Working 9–5 Is UnderratedOct 11, 2021
Freedom and flexibility were constant features in my ‘screw the corporate world’ daydreams. I’d read so much entrepreneur porn, and I had an idealized vision of what life would be like. I believed I’d be able to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.
Four months later and I’m self-imposing a nine to five lifestyle. It turns out the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Too much freedom can be stressful too.
I feel compelled to show the downsides of losing the structure in your life because I wasn’t prepared. It seems like the whole internet sings in unison against the 9–5, but it has significant upsides and might be the better lifestyle for you. If you already know it is for you, then you shouldn’t be ashamed to say so.
What’s strange about the post-pandemic world is more companies are offering their employees the chance to work hours on their terms. A new choice which was unthinkable a decade ago has emerged where you can escape the 9–5 while still being paid a stable salary. This is often portrayed as a good thing, but are we sleepwalking into a dystopia?
Restrictions are good
Hands up if you crammed everything last minute before exams at school. I know I did. My freedom in choosing when I did my work ended up in long droughts followed by massive binge sessions. I know this is unhealthy as a grown-up, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t fall into the same trap.
Being my own boss, I’ve learned that having an end to the working day is so underappreciated. I can technically create whenever I want. It sounds great in theory, but in reality, it means I’m almost always doing everything at the last moment. I’ve had days where I chill out during the day and end up at my desk at 2 am telling myself I’ll be more responsible tomorrow.
Set working hours creates an external anchor on which your mind can fixate. You want to get this done by 5 pm so you can shut up shop. This is easier when you have a physical workplace because you have the added incentive of it being home time. Some of my friends have noted that everyone seems to be finishing work on time now that they’ve returned to the office. The boundaries were blurred when everyone worked from home.
While it might sound counterintuitive, constraints encourage creativity. Games without any limits aren’t any fun. The challenge comes from trying to solve an issue within set rules. It’s easy for someone who has total control of their time to fall into analysis paralysis because of the abundance of time. Restricting your working hours forces you to get practical and triggers you to get moving.
Don’t let flexibility fool you
I dance multiple times per week because I prioritize it, but the views of some of the other dancers baffle me. They are so grateful to their boss for letting them have an hour break between 7:30 pm and 8:30 pm, then they go back to the office and work until midnight afterward.
This is toxic flexibility.
If you’re working 80 hours weeks, you don’t need flexibility; you need a more sensible workload. The corporate world’s new favorite buzzword shouldn’t distract you from the underlying problem. For some, there’s an unwritten rule for people to be available at all hours outside of where they’ve asked for something specific.
The obvious winners from the current trend are working parents who can take their kids to and from school. I had several clients who took advantage of this, but they also seemed to have the worst boundaries for calling me out of hours. They’d also take calls while driving, and it felt like their work and blurred into their life. Parents need structure and downtime too.
When my dad was my age, there were no cell phones, and you couldn’t check your emails before bed. He clocked in at 9 am and left at 5 pm. There was little room for discussion. It meant office hours were the company’s, but more importantly, free time was truly his. It worries me how many people I know can’t say this anymore.
It’s a simplicity I envy, and I will attempt to impose this on myself through technology restrictions. One way is through using an old dumber phone during the day, which has all my business-related accounts on it, but it gets locked in a drawer when it’s “me” time.
With great power comes great responsibility
The best thing about being my own boss is I can do what I want.
The worst thing is I have to make all the decisions.
It’s a trial by fire of learning what I can do when and I’ve made many mistakes. I was excited about training off-peak at the gym when I first left my company but soon realized the reality wasn’t as great. It means traveling both ways plus a shower when I get back and then having a snack, and before I know it, a few hours have passed. This squashes my productivity, so I end up working later into the night to get things done.
In the last 30 days, I’ve had social plans for 26 of them. I’m my own boss, isn’t this why I quit? But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t exhausting. People know I’m in charge, and if they want to see me, it’s hard for me to say no. I shift all my tasks around to make space for them. Though it shouldn’t, telling people I want to get stuff done for the business sometimes feels weird. In seizing every opportunity, I’m leaving myself spread thin, whereas the routine of a 9–5 had an elegant balance.
If you currently have a 9–5 where your boundaries are respected, remember the other side isn’t as glamorous as you might believe.