I work in weird ways. I have weird working habits and always have. The other day someone made the comment that I seem to always be working on something which, even though I tend to always be focusing on accomplishing some task or idea, was unexpected. This surprised me because I don’t work unnecessarily long hours or anything like that, but when they explained why they thought this it became more clear. How I work has long been a bit unconventional. I don’t work 24/7 like some people or even a normal 9-5, I don’t work a normal work-week although I rarely work on weekends, and sometimes what I do can vary tremendously from day to day.
A while back I took a look at how I was spending my time. I was waking up in the morning and getting right to work, working through 5pm-ish, and calling it a day. In other words, I worked normal hours. And since I work from home, I had heard this was a good way to keep yourself accountable. However, it wasn’t working for me. I was starting in the morning, which as a definite non-morning person meant that I was wasting time in front of a computer screen while I begrudgingly woke up. I got next to nothing done because I didn’t feel up to speed until noon when it was time to heat up something for lunch. In addition to that, knowing that I would be doing work until 5 meant that I would spend time procrastinating knowing that I still had time to do it in a little while.
So what changed and how has that affected my work day?
For starters, I make sure I get enough sleep so that I don’t feel like I have to spend all morning waking up. I start my day slowly – by reading a few magazine articles, a chapter of a book, or something pleasant while having coffee and eating breakfast. This makes me feel like I didn’t rush into working even if I only spend 10 or 15 minutes on these things.
Next, and this is the big one, I don’t have set hours for myself.
Not having set hours might seem like I would do work all the time, but really it’s the opposite. Saying that I can relax after I get everything done means that if everything I need to do is done by noon, I have the rest of the day to do whatever I want. It means that rather than feeling like I need to fill up those hours between 8 and 5, my focus is instead on doing my work and putting my energy into that rather than watching the clock.
I’m sure you’re reading this and thinking something along the lines of “but if I did that, I would feel guilty about not using that time to get ahead or do more work!” Yes, I’ve heard that before too. Realistically, I would too but rarely do I find myself with days where I finish obscenely early. Sometimes I’ll finish around 2pm, decide that I can knock out a few errands that I wasn’t sure when I would get around to, and come home in time for dinner. It’s not about having a ton more free time, but rather how I look at the way I approach my work day.
On average, I probably work 8-5 more days than not even though I don’t set those hours for myself. By the time I get all of my work done, it’s truly not that much different than before. But starting off slowly and allowing myself to focus on the work rather than the time spent working has made all the difference in the way I feel about the work I do – not to mention I feel like I’m doing better work because of it!
Now I know that not everyone has the freedom to just leave work whenever they’ve accomplished all that they need to, but work isn’t the only place we can apply this thinking. Think of the tasks that you just dread doing, and then think of how you can approach them in a way that might make it easier on you. It might not even drastically affect the outcome, but if it means you feel better about it then your efforts are not wasted.