In today’s episode, Anna looks at why we shouldn’t cling onto this traditional way of working, especially when we’re working for ourselves.
The ‘9 to 5’ is an idea that came about at the turn of the previous century – a revolutionary idea at the time, it meant you were cutting back on excessive hours, at a time when people were working 1-hour days, or 100-hour weeks, in factories back in the 1890s. Today, technology has made it possible to work any time, any place and we’ve ended up working more, not less. John Maynard Keynes, the economist, predicted that technology would allow us to cut our working week down to 15 hours… so what has gone wrong? The rigid Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 routine isn’t the best solution for a productive workforce in the office and it definitely isn’t the best solution for you when you’re working for yourself, on your own business, and have autonomy over your schedule.
*Resources mentioned during the episode*
The One Step Outside Facebook group– Join us over in the Facebook group to meet like-minded people who are working on reimagining success in their life and business and to get access to direct support and free training sessions from Anna. www.facebook.com/groups/onestepoutside
Time Tracking App – Start tracking your time and stay productive with the Toggle App.
Hello there, and welcome back, as we continue to look at this idea of work-life integration. And last week I introduced the series by talking about work-life balance and how, for me, that’s a really artificial construct and it doesn’t really exist and it’s not a useful, valuable framework to use. And I instead introduced the idea of work-life integration. So if you haven’t listened to that episode yet, then please do go back and have a listen, and see if you agree and see if this sparks some interesting thoughts for you.
But this week I actually want to talk about the 9 to 5 specifically. So that is sort of part, and I mentioned that a little bit last week, of the work-life balance concepts and idea, but it’s something specific around this sort of timeframe. And I know it’s … I use 9 to 5 to represent the corporate concept of working a full-time job and so on. Here, I’m literally talking about the hours 9 to 5.
So I’m sure, hopefully, you know my story by now. September, 2013, I walked out of my office. I left my job. It was the first proper job after my studies. I didn’t know what I’d be doing next. And it had started with a sabbatical first of all, while I was travelling, I sort of woke up to the idea that I wanted to do something else, wasn’t quite sure what, and ultimately called up HR and handed in my resignation.
Now, I … again, this is when I talk about escaping the 9 to 5 and we’ve just done the 9-to-5 Escape Plan workshop over in the Facebook group a few weeks ago. And when I talk about leave the 9 to 5, I talk about quitting your job.
However, in the context of work-life integration, I want to talk more about the construct of the working week, I suppose, of Monday to Friday, of this so-called 9 to 5.
And I know a lot of you tell me, “It’s not 9 to 5, it’s 8 till 8 or 7 till 7,” or whatever, right? But let’s dig deeper into a little bit of history on the 9 to 5 idea, and no, it doesn’t come from Dolly Parton and I’m going to try not to sing it right now, although, it’s always on my mind when we talk about the 9 to 5. But that’s actually an idea that came about at the turn of the previous century. So it was actually a revolutionary idea for its time. It meant you were cutting back on these excessive hours, at a time when people were working 16 hour days, or a hundred hours a week, in those factories back in the 1890s. And you know what? The 9 to 5 doesn’t sound so bad now does it, when you think about those 16 hour days and the 100 hours a week versus the 40 hours a week?
But, okay, what has happened since then? What’s happened in those 120, 130 odd years since then? Well, a little bit of research, but about half of managers actually work more than those 40 hours a week, and four in 10, so almost four as well, say that their hours have increased in the last few years. I certainly found in my corporate time, that although … well, I was young and eager and I was happy to work very hard. But I certainly found that … certainly when the economy was not doing so well, people were being, maybe, let’s say there was restructuring going on, reorganisation, and we had more and more work on our plates, right? So I certainly sensed that I was working more and more. And of course there are many more working mums as well, and many more families, in fact, with two working parents, that’s another trend.
And of course technology has made it possible and easy to work any time, any place from anywhere, weekends, evenings, holidays, and so on. And there are two sides to that, of course. On the one hand, it means you’re expected to be always on, and to work in evenings, weekends, holidays, and so on. On the other hand, it does mean that you don’t have to be in the office all the time, so in theory, you can work more flexibly. And, surveys find that, and I’m sure this is proven, in your own experience, four out of five office workers check their work email after leaving the office, one in three log on before even getting out of bed, that’s a pretty horrible, horrible statistic. And then over 50% of commuters are sending working emails on route to and from the office, which, in a way is quite a practical use of that dead time if you’re sitting on a train. But obviously you could be using that to learn a language or to read a book or to work on your business idea.
