Ever wondered what would happen if you could ditch the nine to five? Chances are your productivity would improve, says Tim Gibson – and you may well feel happier too
“When are you going to get a proper job?”
That’s a question I’m asked with alarming frequency – most recently this morning while chatting to a neighbour on my way out for a run. You see, as a university lecturer and freelance consultant, I have a huge amount of flexibility in my working life.
I often take time off during the day to sort out household tasks, get some exercise, or simply mooch about with the kids. But there’s always a trade-off: not working a routine nine to five doesn’t mean you’re not working at all. It’s just that you’re doing what you need to at other times of the day (and night).
For example, it’s currently 6.40pm, and I’ve just returned to my desk after getting the kids tucked up in bed. I’ll probably be out here ‘til late, as I enjoy the peace and quiet of night-time work. It gives me space to think, free from distractions and diversions. Somehow, to settle down for work when I know a lot of other people are clocking off helps me stay focused. It’s a good incentive to get the job done.
It’s a similar story early in the morning. My absolute favourite time to work is between 5.00am and 10.00am. I love sneaking downstairs when everyone else in the house is fast asleep, making a huge cup of tea and heading out to the office to crack on with my latest projects. There’s a rare tranquillity in the air, and I find it enhances both my productivity and creativity.
Of course, I have to be available during working hours. My clients wouldn’t put up with me not being around when they’re hard at it. But this is where my smartphone comes into its own. Provided I’m contactable via email or mobile, I can be pretty much anywhere. So if I want to head out for a walk with the dog, or grab a coffee in town, I just slip the phone in my pocket. If anything urgent comes up, I can deal with it promptly, and my clients are none the wiser.
In fact, I’ve a suspicion that I’m more efficient precisely because of the flexibility of my working patterns, and there’s plenty of evidence to support that view. By not getting sucked into office politics or unnecessary meetings, I’m able to make the best of my time.
But I won’t lie. There are distractions. Take today as a case in point. Having been out for most of the morning on my run, I was eager to crack on and meet some deadlines this afternoon. But the garage who were fixing my wife’s car rang to say it was ready earlier than expected, and by the time we’d picked my son up from school, collected the car, got two tired kids through supper, bath and bedtime, and done the bins, the day slipped away.
My way of dealing with that is to put in the hours and make up time. It’s a discipline I’ve formed over two decades of working in this way. If there’s work to be done, I’ll get on top of it, even if that means working late or missing out on some telly time in the evening. If I’ve had my fun earlier in the day, I need to be prepared to put my nose to the grindstone when everyone else is relaxing.
You either like the thought of that or you don’t. I know many people who couldn’t hack that lack of routine, who like the structure of normal working hours and know they’d be all at sea without a rigid clocking-on-and-off time. But it’s certainly the case that flexi time and home-working make sense for employers, who see an upsurge in productivity and employee satisfaction when they offer them to the workforce.
It is easy to see why. Some of my clients ask that I attend their offices from time to time, and I’m always happy to do so. But what I see is that the office environment isn’t always conducive to getting things done. There’s lots of temptation to gossip, kill time, get sucked into the tea-making cycle or generally idle time away browsing the internet. I quite often find that I don’t get much done when I’m in an office, but then come home and smash through a load of work in the solitude of my own study, when the rest of the world is sleeping.
So there are clear advantages to my lifestyle, for me as well as my clients. On balance, I’m not at all surprised to discover that flexible working leads to happier staff. I certainly feel less constrained than I would if I had to be in the same place at the same time day by day, and I think my general mood is improved as a result.
All of which goes to make an important point: sometimes, having a ‘proper’ job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Someone ought to tell my neighbour…
Tim Gibson is a communications consultant who advises Just Recruitment Group Ltd on PR and content marketing. He’s also a senior lecturer at the University of the West of England, Bristol.
© 2017 Just Recruitment Group Ltd.
Posted on Monday Oct 23