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Dilemma: Maximising Time Outside The 9-5

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My friend emailed me this quote the other day: “You work 9-5, come home kiss the dog, I’m telling you 7PM – 2AM is PLENTY of time to get your business idea off the ground.” I think the quote is from Gary Vaynerchuk. It got me thinking about the 9-5, how much time we have in the week, and how I might maximise my time outside the 9-5.

See, the thing about 9-5, is that if you’re on the same timezone as most of society, it is probably the most productive hours. Your employer would expect that you probably wake up between 6 and 7am, waking up as you come into work, get into the office at 8:30, and be fresh for day of whatever it is you do. Then, come 5 or 6, you’re probably starting to get tired, and unless you’re in a high pressure environment, it is probably a good time to call it a day. Then, they’d expect that you’d go home, unwind in front of the TV, to maximise your refreshment for the next day at work. After all, if they’re going to pay you, they want your most productive hours. Which is fair enough. But not being one to watch TV, I’d rather do something else useful with my spare time – and I’m not willing to spend it in the office (unless they engage me and pay me overtime, which isn’t going to happen!)

Before I think about my current situation, I think it pays to revisit to other situations in my life and how much/little I achieved. Take university for example – in the early years of my degree I probably worked 20-30 hours per week in a shop (unfixed roster), had up to 20 contact hours in the lecture halls, and another 20-30 hours studying in the library or at home. Note these hours are across 7 days, since contact and work hours were not in fixed blocks… so up to 80 productive hours a week over seven days is pretty good. On a Mon-Fri basis, doing nothing on the weekends, 80 hours a week would mean working 8am – midnight. Indeed, I’ve had to work these kind of hours during busy periods. When I think back to the busiest times at uni, doing similar hours, I don’t think I was at quite the same risk of burnout, for 2 reasons. 1: I wasn’t on as fixed a schedule, so changing from lecture hall to library to work refreshed me and required different types of concentration… but this is not a luxury I have on my 9-5 job today. 2: I wasn’t on the same timezone as most of society, meaning I didn’t have to cram myself into crowded buses and trains and lineup at the shops… I can avoid this a little in a 9-5 job by being an hour out of sync, which is enough to miss the worst of peak periods.

I’ll consider another situation, where I worked shifts on a winery. There were three shifts, day shift (8am to 4pm), evening shift (4pm to midnight), and night shift (midnight to 8am). Every worker did a week on each shift, and rotated to the next shift for the following week (in the order listed above). The work was physically intensive, but not mentally, and at the time I was heavily researching the stock market. I also lived really close to work. My most productive times were evening and night shifts. The reason? I’d go to bed for 8 hours immediately after work (regardless of actual time going to bed), when I was physically exhausted. I’d start my studies straight after breakfast – and get a lot achieved before work. I’d turn up to work mentally exhausted, but that didn’t matter at all for the physical job. Doing something physical allowed me to absorb what I’d learnt earlier that day, and also allowed me to sleep really well for maximum recovery. Contrast this to day shift, where I woke up about 2 hours before work and go to bed 6 hours after – my day was fragmented, and I did little in the 6 hours as the physical exhaustion reduced my mental capacity as well. It seems that, depending on your feelings toward your current job, it probably pays to do your projects first in the day.

So, back to my current situation, the 9-5 office job – a mentally draining one, with no physical activity. Given what I’ve learnt, it probably makes sense to minimise fragmentation of my free time, and do something physical, preferably before bed (i.e. gym, yoga or some other exercise, ideally as my form of transport to/from work to save time and money). I also need to consider levels of mental exhaustion – I’m rarely motivated after work, unless I leave at 5pm sharp and allow myself to change ‘scenes’. But I’m still at a loss – and here is the dilemma. In order to maximise your productivity (so that you still achieve on your own projects, but don’t put yourself at risk of getting fired) what is the best routine? Get up really early and work on your own things first? Or stay up late and work after the exhaustion of work? This I am still trying to figure out, and I’m open to suggestions!