Tuesday, March 8, 2011


I was thinking today about the structure of the average workday, and the structure of our days in general, and I thought I'd like to do a little "ask the audience".

See, I enjoy a more loosely-structured workday, without strict hours of attendance and with the ability to get my work done in a way that makes sense for me (and the company, of course).  I realize that I have the luxury of a very relaxed work environment, trust me I do.  Having worked in places with strict rules about start times and end times and break times and clocking in and clocking out and arguing about overtime pay...well, you know I'm serious when I say I know how lucky I am.  I find myself thinking this every day.

But I know what it's like on the other side, and I think more workplaces should allow their employees the freedom to get their jobs done, provided it doesn't affect the business.  Obviously, many businesses have specific hours of operation.  And some types of work require knowing that people will be there at specific times (mostly service-oriented positions I think, but I'm sure there are others). But if an employee's job doesn't require specific hours, why set them? We have a general "be here roughly when everyone else is here" policy, because it's good for morale, more work gets done when you can talk to your teammates, etc. but even with our customer support team (who has dedicated hours to man the front lines), there is some flexibility with start and end times, as well as with how you manage your time during the day.

Personally, I've found that I work much better when I am in the workplace for roughly 8 hours, taking little breaks throughout the day, than when I'm in the workplace for roughly 9 hours, taking an hour for lunch (and those often-ignored but totally legally required 20 minute breaks).  If I'm deep into a project, I don't like to interrupt my workflow with a one-hour break (unless it's a special occasion and I'm making lunch plans with a friend or something).  I prefer to work on a task until I find my brain wandering (usually around 2 hours) and then take a 10 minute break to grab a snack, catch up on personal email, read the latest TechCrunch gossip, etc.  I'll usually take 15-20 min somewhere in the middle of the day to eat lunch at my desk while reading blogs...but this means I am also checking work email and handling any issues that come up.  And I generally check up on work stuff from home at some point later that night, and in the morning before I go into work, just in case there's a fire to be put out.

Allowing my brain to switch from work to non-work throughout the day keeps me more alert and more focused on the work I have to do. And psychologically, I think it makes me a better worker because I feel like I'm in charge of my day.  It's oppressive to feel like someone is counting your minutes (or worse, like you have to count your minutes in order to get paid), monitoring your restroom breaks, keeping tabs on your location every second you're not at your desk.  If someone puts the onus on you, you're more likely to respect it - it's like that whole thing about not giving teenagers so many rules that all they can think of is rebellion, right?

My whole semi-structured day seems funny to me, though, because in my personal life, I'm much more productive when I'm on a schedule - "tonight I will do laundry and Saturday at 4pm I will go return those jeans" and such.  Maybe it's because my personal life consists of more small, schedule-able tasks, whereas my work life consists mostly of larger, more long-term projects (with short-term action items, but still).  Different activities call for different types of time-management, I suppose.

So...how do YOU structure your work day?  (or if you're not working, how do you structure your days in general?) Do you enjoy a longer lunch break? Lots of little breaks?  Do you even get a break at all?  I want to know!


  1. Nailed it. Also, a couple things you might like that seem relevant:

    1. My favorite resource on "flow" (besides what the 37signals team talks about on their blog and in their book Rework): http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow.html

    2. On who decides what you do with your time: you or someone else: http://www.paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html

  2. I've totally read that piece about the maker's schedule; one of the
    members of our office managers meetup group sent it around a few weeks

    I'll have to check out that one about flow - and stuff from 37signals,
    now that I know about them.

    Thanks for the reading tips! :)

  3. Well, I love your ideas and aspire to that method of working. Currently, 7:45 a.m. start, 10:00 recess break, 11:45 lunch break, 2:45 end of school. In my next job, as a writer, I plan to have a much more flexible schedule and including late morning walks. :-)

  4. Ah, that does sound nice! At least as a veteran teacher, you pretty
    much have control of your classroom time, right?

