- Forget 9-5 or at least make it optional!
- Design an ideal workweek
- Cut out two hours of focus time each day.
- The one thing: Experiment with your workweek!
Forget 9-5 or at least make it optional!
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a typical person in possession of a good work, must be in the office between 9-51.
Why is that? Why 9-5? Why from 9:00 to 17:00 from Monday to Friday?
Because a typical person wakes up in the morning, eats breakfast, commutes to work and is there at 9 am. They work 8 hours straight and then leave work at 5 pm to be home by 6pm for a family dinner. That’s the American dream.
But is it true, though? Do we all work like this? Is everyone the same?
Not everyone is in the same phase of life…
Some people have young kids, so they have to get them to school and also pick them up from there. Some have teenage kids who don’t need so much care and others have no kids at all. Some have partners, others are single. Some are in their twenties, or thirties, or forties, or fifties, or sixties… you get a picture.
All these factors influence the flow of a day for a person. It’s preposterous to assume that everyone should adhere to the same uniform 9-5 schedule even though their situation in life is completely different.
On top of that, there are people who love waking up early in the morning. Others like to sleep in. Some are night owls and are most productive at night. Why force 9-5 on them?
Let’s stop with factory-like shifts
Just because you have an office that everyone is going to doesn’t mean that people have to be there 9-5. Office should be a tool you use to get work done. Office should not be an arbiter of schedule. Office is not a factory where you crank widgets.
People on the team should be able to determine their own schedules. Come early in the morning if they fancy, leave work to run some errands in the middle of the day or just have a walk because the weather is nice. Come in the evening for their own night shift if they feel like it.
There’s no such thing as “overtime”
Overtime doesn’t exist. It shouldn’t. People aren’t supposed to be working more than they were hired to do. They need their free time as well.
A 9-5 culture promotes overtime. People are looking around the office to see who’s staying past 5pm. They see their boss is still in, so they do the same. It’s really easy to fall in this trap. As mentioned in the previous chapter, healthy team members should have a life outside of work. Flexible working hours give them the freedom and agency to design their lifestyle and avoid overwork.
What you need is to agree on “overlap time”
That’s why we have our regular meetings every week at the same time. This way people can plan their work days around the meetings any way they want. Everyone knows when we overlap and meet, and we agree in our teams when they can expect us at work. Moreover on chat in our main channel we publish when we’re at work and when we’re out. One glance in our chat and you know who’s in and who’s out.
Design an ideal workweek
I first learned about the idea of ideal workweek from my friend and mentor, Michael Hyatt2. This exercise forces you to be more intentional with your time. Of course each week is different. Life happens. But it’s worth planning a week on your own terms and adjust the plan as things happen. This way you’re still in control.
Start with an ideal week for yourself
Everyone is different and they should have an agency to design their own, perfect workweek. Here’s mine:
- Monday - CEO/Product. First half of Monday I do business work, I have my directors meeting. The second half of the day I work on product.
- Tuesday - Product. I review all proposals, pending tasks, progress on features I’m involved with and have our design meeting.
- Wednesday - Marketing. I have our marketing meeting, I give feedback to the marketing team. Every two weeks I have our support improvement meeting.
- Thursday - Writing. I don’t have any meetings. I write a lot - blog posts, marketing stuff, prepare for interviews, etc.
- Friday - Review. I review my week, prepare for the next one. More on Fridays at Nozbe in one of the next chapters.
As you can see, the plan revolves around the regular meetings we have and my responsibilities as the CEO, VP of Marketing and chief visionary behind Nozbe. I wear many hats so my week accommodates for that and helps me work in a focused way.
Create an ideal work for your team or department
The same exercise can be done together with people you work with. This way a team can agree that we do this on this day and do other things on different days. It’s agreeing on when we do things together. Again, this helps people plan their own focus time. Here are some of the ideas we’ve been experimenting with in our teams:
- Bug-fixing Monday - our engineers are using Mondays as a warm up day for the week in which they just check out any pending issues with our apps and try to fix them on that day.
- Design Tuesday - as we have our design meeting on that day, we encourage everyone to read the proposals, specs and other documents and give us feedback on current design issues with the Nozbe apps.
- Feedback Wednesday - our marketing department has a meeting on Wednesday and they use this day to get feedback from everyone on the team about what they’ve been working so far.
Such ideas create a natural cadence of work for everyone on the team and encourage them to approach their workweek in a more conscious way. Everyone feels in more control. They know what they’ll be working on and what to expect from each other.
Cut out two hours of focus time each day.
The trouble with working in a team is that there are so many things going on that it’s really hard to find time to work on something in a focused way. And as I wrote in chapter 4 - focus is a scarce resource we all need more of.
Working on something for two hours straight gives great results!
As a productivity fanatic, I’ve been experimenting with many work-life hacks over the years3 but recently I discovered that my single-best tool for meaningful work is a long stretch of uninterrupted time to work on one thing. How long? At least two hours.
That’s right. I need two hours of uninterrupted time to move something forward. To write a draft of a proposal, a blog post or thoughtful feedback on a strategic topic.4
Why two hours? Because they usually work like this:
- In the first 30 minutes, I turn off notifications or just silence my phone and start thinking about the problem. I gather all the links and resources needed to tackle the issue.
- In the second 30 minutes, I start working, I have the first rough draft, idea or outline.
- And I still have at least one hour to work on it. I’ve thought about the problem, I’m focused, I’m warmed up… and now, I can get to work.
- After two hours, I will have usually created something that I can send to the team for feedback, or I have the momentum to keep going and finish it up for another 30-60 minutes.
Block off two hours every day at the same time.
My trick is to block off my two-hour focus time every day at the same time. To make it a productivity habit and a no-brainer.
Most of the weeks my two-hour window is between 11am-1pm. This way in the morning I have enough time to respond to some team feedback or maybe do morning sports session and by the time 11 hits, I’m on my iPad, with all my notifications turned off and working in full focus. Once I’m done past 1pm I’m letting my team know I’m available for feedback and I’m reviewing all the tasks assigned to me or check where I was mentioned.
Once I started doing that I could easily communicate it to my team, that between 11:00-13:00 I’m not available as I’m working on my focus task. This way I’m also leading by example as I really want everyone on my team to have as much uninterrupted stretches of time as well.
The one thing: Experiment with your workweek!
Everyone’s different. Fixed 9-5 schedules and overtime are history. Everyone should be encouraged to experiment with their workweek and choose flexible working hours that help them be the most productive, to find as many hours of uninterrupted time as possible and just adjust the work to their lifestyle.
My favorite book on this subject is Rework5 with lots of ideas on a modern way to plan and execute work.
Sorry, couldn’t help myself and to ridicule the 9-5 concept I simply paraphrased the first sentence from one of my favorite novels, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”. ↩
Check out his article on the subject: How to Better Control Your Time by Designing Your Ideal Week ↩