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The 9 to 5 is Broken. Here’s a Better Way to Work


Changing or ending the 9 to 5 may sound idealistic, and even a bit crazy. After all, this is how the world works, right? We get hired, we’re expected to do a certain job, we’re grateful for the job, and so we have to obey the rules.

What if the rules aren’t serving us? What if they’re outdated, and we need to rethink the rules altogether?

The 9 to 5 dates back to the Industrial Revolution. During the Industrial Revolution, factories were open 24/7. They needed to maximize their output, so it was typical for people to work 10 to 16-hour days. This wasn’t sustainable, however, and eventually the workday was reduced to eight hours.

In the United States, the official 8-hour work day was implemented by Ford more than 100 years ago in 1914. That was a big deal.

One of my favorite findings is that Ford reduced employees’ work hours and increased their pay, and profit margins actually doubled within two years. Many other companies followed suit after this research was released.  

Ford challenged the status quo back then. We need more people to challenge the status quo today too.

With the rise of technology, we should rethink how we work altogether. What’s working in the eight-hour work day, but what’s holding us back?

We are headed toward a purpose-driven economy with freelancing and entrepreneurship on the rise. As a result, work is becoming more about making a difference and doing work that we find fulfilling.

People work differently. Creativity is more important than ever because this is what sets us apart. For us to harness our unique strengths and talents, we need the right space and freedom where doing our best work is properly encouraged.

The 9 to 5 with its traditional workspace and rules is no longer serving us. Here’s why. And, until the 9 to 5 is dead, here’s a better way to work.

The Dreadful Cubicle

Wake up, get ready, commute, arrive at work.

What awaits you? The creativity-generating cubicle with it’s three “inspiring” walls.

Why do employers think that it’s when we’re sitting in this confined space during a confined time that we should do our best work?

In many cases, sitting in this cubicle always sends big messages to our employers: We’re working hard, we’re focused, and we’re getting things done.

On the contrary, our best work is done when we are feeling inspired and curious. It’s done in areas outside of the cubicle and outside the office altogether often on our own time.

Here are how some top artists find creative inspiration. Taking walks, listening to music, watching films, and spending time in your head are all on this list.

(If you don’t consider yourself an artist, you’re completely wrong. You are.)

It’s critical that we find our inspiration. We need to have the big picture. We need to get at what’s deep within us. That’s the foundation of our work. – Tweet It!

The Office Kills Productivity.

The office is also meant to be a place where things get done with efficiency, focus and speed. But, although we may arrive at work at 9, and for those of us who are lucky, we may leave at 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m., we don’t spend that entire time working.

First, it’s not possible to be fully productive the entire day. We get tired.

(For me personally, my peak productive hours are 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. During that time, I work on a business plan, a big partnership deal or writing. I use my best hours for the most difficult work.)

Second, let’s think about all of the things that slow down productivity.

Meetings. Meetings can interrupt our focus and break up the day. Although necessary at times, meetings can be especially troubling if they’re dispersed throughout the day because we don’t ever have a chance to fully immerse ourselves in our tasks for long periods of time.

The Afternoon Slump: Isn’t it hard to leave your desk sometimes? It’s easier to sit still and do small unimportant tasks that make the day go by. Other times, chatting with a co-worker or two or three will make the time go faster.

Other Interruptions. Gchat, work IM, emails, text messages, phone calls, Facebook, Twitter, neighborly conversations, or your neighbor chatting on the phone. Enough said. If we add up all of these activities, guaranteed they take up a huge chunk of our day.  

Of course you can’t have an uninterrupted 8-hour work day. But, the current structure isn’t leading to maximum productivity or efficiency. 

How Can We Reinvent the Work Day?

Of course some structure is required. We all need to be on some schedule as a collective to make sure we’re executing. The execution is critical to put our ideas into action.

But, how can we set this boundary while encouraging more freedom in the work day? Perhaps we don’t need to work eight hours straight.

Companies have a long way to go before changing this structure. Until the 9 to 5 is really dead, here is what we can do as individuals to fight the confines of these eight hours.

Do Your Most Creative Work Wherever and Whenever You Can

When are you your most creative self? When do you access “the undercurrent, the zone? Is it in the morning, the afternoon, or the evening?

Find out when you have the most energy, and start there. Maybe it’s when you’re in the shower, when you wake up in the morning and make breakfast, when you’re on the train or when you’re driving to work.

Use this time to brainstorm. Enjoy it. Have fun with it, and write your ideas down if you can

For me, I tend to come up with my best ideas when I’m taking a walk.

I take long walks for my commute to work. During this time, I listen to audiobooks, podcasts or music. I think deeply about my business. I get on the train, and if I can, I meditate on some of my issues. I have an idea. I write it down.

I then allocate two to three hours to bring those ideas to life. The execution is critical, but it’s secondary.

Accessing your most creative place is key in not only fighting the limitations of the 9 to 5, but also in succeeding overall. This is the place where our true work lies. This is what differentiates us from our competition. 

Be Strategic in Planning Your Day

Woody Allen said, “If you work only three to five hours a day you become very productive. It’s the steadiness of it that counts. Getting to the typewriter every day is what makes productivity.”

When you’re in the office, try to keep part of your day open (i.e. at least two to three hours). If your boss or team schedules frequent meetings throughout the day, suggest scheduling meetings in chunks within three to four hours. This will give you and your team members uninterrupted focused time to get things done.

When you’r executing your work and ideas, focus on three big things you want to get done in the day. What are the top activities that will push your work forward and solve the biggest problems. Multi-tasking isn’t serving you or your team.

Get Ready for the Freelance Economy

The workforce will continue changing. Freelancing will become part of the norm. This means more freedom for us in some ways as we won’t be tied to the 9 to 5.

With that, we’ll have less structure and competition in the workforce will continue to rise. It’s critical to be strategic with your time while harnessing your creativity.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What does work for you in the 9 to 5? Or, what’s got you feeling frustrated? Share it in the comments below.

Belma McCaffrey

Author Belma McCaffrey

More posts by Belma McCaffrey

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