Five alternatives to the 9-5: setting your own schedule

4 Minute Read | Author: Ruth Callaghan

Douglas Coupland, the author and social commentator credited with coining the term Generation X, doesn’t mince words about the average working day.

“The nine to five is barbaric,” he told The Guardian recently.

“One day we will look back at nine-to-five employment in a similar way to how we see child labour in the 19th century.”

With the rise of smart phones and the ubiquity of the internet, there’s no need for an eight-hour scheduled working day, Coupland believes — and certainly no need to slog away at an office desk.

“The whole day will be interspersed with other parts of your life,” he predicts.

“Scheduling will become freeform.”

That might be fine for an internationally acclaimed author paid to travel, speak, and think. But for the rest of us, the working day can seem an intractable part of life.

So how can you shake off the shackles of the nine-to-five and set a better schedule?


  1. Be your own boss

The most obvious answer to abandoning the 9 to 5 shift is to work your own hours for your own benefit, either by running a business, being a freelancer or taking short-term contracts delivered on your terms. Millennials particularly value their freedom and studies have found the more flexible their workplace, the more likely a millennial will plan to stick out their job. But if flexibility is not on offer, two-thirds say they would be happy to start their own business instead. Whether people end up happy with the reality of finding and keeping work is another matter, however. Australian demographers McCrindle have found that people who choose to work in casual or contract roles are fairly satisfied but satisfaction plunges among those who have to piece together work by necessity.


  1. Reclaim your leisure time

In theory your day has three eight-hour blocks, one for working, one for sleeping and one for leisure – an innovation credited to Scottish mill owner Robert Owen, who in 1810 bucked the industrial revolution’s 16-hour days by giving his workers time to themselves. For many of us, the myriad out-of-hours emails, at-desk lunches, and late-night phone calls with co-workers, can eat into our “me” time. Look for ways to pull the plug on work-creep, either by switching off as soon as you get home or taking more time during the day to yourself. Even putting in a full hour at the gym at lunch can offset the extra work you’ll end up finishing on the couch that night. If there is no option but to work long hours, argue to move onto a ‘compressed’ schedule of four 10 or 11-hour days. You will probably put in the same office time but you get a full day off once a week.


  1. Glide into work

If the roads on your commute were quieter, the gym less crowded, the office less hectic and a daily sleep-in guaranteed, wouldn’t life be nicer? It could be that gliding or flexitime work hours are for you. Part of a big-picture plan to reduce congestion and demands on infrastructure, gliding work hours see people start later each day (or much earlier), even if that means working a different schedule to their colleagues. The benefits for employees are significant, from being able to drop the kids at school to catching up on exercise in daylight, while employers can set schedules so night owls and early birds work the best hours for personal productivity.


  1. Work shorter but faster

What could you achieve in just 25 minutes? According to productivity expert Francesco Cirillo, just about everything. The creator of the ‘Pomodoro Technique’, Cirillo developed the process of breaking tasks into timed 25-minute segments, during which you concentrate deeply, ignoring Facebook posts, intrusive thoughts, emails and other distractions while you work through. You can check them for five minutes when the timer goes off, or grab a coffee before plunging into the next Pomodoro. After four Pomodoros you have earned between 10 and 30 minutes’ rest – which could equate to taking a half hour off every couple of hours. Proponents of the technique swear that you will be far more productive, will begin to maximise your short-burst efficiency and will get your work done in a fraction of the time.


  1. Demonstrate with data

Like a lot of workplace practices, working set hours is a matter of habit as much as evidence. Thanks to time tracking software and better data tools, you can demonstrate your productivity more effectively – which can help win over your boss. If you can show that you get as much done in five hours as your colleagues do in eight, or that you can achieve as much from home as at your desk, that might mean more lenience in your schedule. If that doesn’t work, you can point to no less a source than the World Economic Forum, which has highlighted the correlation between shorter working hours in places like Germany (with the shortest average working hours in the world) and productivity. Germans work just 1363 hours a year, compared to Australia’s 1693 – meaning we are cracking on for about eight extra weeks while they are enjoying life. Remind your boss of Germany’s enviable productivity: this could be the secret of their success.