Flipping the 9-5

3/6/2013 |

6 - Flipping the 9 to 5-01

After last month’s dark and stress-inducing ‘Maynia’ experiment, I need to relax and experiment with something more positive again.  So this month is going to be all about working hours.  And specifically turning the notion of 9-5 on its head.

I’m going to be adopting some unusual working hours.  I’m going to clock on at 5pm and finish at 9pm.  The daytime will be my own (some more time to experiment with the notion of work/life balance that I explored earlier) but more interestingly, could a shift of 4 hours, where probably 3 of those hours are uninterrupted, be a sustainable pattern of work?  Let’s see!


What’s my hypothesis?

There are a few things I’m keen to test out this month:

1.  This month isn’t so much a crazy extreme experiment as a “crazy extreme sustainable reality”.

Working an hour a day was tough.  It made me extremely ruthless.  It made me accept the occasional failure, but was probably never going to be a sustainable way to work.  Four hours, however, just might be enough.  If you think about all the time spent dealing with interruptions at work, perhaps four hours of hyper concentration might be all we need.  If we’re honest, we have days where we spend less than a couple of hours ‘in the zone’ as it is.  So perhaps less is more: faced with the constraint, it’s easier to focus for three and a half hours out of four.  Whereas with no constraint, it’s really hard to focus for three hours out of eight.

2. We can all be more ruthless with our attention

If 5-9 is to be sustainable, I’ll need to have a very clear idea of what I’m planning on doing and an even clearer idea of what doesn’t need me.  And for it to be sustainable, I’ll have to be ruthless without letting things just fail or fall between the cracks.  I will be looking to delegate things.  I will be looking to reduce the time I spend in my email inbox pretty drastically and trying to avoid saying yes to things that don’t add significant levels of value.

3. Peace and quiet matters, especially to me

I love the idea that there’s this crossover time: from 5 until about 6.30pm I know I’ll be crossing over with the rest of society.  My colleagues in the office will probably demand much of this time, which is of course reasonable.  But then, there’s work happening whilst they go home, and squirreled away in my own little world, I’ll have the freedom to focus.  What most people don’t know about me and6 - Flipping the 9 - 5-03 many find surprising is that I’m an introvert.  A lot of my job is connecting with people and I am quite good at it, but I find the outward facing energy very draining.  At the end of a very ‘social’ day, I can often be incapable of uttering a single word to anyone.  If it’s the phone, I ignore it, even if it’s someone I know and love.  It’s a side to me that no one really sees except my wife.  But for a long time I’ve known that I’m happiest working alone.  I love the connection that teams bring, but I love the control and the freedom and the ability to dream that you only get sat alone at a desk with no internet connection.  I look back at my month of solitude writing my book in Sri Lanka with a lot of fondness and it was a time of immense productivity for me.  My usual schedule (which is a laughable suggestion in this crazy year of experiments..!) is that I work from home and disconnected in the morning, before working the afternoon in the office.  The mornings for me are about creation, the afternoons connection and contribution.

If you could design the environment least conducive to focus and productivity, you’d design a modern office.  Every single office I’ve ever visited is designed by an extrovert worker for other extrovert workers.  The modern paradigms of connectivity, collaboration and noise often have token “break out” spaces, but it’s rarely even considered that not everyone wants to sit in a pile of noise all day.  And this is not about being unsociable or rude, it’s just about working styles.  So I hope this month to bang the drum for peace and quiet, loudly enough that people hear it above everything else.  Perhaps our working cultures are making a big mistake by neglecting the value of silence.

4. There’s more to life than work

Working an hour a day, I don’t think I fully ‘cracked’ what to do with the rest of my time.  In this month, I want to explore work/life balance from a slightly different angle.  In my ’60 minutes’ experiment, I defined ‘life’ as being primarily fun activities or pottering around on my own, mainly because most of the other people I know would have been at work during the time I had to be in ‘life’ mode.  But what’s interesting here is the fact that there’ll be a challenge to spend time with the people I love, given the evening time will primarily be for work.  So this month the ‘life’ element will be more focussed on ‘family’ than hedonist hours of coffee bars with a book.

Hopes and fears for this month

My first hope for this month is that I can get into a good rhythm right from the first day.  This will be tough, given that “maynia” basically destroyed my productivity systems.  So that’s quite a basic first hope.

I also hope to be able to have a dialogue with people about flexible working and optimum working environments.  For the “60 minutes” experiment, much of peoples’ reaction focussed on a kind of jealous or threatened criticism of my idea:  “well it’s easy for you, you’re your own boss”, “well it’s easy for you, everyone else will just pick up the slack”, “well, it’s easy for you, but my boss would sack me if I did that” and so on.  Ergo, we shouldn’t cross any boundaries into exploring these issues objectively – and it’s too dangerous to be seeking the change either in our own lives or in our organisations if there are better possibilities.  So I guess I fear the failure of the month ending up being all about me and nothing about you.  My personal hope this month is to challenge your thinking, otherwise I may as well just get on with my own productivity and stop sharing it all!

After surviving the “60 minutes” thing, I don’t have any major fears this month.  In fact, leaping into anything new feels like an improvement on last month’s experiment.  I guess I have a practical fear that there are some evening things that I will have to shift, or potentially shift my exact timings on those days slightly earlier to accommodate them.

And I fear I’ll miss a few sunsets and beautiful evenings on Brighton beach.  But I’ll live with that.

But all of these are mere details.  This is my new way of working.  Four hours a day.  Clocking on at 5pm.  Working until 9.  The silence will be golden.  I’m coming home.


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