- Forget 9 to 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 to 5 – or at least make it optional!
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a typical person in possession of a good job must be in the office between 9 to 51.
Why is that? Why 9 to 5 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 eight hours straight and then leave work at 5 pm to be home in time for a family dinner. That’s the American dream.
Is that 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 pick them up in the afternoon. Some have teenage kids who don’t need as much care, and others don’t have kids at all. Some have partners, others are single. Some are in their twenties, or thirties, or forties, or fifties, or sixties… you get the picture.
All of 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-to-5 schedule, even though everyone’s life situations are 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. So why force 9 to 5 on them?
Let’s stop with factory-like shifts
Just because you have an office doesn’t mean that people have to be there from 9 to 5. An office should be a tool you use to get work done. An office should not be an arbiter of schedule. It’s not a factory where you crank widgets.
Everyone 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 go for a walk whenever because the weather is nice. Even 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 work. They need their free time as well.
A 9-to-5 culture promotes overtime. People often look around the office to see who stays past 5 pm. They see their boss is still in, so they follow suit. It’s really easy to fall into 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 required to design their lifestyle and avoid overworking.
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 an 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 adjusting the plan as things happen. This way, you’re still in control.
Start with an ideal week for yourself
Everyone is different and should have the agency to design their own perfect workweek. Here’s mine:
– Monday – CEO/Product. The first half of Monday, I do business work and have my directors meeting. The second half of the day, I work on product. – Tuesday – Product. I review all proposals, pending tasks, and the progress on the features with which I’m involved, plus we have our design meeting. – Wednesday – Marketing. I have our marketing meeting, where I give feedback to the marketing team. Every two weeks, I have our support improvement meeting. – Thursday – Writing. I don’t have any meetings. Instead, I write a lot – blog posts, marketing stuff, preparation for interviews, etc. – Friday – Review. I review my week and prepare for the next one. More on Fridays at Nozbe in an upcoming chapter.
As you can see, my 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 workweek for your team or department
The same exercise can be done together with people you work with. This allows a team to agree that we do this on this day and do other things on different days. It’s simply 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 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 on what they’ve been working on 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 more in 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, which makes it 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 of which we all need more.
Working on something for two hours straight produces 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 some thoughtful feedback on a strategic topic.4
Why two hours? Because the time usually goes like this:
- In the first 30 minutes, I turn off notifications or silence my phone and start thinking about the problem. I gather all the links and resources needed to tackle the issue.
- In the next30 minutes, I start working. I create the first rough draft, idea or outline.
- And I still have at least one hour to work on it and flesh it out. 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 weeks, my two-hour window is between 11 am and 1 pm. This gives me enough time in the morning to respond to some team feedback or maybe do a morning sports session, and by the time 11 am comes arounds, I’m on my iPad, with all my notifications turned off and working in full focus. Once I’m done past 1 pm, I let my team know I’m available for feedback and am either reviewing all the tasks assigned to me or checking where I was mentioned.
Once I began doing this, I could easily communicate it to my team that I’m not available between 11 am and 1 pm, as I’m working on my focus tasks. This way, I’m also leading by example, as I really want everyone on my team to have just as many stretches of uninterrupted time.
The one thing: Experiment with your workweek!
Everyone’s different. Fixed 9-to-5 schedules and overtime are history. Everyone should be encouraged to experiment with their workweek, to choose flexible working hours that help them be the most productive, to find as many hours of uninterrupted time as possible and to adjust their work to their lifestyle.
My favorite book on this subject is Rework5, which has lots of ideas on a modern way to plan and execute work.
Sorry, couldn’t help myself: to ridicule the 9 to 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 ↩