It’s true that the earth orbits the sun in about 365 days and it takes 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4.09 seconds to turn completely on its axis - but surely, in today’s mobile, 24 hour, always on society we can find a better way to split this time up?
After spending all night watching the latest series of House of Cards, you can trade the market (3 am), order new pants online (4 am), get a coffee (5am) and receive your shopping at 6am. Why then do over 22 million people still have to sit in the inevitable 8am motorway queue - or cramped train - to get into the office for 9am
I often wonder if we will be the last generation to work like this? Working week in, week out, constantly longing for the 4 weeks holiday (which most workers have to take at the same time as everyone else in school holiday period).
There has been great deal said about this subject already. Tim Ferris’ 4 hour work week being one of the most read. But it’s not just about antiquated working hours and the predefined leisure days an individual has a professional and physiological right to either - it’s also about the complete homogenisation of our social, private and professional selves.
We are all witness to the paradigm shift surrounding our division of time. People spend 11 hours per day with electronic media. Employees, thanks to competitive presenteeism, are always on-call. People sleep less than they did two decades ago. Every waking hour now we're either working, consuming or being marketed to.
Many institutions in the world have been running 24/7 for decades yet it’s only relatively recently that that the shift has been made across to both our personal and social identities - we’re now manipulated into conforming to the uninterrupted operation of markets, personal (and business) networks and numerous other information portals.
You still wouldn’t call a landline at two in the morning, but you wouldn’t hesitate to send an email. Should etiquette dictate that you refrain from reaching out to people during their sleeping hours? The German Labour ministry, seems to think so - they stopped managers from calling or emailing staff outside of work hours, to save them undue stress by constantly being on call…
Notably the German’s are the most efficient workers in the world (working 600 hours less than the Greeks each year but outputting 70% more). But enforcing communication/work restrictions has no place in the global economy - what happens when you’re working with someone in a different time zone? Even with the inevitable scheduled emails I don’t see how this will make individuals or companies more efficient long-term? You could also argue that the growing acceptance of ‘always on’ actually allows people to work around their commitments rather than forcing a choice between them.
With our increasingly, often self-inflicted, demanding schedules it fascinates me to think where the auto generation might take us. Will the shift move away from us doing more to keep up turn fully toward the development of machines to do the work and think for us? Algos fighting algos (you can already see that in the stock and advertising markets). Robotic soldiers with advanced programming software who always make the right decision and don’t need Provigil to stay awake for a 36 hour period?
From auto social management tools to the promise of day time all the time via Russian satellites reflecting sunlight back onto earth - it will be technology that will dictate our new working schedule. Back in 1930 John Maynard Keynes speculated that by 2030 people would only need work 15 hours per week, his presumption was that technology would free us of work - how wrong he was. Faster, better quicker hasn’t cut our weeks down, we still work 40 hours and fill that time building more, eating more - tweeting more… our ever insatiable appetite to consume each other in some sort of autumnal cannibalism means we are and will continue to fall short of fulfilling our humanistic needs - unless we put the hours in.
Next section: A New Approach
A New Approach
Whatever the future, holds right now we are still struggling to find a balance - to define and protect a degree of separation between our public activity and personal/private life. An always on life is proven to lead to burnout, less productivity and it give us no time to nurture the singularity of the self.
Perhaps the prerequisite of your job is to be in an office for 8 hours every day, Personally, I’ve always been self-employed. So, like many others, when I began my career I ended up working 80 hours so I didn’t have to work 40 - a disorganised Marketing exec. always helped ensure that 9-5 office hours never applied…
With The Observer Effect things are different: - we are working with clients and on our schedule. A 6-week cycle, a defined process which means I can finally be more structured and more productive, both in work and in life.
The 7th off
For the last 6 months I have been working to my own “7th off” methodology. It goes like this: work 6 hours have an hour off, work 6 days and have the 7th off… then after 6 weeks, have a week off… after 6 cycles have a month off. And yes, in 5.5 years' time, I will take another year out and decide what I’m going to do next.
6 weeks is a great length of time to get a lot done. 6 weeks to get from concept to prototype. 6 weeks to get an MVP built and onto the store. 6 weeks from code freeze to market. In 6 years, you can start up a business, sell it...
I’ve done the math and if you work over seven years is roughly working the same as nine to five anyway.
I’m working better. Using this theory I can set real objectives, rocks I must complete. With 7th off you can break the weeks down, know exactly where you are in a 6-week cycle. It gives you focus, you know what you must deliver. You know there is an end.
Even in a 9-5 you can take and apply the same principles - take 60mins to do a task - break take 10 to look at your emails, plan the next hour - achieve and repeat. Don’t let work just expand to fill the time available. Define your goals (no matter how small), set time limits - and focus on output not effort. Complete your sprint, earn your time off and then - instead of entering into another perpetual cycle of standby and sleep mode - take it.
Working as Leisure
Just to be clear when I talk about switching off, I’m not suggesting you need to sit on a Himalayan mountain top in a downward dog position - I’m referring to time dedicated to reflection - the ability to plan and define your next challenge. When you can gain as much fulfilment from work as leisure, perhaps more, it makes a lot of sense to invest some quality time thinking about it.
So, before you find yourself squashed in another carriage at 8am Monday morning take a step back and think about what you’d like your next six weeks to look like - what will they see you achieve? After all life isn’t a marathon - it’s a series of sprints.