Now, bizarrely, this isn’t what we thought would happen. So John Maynard Keynes, the economist, said in 1930, he predicted that technology would allow us to cut our working week down to 15 hours, because our material needs are satisfied, and the technology that he then relatively correctly predicted, would be able to help us to do less. Because if you imagine, I always think of my mum who worked in an office in Swedish Telecoms years ago, and she talked about how she’d write a memo on paper, I guess on a typewriter. She’d put that in her outbox, out-tray, literally out tray, not in your email outbox. Somebody would come by twice a day, pick that up and put it in her boss’s inbox, in-tray. And that was the communication, right? You’d have to travel, you’d have to have meetings, certainly pre-telephone, but we’re talking at least with telephone, but there was no email. There were no virtual conferences and so on.
And so the way of working then was, I think with hindsight, very inefficient, on the other hand perhaps it was very efficient because they weren’t constantly emailing and on phones and so on, right?
But in theory, at least you can see how having email, having all these amazing technological advances, would make us need to work less rather than work more. So why, oh, why, tell me, are we working so hard? Well, for one thing, there are a lot of good things that come with a corporate job from an individual perspective let’s say, we get promotions, we get salary increases, there’s the prestige of working for a big name brand, there’s at least in non-recession times office parties, socialising with colleagues, after work drinks and so on.
So I think, there is, and we forget this sometimes, certainly when I talk about leaving that corporate job behind, we forget the positive sides of it, and there are many positives. So yes, I admit it. There are some positives to working in a company like that. And I guess again, although we talk about the 9 to 5 structure, it does generally associate itself with a job and employment.
Another reason I think is that we, in society, in our economy, and our life, have been socialised, conditioned, to this way of life, right?
It’s normal, expected somehow, that people hate Mondays, that they live for the weekends and work is work, it’s not meant to be fun. And so, I even embarrassingly look back and you know Facebook gives you those memories? And I see pre- when I left my job I was like, “Oh, it’s Monday, I’ve got Monday blues,” and then Friday, “TDIF, hooray.” And it’s just something we accept as the normal up and down of the week.
Now, obviously with, even though a lot of us are working more flexibly now, the economy still runs basically on that Monday to Friday structure. Schools on Monday to Friday as well, so if you’ve got kids that makes you have to work that kind of structure as well. So it’s very deeply embedded into our society, into our economy, and so on.
And now, interestingly, obviously this year 2020 with COVID and so on, people have been working from home, not commuting, being homeschooled, and so on, and that’s quite interesting, although it still followed the Monday to Friday, more or less. I’ve certainly seen on the Common out here, lots of people out during weekdays when the weather was really good, when the lockdown was really strict. Well, hopefully not when the lockdown was really strict, because we weren’t supposed to socialise at all, but certainly when people were still working from home, but they were allowed to go on to the Common, you know, I would see more flexibility in terms of, “Oh, it’s sunny.” People would go out during the day, even though, strictly speaking, that’s when you would be working usually.
And of course let’s face it, we’re all very privileged. I’m always very aware of this. There are large chunks of the population, certainly around the world, who have no choice but to work long hours for little pay. So we’re very privileged and lucky to even be able to have this very luxurious conversation. But, okay, what is the problem with the 9 to 5? Well, if you start again from the perspective of the company, even from the overall economy, working long hours does not mean, certainly doesn’t guarantee, that you’re being productive. So much time is wasted at work, if you think all the distractions that happen in an office environment. And to be honest, also working from home, you’ve got chores and family and deliveries and so on.
We also all have different natural rhythms. Some people are early birds, some people are night owls, and our brains can’t even really focus on tasks for more than a few hours. Some studies say that you can only focus on 20 minutes at a time. I think I mentioned already in last week’s episode, and I love this stat, but apparently the average employee works productively only for two hours and 53 minutes in an eight hour day. So although we’re holding to this 9 to 5 concept, construct out of that, only three of those hours are productive. And despite those statistics, people are working within quotation marks ‘longer hours’, because they’re always on, they’re never taking a proper break. Successful corporate managers and directors are working really, really hard. They’ve got plenty of money, but they’ve got no time to spend it.
So over simplified here, but you know, they’re buying luxury holidays, snazzy cars, big houses, hefty mortgages, to feel better. And, by all means it feels pretty good. But unfortunately of course, those same purchases then lock us into that way of life and keep us in the 9 to 5 structure, because then we can afford the lifestyle that we’re so used to by now.