  5. I've been thinking about this a lot too, since I started working from home. I tend to start slow in the mornings, so it's really easy for me to putter and dawdle until 11 or 12, which is fine, except then I don't stop work until 7 or 8, and that's if I don't take any breaks. I usually need a half hour to prep and eat lunch, and an hour to prep and eat dinner. So then I don't stop work until anywhere between 8:30 and 10 p.m. Or like today. I am only just finishing work and it is 11 p.m. Balls. That's not cool at all. I like being in control of my schedule, but I need to learn how to start my day earlier so I can end it earlier.

  6. Since I'm working from home, I tend to get started around noon, though sometimes as "early" as 10am. How many hours I work is totally dictated by how much work I have to do. Sometimes, if it's just a few things to write for the company, I'll be done by 2pm. If I have orders to fill for my shop or I'm designing new stuff, it could be as late as 2am. Lately, I've been working long hours since I've insanely decided to start a second ArtFire shop in addition to the other 2 jobs, so I've been making sample products, taking photos, designing logos, etc. I had just finished transitioning from Etsy to ArtFire, and that took a lot of time as well.

    Basically, I agree with what you say about being given the time necessary to do the tasks. The freedom of working from home is you get exactly that - you decide how much of the task you want to or can get done per day. The drawback to that is I never feel completely "off" work. (Recently I've been transitioning to working in a completely different room than the living room to sort of treat that as an "office", but it doesn't work because the comfiest places to sit are the living room. Heh.)

  7. Ah yes, I know the feeling. When I was working from home (erm, ok, I was
    unemployed), it was hard for me to get my day started before 10, and that
    was *with* Will getting up and leaving the house before 9am. I am very good
    at going back to sleep!

    I found it helped me to build some sort of semi-negotiable *thing* into my
    routine (I call this Structured/Flexible Scheduling). For me, it was 10am
    Curves. I had a regular workout buddy (a fellow 20-something unemployee),
    and we unofficially met every day at 10. I felt badly if I bailed on her,
    so that at least got me up and moving. And I knew I would take a break from
    whatever I was doing (usually) to watch Ellen at 4.

    I know you have a nice morning routine with yoga and such - do you give
    yourself an "end time" or do you allow yourself to putter until whenever?
    Maybe it would help to give yourself a Structured/Flexible Schedule (should
    I trademark this term? perhaps?) where you allow for a certain amount of
    puttering in the morning, but you know that by X time it's time to hunker
    down. It always helped me to coordinate my daily time management with
    specific events: meeting someone at the gym to start my day, listening to a
    radio program as a reward for spending a few hours looking for jobs, etc.
    Maybe set a timer (I've heard of people doing this, setting internet/email
    timers to block them from using it at a certain time) so you're reminded of
    when to start, and give yourself a little reward. Positive reinforcement an
    all that. :) Start the workday part of your day with a muffin and a cup of
    coffee, or a little treat or something...so you know that every day at 10am
    (or whenever) you'll get your little treat and start your day. I know I
    look forward to my cup of yogurt every morning at the office, fo sho.

    Anyway, my 2 cents. Take 'em or leave 'em (for what they arreeeee, who they
    were meant to beeeeeee)

  8. I'm so excited for you and your shops - and attention everyone, there will
    be a giveaway soon! :) It seems like a lot of work, running your own
    business (especially when you make the product you sell), but you're
    awesome, so I believe in you.

    Good idea, separating your work space from your relaxing space. It's tough
    when you're not in a Martha Stewart type house, with craft rooms and office
    rooms and such, but you do the best you can with what you have, right? I
    spent a lot of time on the couch when I was unemployed/freelancing. But I
    don't even have a desk at home...suppose I could have sat at the dining room
    table, but as you mentioned, the couch is so much comfier!

