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Why Working 9 to 5 Is Not Ideal to Make a Living Today

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Why Working 9 to 5 Is Not Ideal to Make a Living Today

In the early 1900s, Henry Ford needed to hire factory workers for his exploding auto empire. So, he took a unique path to attract his employees: by offering them an eight-hour workday.

Ford’s proposition of a 9-5 gig in a car factory may not seem all that alluring now, but his logic was quite innovative for the time.

A hundred and twenty years ago, most workers were accustomed to grueling shifts of 12 hours or more. Working a mere eight hours at Henry Ford’s factory probably felt like a vacation—one that, thanks to more alert workers, also bolstered productivity and output.

Fast forward 120 or so years, and working 9 to 5 (or some variation of it) has become the norm. But just because a 9-to-5 gig is standard practice doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee for efficiency, productivity, or employee happiness.

In the last few decades, as technology has advanced, work hours have remained the same—potentially at a cost to workers and their companies. It’s time to revisit work schedule expectations and reap the benefits of autonomy along with it.

Here are four reasons why working 9 to 5 isn’t ideal to make a living today.

1. Humans Aren’t Machines

In Ford’s day, maximum output was the key to success. The more cars you built during a shift, the more successful you were—and workers on the assembly line were just another cog in the overall wheel of production.

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But now, most of us don’t assemble Model T’s in factories. And there’s just no magic formula to guarantee maximum output or effectiveness.

“The idea that employees are like machines—if they put eight hours in you’ll get x dollars out—is absurd,” Ryan Carson, CEO of Treehouse, told Inc.[1]

Humans aren’t machines. That means not every person’s rhythms and the skills required for their jobs will mesh with a traditional, 9-5 work schedule. Yes, working 9 to 5 every day might empower one employee for success. But a traditional schedule could also quench another person’s ability to tap into other skills, like creativity, innovation, or teamwork.

I’ll be the first to say there’s a time and place for office hours. Whenever possible, I highly value having team members together to collaborate (plus, scheduling meetings is convenient when everyone’s in the office at the same time).

But I don’t see my “office hours” as the most important part of my job. Actually, some of my best ideas come to me when I’m not at my desk. I often brainstorm while hiking on weekends or while at the gym early in the morning. When these unexpected ideas creep up on me, I carve out time to get work done—and it’s usually not between 9 and 5.

With a bit of flexibility, workers can determine when they do their best work, and then plan accordingly. That’s why one CEO allows his employees to pick between four 10-hour days or five eight-hour days, and why many companies are following suit—the goal is to let go of rigidity in favor of flexibility and all the benefits that come with it.

To determine what type of work schedule is ideal for you to do your job well, think about when you do your best work. When are you most creative and alert? When do you feel most motivated?

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You might be more productive and creative first thing in the morning. If that’s the case, work then. On the other hand, if the late evening hours fuel your best ideas, carve out a few hours of work time before bed.

2. Flexibility Increases Productivity

Flexibility at work isn’t just a nice add-on to a benefits package or a positive aspect of workplace culture. In fact, I’ve come to believe flexibility is essential for the success of both employees and companies.

Think about a time in your life you adhered to a rigid, predictable work schedule, whether or not by any decision of your own. Next, reflect on a time when you worked more hours than you wanted to, just to meet a demanding supervisor’s expectations for your role.

How happy were you during that time of life? And be honest, how well did you really do at your job? Did you enjoy showing up every day, or did you dread “clocking in”?

If you’ve experienced burnout before (or if you’re in the midst of it now), you will probably be happy to hear that working too much isn’t just bad for you. It’s also not good for your employer’s bottom line. There’s evidence that the more hours you work, the less productive you will be.[2]

On the flip side, it’s happier workers who actually do the best work. That’s right: Your brain actually works better when you’re content.[3]

It follows, then, that when people have time for a personal life—to pursue hobbies, invest in relationships, and get a good night’s sleep—they’ll be better workers as a result.[4]

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3. Flexibility Enhances Focus

Another argument against working 9 to 5: The constraints of a traditional “day job” schedule could keep people from focusing on the work in front of them.

If you’re someone who works well under the pressure of a deadline, then you understand how your most productive workdays aren’t necessarily your longest ones.

I know the feeling. Personally, I tend to lose focus and momentum when I’m stuck at my computer for too many hours. As the day drags on, my attention and interest in the tasks at hand dwindle little by little.

There may be something psychological at play in either scenario. In their book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, authors Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir argue that having less time to get something done heightens productivity by increasing focus. The idea is that constraints force strategy, which leads to better (and often, more) work.

A flexible work schedule yields benefits for employees and employers alike. If you constrain yourself to a shorter (or simply more flexible) workday, you’ll have more incentive to manage your time well, which means high-priority tasks and projects will receive priority.

4. Working From Home Adds New Distractions and Demands

Life today feels unfamiliar to many of us, and our work is no exception. Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, many employees are working from their homes instead of at the office—and forcing remote workers to adhere to the same 9-5 work hours they held in the office may not make sense.

Generally, with a new environment, you can’t expect people to play by the same rules. For one thing, many employees might want to start the day sooner or later than usual, without the burden of commuting to and from the office.

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On the other hand, doing one’s job from a home office presents all kinds of new distractions, from taking care of kids and pets to the allure of a midday nap on the couch.

