Sorry, Dolly – 9 to 5 it ain’t now.

The lines between home hours and work hours have been blurred significantly during the pandemic with remote work.  Even when going to the office was still the norm, the 40-hour workweek has been non-existent for a couple of decades for most people here in Silicon Valley.  I usually worked an average of around 50 to 60 hours each week.  And that is considered normal. A lot of others, especially ones at start-ups, often put in more hours. 

The concept of working 9-to-5 is no longer defensible. I don’t think we’ll ever go back to a typical 9-to-5 work routine. As I had said in the previous sentence, that concept had sailed away years ago here in Silicon Valley, and more so when we started having distributed teams. I remember taking calls with my collaborators in India – a 12 ½ hour difference with my Pacific time zone at one point in my career. One of us either had to wake up really early, or the other had to stay up really late.

With the pandemic, fully remote work has accelerated the loss of a typical 9-to-5 job for many industries, especially in tech. A routine still is necessary, but the thought of having a full eight-hour stretch of time for work – that’s long gone.

Many people have mentioned that the line between work and home has blurred so that people feel like they’re working way more hours than before. There are two things I can recommend that helps overcome this feeling.

Time-Bound

The first one is to set explicit boundaries. Yes, it’s pretty obvious, but ask yourself honestly: have you taken the time to consider specific boundaries here? The first boundary is definitely time. I make it a point to clock in only 8 hours for work. But do I have a full 8-hour workday? No. I stagger it more because I deal with five different time zones. The bulk of my hours starts at 6 am Pacific. Starting this early allows me to overlap for a few hours with my European collaborators and my US colleagues in the East and Central time zones. I go on working till about 11 am. (Yes, getting ready for a 6 am start is early – but I’m used to it because I’ve made a routine out of it. My body has gotten used to the patterns.)

My second slot goes from 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm. I get to catch up with my west coast teammates. After that, I have another slot from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm, just before bed. I use this time mostly for my solo concentration and reflection work. But this time is also a way for me to sync up with a few colleagues in Perm, Russia since their day is just starting.

Create boundaries on your calendar

I explicitly schedule my availability in my calendar, which is the key to setting boundaries between home and work. By putting it on my calendar, I’ve trained my colleagues when they can reach me or collaborate with me and when they can’t.

9 to 5 movie poster © IPC Films / 20th Century Fox
9 to 5 movie poster © IPC Films / 20th Century Fox. Copyrighted content falls under the guidelines of fair use.

So what happens in between these times? Well – it’s my 8 hours of personal productive time. During these in-between moments on my calendar, I do house chores, run errands, exercise, or even catch up on some recreational reading. I’ve even taken a nap or two. 

Having these long breaks actually helps me alleviate my cognitive overload. I can do this because I no longer have a long commute. What used to take about 1-hour commute each way living here in the Bay Area is now just 10 minutes – a walk from my bedroom to my office. I’ve gained back time for myself as a result.

Space Bound

And here is the second boundary – make sure to create a dedicated space for work only. I learned this advice from various people and articles over the years. Having this dedicated space gives you the feeling of having an office routine. The space doesn’t have to be a dedicated room. It could be a corner of a room that is set up for just one thing: work. I also recommend not having distractions within easy reach, like a TV or books to read. The rule of thumb I follow is – make it “hard” for you to be distracted. Try not to make a habit of taking your laptop with you and working in various places around the house. Doing this is the first step in blurring the line between your work time and home time.

Learn from Dolly, Jane, and Lilly

The movie 9 to 5 may be dated. Still, the ending had a very interesting point to make – something prescient and very applicable to today. In the movie, the productivity of people in the office increased because the main characters created more flexibility, but within certain bounds. The same kind of thinking should be applied to the remote work vs. hybrid debate. What would make people more productive? A mandate for either remote or hybrid doesn’t necessarily make it so.

In my example, I am flexible with my hours, but I bound them by the amount of time I allocate to each part. And I constrain my environment as well. Does this mean I follow this routine every day? Well, for the most part, yes. I’d say 85 to 90% of the time, I follow this routine to the letter. But I leave some leeway for myself. There may be days when a doctor’s schedule doesn’t match mine. 

Do I really sleep eight hours a night (I only covered 16 hours of the 24-hour day here)? Well, not really. Sometimes I want to relax and watch TV. I get around 6.5 – 7 hours each night (unless insomnia strikes) for the most part. I might just lay in bed a few extra minutes before getting up.

Again, it’s all about being flexible with boundaries. 

PS I mentioned earlier in this article about taking breaks to reduce your cognitive load. Another way I reduce my cognitive load is to employ the pomodoro technique. I finally fell in love with it during the pandemic because I found a routine to make it work. I’ll blog about it sometime as a follow-up to this entry.

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