The invisible cage of the working week

I’m a shift worker. I’ve been a shift worker for over 7 years now. My shifts are either 06:00 to 14:30, 14:00 to 22:30 or 22:00 until 06:30, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. I work a pattern of 6 days on, 4 days off, doing two early shifts, two late shifts and two night shifts. As a result weekends, bank holidays etc. are effectively meaningless for me. It’s either a working day, or it’s not. This has given me a different perspective on “office hours”. Office hours of roughly 9 – 5, 5 days on, 2 days off seem incredibly restrictive to me. A real throwback to the industrial revolution.

Office Clocks Showing Different Times

I always remember the section of Tim Ferris’ 4 hour work week where he queries how it can be that the world has effectively agreed that we will convene to push paper, 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week, roughly between the hours of 9 and 5. This is clearly ridiculous. Yet few seem to query it, we’re just conditioned that’s the way things are. Ferris obviously advocates working for as long as the work requires to complete, not an arbitrary c.8 hours, which makes far more sense. While I haven’t quite acquired a job like this (my job is real-time, reacting to incidents which requires somebody to be working at all times, hence 8 hour shifts) I do love the fact that I don’t have to operate in the 9-5 weekday rat race. I don’t have to commute at the same time as everybody else which makes my commute considerably quicker. In fact judging by how long it takes when I do the occasional “day shift” – I save approx. 40 mins a day which equates to several more days of free time a year. Even in the winter I always get to enjoy at least some daylight outside of my working hours. Working 9 – 5, 5 days a week seems to me to occupy all of the best hours of the day, on just over 70% of our days. Fantastic eh?

So most of us are essentially slaves to a system. The system of 7 days in a week and shared public holidays. We seem to forget that Saturday doesn’t know it’s Saturday. That’s just an arbitrary name that we impose on every 7th day. Likewise a week is only a week because we call it that. Time has not been divided into 7 day chunks since the big bang! It’s not imperative that we all go to the supermarket on a Saturday because we’ve all agreed not to work on days that we call a Saturday. Likewise public holidays just seem annoying to me now. Essentially we’ve all tacitly agreed that we will sit in traffic and overload shopping centres, beaches, etc. on several arbitrarily decided days a year. Would it not be far better to spread out when we’re are and are not working so that we don’t create traffic bottlenecks, crammed supermarkets, gyms, restaurants, bars etc. Imagine how better traffic in general would be if we spread out commutes across the day instead of all fighting to be in work at precisely 08:59 and to get home again at 17:01. How much more satisfied would people be if they could get up at a time that suits their body clock. Early risers could head into work early if they wanted and get the job done to enjoy their afternoon. Night owls could get up at their leisure and potter about before heading into a working afternoon and evening. But no. We must be in work between 9 and 5 on the same 5 days out of each 7, and then cramming our leisure time into the left over 2 days in each 7 or the system will cave in.

It’s a stretch but imagine if a complete outsider who had never heard of our 7 day system and 9 – 5 normal working hours was asked to build a calendar system, uninfluenced, from scratch which would best suit our bodyclocks, childcare responsibilities, health requirements, rest and  recovery requirements and other lifestyle influences. I very, very severely doubt that they would come up with a system which bore any resemblance to the current system. Yet it could unleash potentially far more productivity by enabling people to work at times which enable them to be most productive.


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