Stop all the clocks?

With my teaching finished and my intercultural training not yet started, I’m taking the opportunity this month for a little break from working (for money). Actually, it’s going to extend to the whole summer: there is no work for me in July anyway, I’ll be spending August in San Francisco, and I really need to focus on the last stages of fixing my broken body. Which means no stress. Which definitely means not having to be anywhere at an appointed hour.

So I finally (finally!) realised last week that trying to keep to some kind of 9–5 routine was ridiculous and unnecessary. Especially when my mind is most awake 10pm-2am. One of the reasons I left the UK was to shift my daily schedule, become more flexible. Freelance work makes this totally possible, of course, but I didn’t find it so easy when the predominant culture around me meant everything shuts at 5pm. I like the Spanish pattern, which has a morning that lasts until 2ish then an afternoon until 9ish (though office hours are still 8–6).

Yet the pattern of British hours is so ingrained in me! Even when I really don’t have to, I work to the rhythm of 9–5. You’d think the evening hours of teaching in a language school would have been perfect, but they felt too anti-social and wrong so I didn’t go that route and I wanted to earn my money during the day. It feels like 5 or 6pm is the end of the day, not the middle of the afternoon. I feel guilty for getting up at 10am, even if I didn’t get to sleep until 3. I should move to the Norwegian island of Sommarøy, where there’s a campaign to abolish set hours. I definitely should stop living by what the clock says.

The 8-hour work day was introduced by working reforms that constrained excessive working hours for exploited factory workers. The Industrial Revolution had turned workers into machines, squeezing as much labour out of them as possible (10–16 hours per day; still happens in much of the world, I should think). Reformers campaigned for ‘8 hours labour, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest’. Then this became the pattern of our working culture, from retail to offices.

How this then translated into a fairly rigid 9–5 rhythm is less clear. Why start at 9am? Why not 7am? Why not 11am? But we have absorbed it so thoroughly, it feels like it’s the way it has always been. Though the 21st Century may well change that…

According to a BBC report based on a YouGov survey, only 6% of workers maintain the traditional 9–5, five days a week. (I doubt this figure is so low in Spain, mind you – flexible working, like job shares and part-time work, are not so common here.) Plus, organisations, business leaders and the like are realising (it took them how long?) that people work differently to machines. Particularly if you are doing something more cognitively engaging, your ability to focus waxes and wanes. It comes in shorter bursts and needs significant breaks. Though thinking about it, any activity can’t be maintained at the same intensity for any length of time. We’re just not built that way.

So, I’m making the most of my fortunate situation and exploring different ways to organise the pattern of my days. I am already feeling happier, but still cannot get out of the habit of checking the time, all the time. Maybe by September I’ll be more relaxed about it, by which time I’ll have to readjust again to a more inflexible schedule. Gah!

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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