result?
Feel like you could do with maybe adjusting your daily schedule a bit or rearranging when you work? If you’re a freelancer, you’re mostly free to do so without asking for anyone’s permission. If you work for someone, have a talk with them about it. If your job isn’t strictly time-of-the-day dependent, then you shouldn’t have a problem with coming to an agreement. Good luck with testing the waters!
I’ve told you about me, now I want to hear your side of the story - do you have work hours set in stone and do they suit you? Are you a more of a morning person or a night owl? Let’s have a chat in the comments, or you can email me directly at email@example.com - would love to hear from you (won’t reply before 12pm EET, because I’ll be sleeping).
Elen Veenpere is part of the Teleport team, spending most of her time writing all kinds of content for everything Teleport. When she’s not busy typing, she likes to travel around Estonia doing stand up comedy and drinking insane amounts of coffee.