Since starting my business back in 2015 I’ve suffered from a lot of guilt. Guilt that I’m not doing enough. Guilt that I’m not earning enough. Guilt that I’m actually, deep down, a bit of a lazy little sod. It’s not been an entirely healthy mindset. For as long as I’ve worked full-time, my days have followed an all-too-familiar pattern.
In the morning, I’m absolutely in the zone. I feel unstoppable. I can focus and do the deep work. It’s always been the case. My brain is sharp and this is where I do by best thinking and doing. When afternoon comes, things start to go downhill. By 2pm to 3pm, my race is effectively done. I find it hard to focus. I’m tired. I’m then guilty for feeling tired. I command myself to press on. I’ll maybe take a break and attempt to go again.
This year has obviously been a bit of challenge when it comes to productivity. Working from home isn’t new to me, but, working from home with three kids that need fed and watered occasionally, absolutely was. I developed a really simple way of breaking down my day.
The morning was for high-focus work, in my case, that means writing. And afternoon was for low-focus, often repetitive work tasks, where my brain wasn’t required all that much.
That worked really well and was flexible enough to build round the kids, especially during lockdown.
What I realised though was that in all honesty, much of that afternoon work really wasn’t necessary. I’d spend around five hours writing the first draft of a customer success story in the morning and then I’d essentially dick around for the rest of the day. I’d answer emails. I’d check social media. I’d do some planning work. I was filling time and being guilty of presenteeism. When you think of it, that’s bonkers.
I have the freedom to choose my own hours. Yet, I have been effectively ‘clocking-in’. It’s all because of my old friend guilt and his sidekick shame. After all, I have been conditioned to work 9am to 5pm. Actually, as an ‘entrepreneur’, I’m meant to be hustling my sweet little arse off and bragging to anyone that will listen about yet another 80 hour working week.
A few weeks back I finally asked myself a really simple question...
“Oi, Kev, why are you doing this?”
I had a word with myself. Actually, several, most of which aren’t fit for human consumption. I then came to a blinding realisation - what if I stopped when I was tired? What if instead of ‘dicking’ around, I just finished for the day? Words like ‘skiving’ and ‘bunking’ leaped into my head. Then that word ‘lazy’ cropped up again.
But, I knew there was something there, something worth exploring. I reasoned that 9am to 2pm was what I’d been using for my ‘deep-work’ anyway. Five hours. I did a Google search and lo-and-behold, there’s a metric shit-tonne of content all about the five hour working day. There’s even a book, which of course I got. (Sorry Mrs. Anderson.) The next day, I decided to get behind the wheel of the five hour day. Not going to lie, it felt a bit weird. I was half expecting a SWAT team consisting of my wife, parents, kids and a client, to break down the door. The shame of being caught at 2.23pm committing the crime of reading a book on the sofa, all too real.
My rights are read to me and I have the indignity of being handcuffed by my mum and ushered into a van by my client, Dave. Worse still, the local TV crews have had a tip-off about the raid. There’s something of a media scrum outside. It’s live on Sky and CNN. Yes, the story has gone global and I’ve even out-trumped Trump! The local newspaper carries the headline ‘Work-shy charlatan finally caught’.
I think you get the idea.
I persisted though and thankfully those feelings have been relegated to the ‘BS’ pile. The five hour working day is working for me. The most noticeable by-product - I’m less anxious and I’m sleeping better than I have in years. I know I’m sleeping better as I’m having so many more dreams, which means I’m experiencing much more deep sleep. By finishing earlier, I think my brain has more space to switch from ‘work’ mode into ‘home’ mode. The question that you might be asking is, what is ‘work shy Kev’ doing with his new found time.
I go out for a walk from 2pm to 3pm, which means I’m back for when Jamie gets home from school at around 3.20pm. That walk is a chance to get in some exercise and fresh air. It also acts as a natural buffer between work and home modes. From there I spend my time doing various things. Some days, I go into domestic goddess mode and do a bit of tidying. Sometimes I’ll listen to music or read a book. I start preparing tea around 4.30pm, which again is different. Usually I’d start cooking later which meant we’d eat later. All the while my kids would be reminding me of their current ’starving’ status. Making tea used to be done in a hurry and was always stressful. Now, I’ve for the time and space to cook fresh meals, with fresh ingredients without any rush. Cooking has become a joyful hobby rather than an obligatory chore.
And, on the days where I have a bit more time, I’m working away on my first novel. It’s over twenty years since I first explored the idea of writing a longer piece of fiction - finally, it’s happening.
Time will tell if my five hour day is to become a permanent fixture. I’ve made a commitment to keep it going for the rest of 2020. The future will take care of itself. All I know is that my anxiety levels have come way down and my revenue has gone up. Whether it continues or not, one change will endure. I no longer feel the guilt or shame that have hung over me like a dark, lingering cloud. If that’s all this exercise does, then as far as I’m concerned, it’s been time well spent.