Life in Real-Time

by Dave Michels

There’s a popular fable about a woman that cuts the ends off the roast before putting it in the oven. It was something of a tradition that she learned from watching her mother. It turned out that mom did it because she didn’t have a big enough pan, thus an obsolete practice today. The moral of the story is the importance of revisiting traditions because assumptions change. There are lots of things we do or know that may be based on tradition or folklore.

I believe it is time to revisit the workday, specifically business hours. Collaborative technologies espouse mobility – work anywhere, from any device, from any location, so the concept of working 8a-5p (an hour for lunch) is as obsolete as the buggy whip.

Side Note 1: The concept of the 8 hour workday is also ridiculous. It disregards productivity. We keep investing in technologies to become more productive, yet are still held to this obsolete standard. Our culture tends to reward personal sacrifice instead of personal productivity – also applies to those 30 year anniversary gold watches (if you are twice as productive it should be rewarded in 15 years).
Side Note 2: A bit more tangentially, I also believe the concept of timezones are obsolete. As is the semiannual adjustment known as daylight savings time.

Normal business hours are 8-5. That doesn’t work for me, so I put in my 8 hours in with two four hour blocks – specifically 10-2 twice a day. I’ve been doing this for several years now, and it works great. I’m not suggesting it would work great for you, but I am suggesting that 8-5, for knowledge workers is a big roast in a small pan.

A split-shift is not an obvious option, and it would not be practical if I had a long commute or required a specialized setup (wet paint) or had to change into a suit or uniform – too much overhead (non productive) effort. But those things don’t really apply to me – TalkingPointz world headquarters is just above the garage.

I naturally wake around 9a. I spend an hour preparing for the day including breakfast. I get to my home office around 10a and spend the next four hours interacting and responding. I go through my email, engage on Twitter, read the news, and make my calls. Most of my business appointments (online and in-person) take place during this shift.

This first morning shift is a bit elastic. I shoot to break around 2p, but sometimes workload doesn’t permit. The remainder of the afternoon after this shift is my time to get things done. I can run errands before the rush. It’s a good time for personal appointments (dentist, haircut, etc.). I walk my dogs on less crowded trails, and sometimes even cook. Without rushing home, I have dinner with my family.

After dinner comes the kitchen clean-up ritual, and more time to not-work with my family. Eventually, I find myself back in my office for my 2nd shift which officially starts at 10p and runs to 2a. This shift tends to be more productive with longer, uninterrupted spans good for writing and reading – though it is also a good time for international calls.

My office alarm clock goes off around 2a to remind me to shut down. Otherwise I’ve been known to work way too late. This is the way alarm clocks should be used.

It’s a good system for me. I don’t like waking to alarms, I tend to be most productive at night, and I don’t like crowded stores or roads. I find it very hard to be truly productive during daytime business hours, so I believe this to be overall more productive. There’s a few downsides including limited windows to meet with east coasters. Shutting down and going to sleep can sometimes be tricky, and traveling (esp. east) can shock the system.

This schedule is possible because of great technology. It’s a bunch of things that we take for granted, like being able to share screens and collaborate effectively, and being able to perform research at home late instead of in a library. I think the split-shift makes a lot of sense. For morning people, I might suggest 6-10 twice a day.

The point is to find something that works, and not assume a long workday is the only option.