Now there are also health risks, right? Of working those longer hours and they’ve been widely reported. So, apparently almost 60% of adults are drinking alcohol to cope with the stresses of everyday life. It would be interesting to see how that’s been affected by the COVID situation. 38% drink to forget their problems. In the UK, this seems like a small number, but nonetheless, half a million people now suffer from work-related stress. Burnout has become a sinister and insidious epidemic, I came across that in an article. And, it’s subjective, there’s no strict definition of burnout, but it usually manifests as exhaustion, irritability, disinterest, lack of empathy, poor performance at work, family issues, relationship problems, and so on. And, there’s medication there’s vacation, but those of course only provide temporary relief. And by the way we talk about evenings and weekends, but, vacation as well, right. It’s not just, “Hey, [inaudible 00:10:06],” but it’s, “Oh my goodness. Looking forward to that next holiday.” And unfortunately with COVID, of course, we’ve had that taken away from us a little bit.
But at the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the burning out people, the people who are hustling away and working so, so hard.
You’ve got people who are sort of just lost souls, I think, wandering the corridors. People are okay, they’re fine, they’re under-challenged just as there are many who are over-challenged, just sort of, “Yeah, I’ve been here for a long time. I’m not really that stimulated anymore, but hey, I’m just sort of there and just clocking in and out.” But of course, and I’ve mentioned this many times too, there’s the book, The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying by Bronnie Ware, and nobody ever says in their regrets when they’re dying, “Oh, I wish I’d spent more time at the office.” It’s very unlikely, “I wish I’d worked longer hours.” Rather, it’s, “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. I wish I’d let myself be happier.” And in the number one spot, which is my personal favourite, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Now, again, I’ve talked about the 9 to 5 more in the context of that full-time job, and of course that then comes with the perceived job security in a large company. It has the comfortable retirement, the pension and so on. But what I wanted to talk a little bit about for a few minutes is that 9 to 5 legacy, I guess, when we leave the 9 to 5, ironically. Because what I see is that many of us feel guilty taking time off. So, even though the whole purpose of quitting that job, of working for ourselves and having more freedom, flexibility, autonomy, and so on is that we want to have that power to take time off work, to pick up a sick child from school, or to head out to the Common when it’s sunny, or to take a longer holiday without having to ask your boss or whatever it is. Even though that’s the desire and the intent when we set up the business, unfortunately, and ironically, many of us just recreate the same structure when we design our own business.
And that is a mistake. And I’m not saying it’s, I’m in no way judging because it’s something I’ve done and it’s easy to fall into that, it’s a slippery slope, very easily. And the biggest myth, which I have to throw out there, is something that I’ve told myself in the past days, and told other people, “Oh, but I love my work so much. I don’t mind working all the time.” So I suppose that applies to a corporate job that you love lots as well, or you’re passionate about charity work, or whatever you’re doing.
But likewise, if you designed the business around your ikigai, around something that you really love, that’s meaningful, you’re making a difference, you’re excited about launching that podcast, and writing the book and working with your favourite clients, then it is easy to suddenly get into position where again, blurring the lines, working all the time, “Oh, I’m just going to check this.” And it’s very easy to say, “I’m just going to check Instagram, just need to reply to these Facebook messages … Oh, a client wants a call in the evening or the weekend … Well, I don’t usually do that, but yeah, go on then.” You know, because I really want to make sure I get this client or, I want to be amenable or whatever. So that is almost more dangerous because again, we have left the 9 to 5, so-called, for certain reasons. And generally, I’ve talked before about the push reasons and the pull reasons, the push reasons are, getting away from that commute, getting away from a toxic work culture, the long hours and the restrictive routine of the 9 to 5. And then there’s the pull of that freedom, autonomy, flexibility, and not working five days a week, or seven days a week, worst of all, not working evenings and weekends or perhaps working evenings and weekends, but then taking the daytime off, taking Monday to Friday off.
So, I’d really encourage you to play around with this and question, why are you working the hours that you’re working? Are you just holding on to the legacy of your full-time work? Now this is when you’ve left your job. So of course, if you’ve got a side hustle alongside your business, it’s tricky because you do need to work around your full-time job. So that means you’re probably working Monday to Friday, and unfortunately, on your side hustle, you’re working evenings and weekends and so on.
But I’m talking to you now if you’ve left completely, you do have autonomy over your time. You can, by all means, choose to stick to more of a Monday-to-Friday routine. I’ve talked before about the fact that, and he’s no longer in that structure, but when my partner was in a 9 to 5 job, obviously, I then arranged my work around that similar time so that I’d be free to see him in the evenings and weekends. When we had more flexibility, and before our kids started school, and so on, that hopefully means that we can have a bit more, whether it’s a lie-in, or maybe it’s a long weekend. We don’t have to go on holiday only during half-term and and weekends. We can travel on non-peak days and all those wonderful things, right?