It’s not just the work environment that’s shifted due to the pandemic but also the workers’ abilities to meet the demands of their jobs in general.

Take parents, for example, who may now be responsible for taking care of a toddler or overseeing their kids’ distance learning along with juggling the demands of their jobs. With these new demands in the work environment, a traditional 9-5 schedule simply isn’t a fair, or realistic, expectation.

Final Thoughts

Flexibility enables these worn-down workers to focus on the most important things in their lives—their well-being and the health of their families—so they can in turn bring their best to work to the table.

It might take time for the culture to catch up to modern realities—legend has it, it took an auto tycoon to change the norm more than a century ago. But in my book, the perks of autonomy at work are a win-win for everyone.

More on New Ways of Working

Featured photo credit: Matthew Henry via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Aytekin Tank

Founder and CEO of JotForm, sharing entrepreneurship and productivity tips at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on January 5, 2022

The 5 Fundamental Rules Of Working From Home

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The 5 Fundamental Rules Of Working From Home

Suppose you finally took the plunge: resigned your corporate job, decided to follow the passion of your life and (by lack of a new office space, of course), you started to work from home. Welcome to the club! Been there for a few years now and, guess what, it turned out that working from home is not as simple as I thought it would be.

It certainly has a tons of advantages, but those advantages won’t come in a sugary, care free, or all pinky and happy-go-lucky package. On the contrary. When you work from home, maintaining a constant productivity flow may be a real challenge. And there are many reasons for that.

For instance, you may still unconsciously assimilate your home with your relaxation space, hence a little nap on the couch, in the middle of the day, with still a ton of unfinished tasks, may seem like a viable option. Well, not! Or, because you’re working from home now, you think you can endlessly postpone some of your projects for ever, since nobody is on your back anymore. You’re your own boss and decided to be a gentle one. Fatal mistake. Or…

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OK, let’s stop with the reasons right here and move on to the practical part. So, what can you do to squeeze each and every inch of usefulness and productivity from your new working space and schedule (namely, your home)? What follows is a short list of what I found to be fundamentally necessary when you walk on this path.

1. Set Up A Specific Workplace

And stay there. That specific workspace may be a specific room (your home office), or a part of a room. Whatever it is, it must be clearly designed as a work area, with as little interference from your home space as possible. The coexistence of your home and work space is just a happy accident. But just because of that, those two spaces don’t necessarily have to blend together.

If you move your work space constantly around various parts of your house, instead of a single “anchor space”, something awkward will happen. Your home won’t feel like home anymore. That’s one of the most popular reasons for quitting working form home: “My home didn’t feel like home anymore”. Of course it didn’t if you mixed all its parts with your work space.

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2. Split Work Into Edible Chunks

Don’t aim too high. Don’t expect to do big chunks of work in a single step. That was one of the most surprising situations I encountered when I first started to work from home. Instead of a steady, constant flow of sustained activity, all I could do were short, compact sessions on various projects. It took a while to understand why.

When you work in a populated workspace, you behave differently. There is a subtle field of energy created by humans when they’re in their own proximity, and that field alone can be enough of an incentive to do much more than you normally do. Well, when you’re at home, alone, this ain’t gonna happen. That’s why you should use whatever productivity technique you’re comfortable with to split your work in small, edible chunks: GTD, pomodoro.

3. Work Outside Home

In coffee shops or other places, like shared offices. It may sound a little bit counterintuitive, to work outside your home when you’re working from home. But only in the beginning. You’ll soon realize that working from home doesn’t mean you have to stay there all the time. It basically means your home is also your office and you’re free to go outside if you want to.

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I know this may not apply to all of the “work from home” situations, but for those related to information processing, when all you need is a laptop an internet connection, that usually works beautifully. It adds a very necessary element of diversity and freshness. It can also be the source of some very interesting social interactions, especially when you have to solve all sort of digital nomad situations.

4. Go Out!

Working from home may be socially alienating. After almost 3 years of doing it, I finally accepted this as a fact. So, apart from balancing your home time with consistent sessions of working outside of your home, you should definitely go out more often. Our normal work routine, the one that is performed in an office, that is, makes for an important slice of our social interaction needs. Once you’re working from home, that slice won’t be there anymore. But your need for social contacts will remain constant.

So, my solution to this was to grow my social interaction significantly over what I was having when I was working in my own office. Going out to movies, running in the park, meeting for drinks or just chat, whatever it takes to get me out of my home/working space. On a one to ten scale, my social life before was around 3 and now is at a steady 7.

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5. Thoroughly Log Each And Every Day

It goes hand in hand with keeping a personal journal, but this time it’s about work, not personal feelings and experiences. Keep a detailed log of each project and be always ready to pick up from where you left one day or one week ago in just a matter of minutes. It’s not only a productivity enhancer, although it will help you be more productive, but it’s more on the accountability area.

When you work from home you’re your own boss. And, for any of you who are (or have been) bosses, this is not an easy position. You gotta keep track of all the information about your team and of every advancement in your projects. That’s what a boss is supposed to do, after all. When you work from home you have to perform this bossy role too, otherwise you will be lost in your own unfinished ideas and endless project stubs faster than you think.

Featured photo credit: Ian Harber via unsplash.com

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