  9. 10 a.m.: Show up to work, make tea, start up computer.
    10 - 10:30 a.m.: browse Gilt for clothes. Decide not to buy anything.
    10:30 a.m. - 10:45 a.m.: Check work email for any urgent stuff. Talk about/fix urgent stuff
    10:45 a.m. - noon: GChat about weekend plans and what I'm going to eat for lunch
    Noon - 1:30: Eat lunch, gchat about how good lunch was.
    1:30 - 3:00: Do some work
    3:00-4:00: Break time/read celebrity gossip
    4:00-5:00: Do more work while eating a snack.
    5:00-5:20: gChat about how good snack was and about how I'm going to leave soon.

  10. Well, being a teacher like Amy, my days are planned to the minute. (Even my restroom breaks!) My day starts at 8 and ends at 4:30. During the summers, my day starts around 10ish. I like having a strict schedule for a part of the year and an extremely flexible schedule for the rest. I can appreciate both without getting sick of them. (Although, who really likes getting up early during those winter months?)

  11. I certainly do not like getting up early during those winter months...or
    during any months, really. :)

  12. One thing I have found about my work flow is that I often really get hooked into a writing project at about 3pm. At that point I *can* work for 3-5 hours without really noticing the time. But that puts me at work until maybe 8pm, and there are various problems with that.

    Still working on this...

  13. I was just thinking about you today! I am proofreading/editing content for
    our blog/website/help center, and some of the stuff I was reading today was
    pretty technical (erm, for me, anyway). Anyway, technical writing, blah
    blah, thought of you. :) I can see the "various problems" with starting
    3-5 hours of writing at 3pm...I'm not quite sure how to solve that dilemma.
    Get into a groove earlier in the day? Impossible to control. Stop working at
    6? Not always practical if you're in the middle of something. Erm...work
    faster? ;)

  14. The problem is that I DON'T have a nice little morning routine. I wake up and I have no idea what to do with myself, so I goof off for hours. I haven't exercised in WEEKS. I need to get a good routine going, and your suggestions are really helpful. Also, I'm still getting over the flu, which I caught the first week I started working from home again, so that is part of the problem. When I'm healthy enough to start exercising again, that will help me with my routine. I hope. It will. Self-Control! Must develop it.

  15. Well, dude! Once you're recovered from illness (which, in my opinion, is a
    perfectly acceptable reason to take a few weeks off from whatever you're
    doing), start up a routine! Take the dogs for a walk at a certain time each
    day. Set the coffee timer to brew your pot at a certain time. Catch a
    morning show on the tv or radio. Doo it! I found that the only way to stay
    sane when I was home alone all day was to have some sort of routine, and to
    break my day up with check-point type things. Hey! It's 2pm! Time to go to
    the grocery store! (unless I was buried in something, in which case I'd
    postpone - hence the Flexible/Structured situation)

  16. I was wondering when someone would ask ;)

    Takin' Care of Business!
    See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKs6y9_d2ps

  17. Ahahahaha! "Can't forget my briefcase." "What do you have in there?" "Crackers." Brilliant.

  18. Yes, yes, and again, YES! I really do thrive with a good routine.

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  20. Until yesterday my day consisted of wake up at 9 with Boy's alarm, fret, worry, and drink a pot of coffee until noon, when Boy calls on his lunch break, babble at him for an hour, fret, worry, and read the interwebs until about 5, then get up and leave for a rehearsal or other theatrey thing, or just wait for Boy to get home so I can fret and worry at him some more. But now I have a visa and a work number so my day will consist of wake up at 9 with boy's alarm, apply for jobs and drink a pot of coffee until noon....

  21. Haha, at least you have a schedule, eh? I'm so happy you got your visa and
    can devote fretting time to job hunting (and occasionally relaxing, I

  22. I generally prefer to work like you with lots of micro-breaks to snack, stretch and check my personal email. Some days though if I have to run errands during work hours, I like to work for 4 hours straight, take a 4 hour lunch break, then finish my work day at night. Or if I'm traveling a lot, I like to take two lunch breaks- one after my long commute and one half way through my workday.