But really again, in the day to day, that’s what I want to talk about in work-life integration. The day to day, the week in week out, what do you want your ideal week to look like? Is it right for you? Does it fit for you and your family to work a Monday to Friday, 9-to-5 routine? In which case by all means, but I really want you to reconsider, is that just that legacy, that construct that you’ve inherited and you’re still holding on to those beliefs and assumptions from when your boss and your company forced you to work those hours, or is it something you’re choosing to do because it’s the right thing for you?
So really, fundamentally, ask yourself, is this working for me and if not, first of all, how do you redesign that? So is it just certain days? Is it certain hours and so on? And secondly, remember that statistic that we only do a few hours of effective work a day.
And to be honest, I think that’s not far from the truth. I had a client who followed a tip I gave her that you can use a tracker called Toggl, for example, T-O-G-G-L, other trackers are available, I’m sure. It’s a free tracker you can use on your desktop. You just start it when you start a project and you stop it when you finish. And literally just observing the time you’re spending on work during the week will be very eyeopening. And certainly this client, for example, realised, “Hang on, I’m actually only doing two or three hours of productive work a day.” And that was a good thing, because it meant then, “Hey, I’m actually getting some great results in a limited time. It’s good to know that actually I don’t have to work eight hours and I can’t work and I won’t work eight hours, nine hours, 10 hours a day in order to get results.”
For me having a baby, certainly restricted my time. When I don’t have childcare, restricted to working when she’s asleep, or in the evenings, potentially. And you know, that’s not my best time. And so I found that I’m so much more clearer, I’m crystal clear on my purpose, my vision for the business, the priorities, the things I need to work on. I say no to the things aren’t going to get me closer to those goals. And it sounds very mercurial if that’s a word, but it’s just being focused on making a difference, earning the money I need to earn, enjoying it. But also having that time with my family and not feeling torn between the two.
And you know, I’m feeling there’s a lot more to be talked about here, and that is what we’re going to be doing in the coming weeks. But just for now, I want you to question the 9 to 5, in the sense of not the job itself, although by all means, if you haven’t quit your job, then that’s something to reconsider. But this is you, you’re in charge of your time. You wanted to be in charge of your time. Why are you still working the 9 to 5? If you need to go to the dentist in the afternoon, why are you feeling guilty about taking time off from your business?
And unfortunately, if you have an endless to-do list of things and tasks in your business, you’re always going to feel like, “There’s more I need to do. I need to …” Even though you’ve had a really productive day and now you have time with your family, maybe you’re going to rush off and, “No, no I’ll just do a few more emails or something.” And that’s dangerous.
And so the more focused you are, the more clear you are on, “These are the priorities.” The one thing that’s going to make the biggest difference, “Right now I’m launching this programme and that’s what I’m going to focus on. Everything else can wait,” or, “This is my number one focus this quarter, this year.” That really helps you to then let go of some of the other stuff around that.
So, that’s the thought I want to leave you with. Again, if you’re in control of your time, why are you working still the same structure and, ultimately, feeling guilty about leaving that structure behind given them that is probably a big reason for why you wanted to leave it behind the first place?
So, as ever, looking forward to your thoughts, you can get me at, email@example.com and we’ll be continuing in the coming weeks, looking at more concrete and tangible steps that we can take. Again, more questioning our beliefs, but also then practical solutions for how we can do that. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll see you next week. Bye for now.
If you’re ready to start to reimagine what success could look like for you, here are some of the ways in which Anna can support you:
Get private mentoring for your business– Partnering with a business coach can help you see those blind spots and get both external accountability and expert guidance to take your business to where you want it to be. www.onestepoutside.com/freeconsultation
Get private career coaching – Individual coaching is fully tailored to your specific goals and desires so we can create the programme that works best for you, with the support that you need to move forwards. www.onestepoutside.com/claritycall
Grab a copy of Leaving the Corporate 9 to 5– After interviewing 50 people who have left the corporate 9 to 5 to forge their own path, Anna has collected their stories in a book that will inspire you with the possibilities that are out there and reassure you that you’re not alone in looking for an alternative. www.leavingthecorporate9to5.com
Join the One Step Outside the 9 to 5 Business Incubator– This is your roadmap to transitioning from a corporate job into setting up a meaningful business that will bring you more freedom, flexibility and fulfilment outside of the corporate 9 to 5. www.onestepoutside.com/9to5
Up-level with The Outsiders Business Accelerator – This is a mastermind for entrepreneurs, freelancers and small business owners who want to create a long-term sustainable brand and business. www.onestepoutside.com/accelerate