Years ago, I saw a quote on Facebook that really stuck with me. It said, “Entrepreneurs are willing to work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week.” (Lori Greiner) Eschewing the corporate life and work structure for the “freedom” of working for themselves – but then becoming chained to their new work paradigm more deeply than before.
I know that many of you can relate to that deeply.
Over the years, and especially more recently, the idea of a 40-hour workweek and working 9 am-5 pm has come under scrutiny. As a business owner, you may laugh at these concepts thinking, “I would LOVE a 40-hour week and the chance to work 9-5 pm! That would be a break from the long days I have put in to move my company forward.”
Yes, it certainly would.
And while we made this choice to work long hours in the pursuit of building thriving businesses, as entrepreneurs, we can certainly understand why people want flexibility as it relates to their schedule.
Where Did the 9-5 pm/40-hour Work Week Come From?
I did a little digging to understand where these ideas for work and time working came from – and the short answer is that in the past, working hours and conditions were abysmal compared to what we experience now. But by the 1920s – through labor strikes, research, and law – a set work week of fewer than 50 hours was established with some indication that productivity waned beyond this length of time at work.
But these ideas pertained mainly to workers in a factory. (You can check out this short history on Quora.)
For knowledge workers and business owners, while we cannot ask our employees to work more than 40 hours, there is no limit to when we can choose to be ‘on’ for work. We control this. We control when we work, where we work, and how long we work.
Work and the Workplace Have Changed
More people than ever are working from a home office – not just consultants and business owners, but also employees whose workplaces allow work from home.
Now, even more people are experiencing work creep – a concern in 2019 – and making a major issue today.
Article after article has been written in the last two years expounding on working from home and having a work-life balance.
And, like so many things that we are trying to fit into our new world of work, our ideas about our work and time need to be revisited.
Where and How Can We Be Flexible About Work?
I propose that we embrace a more flexible and adaptable way of working because work and the workplace have so drastically changed. But what should we be looking at? Where can we look to make changes? I believe we need to look at our workday, workweek length, and work completeness.
Workday – Few of us have constrained ourselves to the 9-5 workday, and it’s time to allow this to be ok. We have examples all around us that show few places where this truly works. For example, entertainment, education, healthcare, retail, and manufacturing all have hours outside of 9-5, and we expect that to be the case.
Additionally, each of us has a “Biological Prime Time” – where we have our most energy and are at peak productivity. This should definitely be a time when we are working – even if it means 6 a.m. for me and 9 p.m. for you. (Clemson.edu has put together a brief chart to help you track your energy levels and figure out your Biological Prime Time.)
Let go of the idea that you can and should work from 9 am-5 pm.
Workweek Length – I would not go as far as to suggest that we all adopt a 4-hour workweek as Tim Ferris recommends; there is no reason to be tied to a specific number of hours or days at work.
But research has shown that well being increases with a shorter than 40-hour workweek. However, that same research also indicates that more employees are disengaged and report less job satisfaction with a shorter workweek.
The problem is more complex than how many days per week you work.
Let go of the idea that you must work 40 hours to be productive.
Work Completeness – There are two components to work completeness. The first is the idea that your day cannot be “over” until you finish your to-do list or get a certain number of things accomplished. The second relates to the need for everything to be “perfect” or reach a specific level of “doneness” before you can move on.
These ideas can create unrealistic expectations, extremely long days, and a work-life balance that never has a chance to be…balanced.
Let go of the idea that everything needs to be done today and that it needs to be perfect in order to move forward.
What Should We be Looking at?
If you’re ready to be more flexible with your work, then there are some things you should look at.
When do your customers, employees, and vendors need you to be available?
While the times need not be 9am-5pm, consider the work that is being done and when it makes sense to have available times. Work can be done outside of these times but knowing when everyone needs to be ‘on’ and available allows work to happen in sync – and for tasks like meetings, client-facing work, and customer service, that is important.
What is needed for the tasks at hand?
Instead of expecting 9 am-5 pm or 40 hours, look at what each project needs. That could be a longer week to complete a launch or roll out or a shorter week if all areas are following a routine and operating smoothly. One thing I know for sure is that work will fill the time that you allow it. So, if you shorten the time available, you will prioritize and complete what is needed in that time. It’s easier to do this when you are thoughtful about how much time each task will reasonably take and when it must be completed. Decide when a project is ‘done’ and allow that to be the end of it. This requires setting clear expectations for ‘done’ before the project has gotten underway.
Overall, like everything we have explored over these last two years since the pandemic began, it’s time to be critical of how and why we choose to work as it relates to the number of hours and when we work. Prioritize the projects and work that will further your business objectives and set clear boundaries on when tasks are completed without using arbitrary deadlines, work hours or week lengths.
Please comment below, I would love to hear from you.