How’s that old Dolly Parton song go? You know the one.
Workin’ 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin’
Barely gettin’ by, it’s all takin’ and no givin’
It’s interesting (depressing?) to see how little things have changed over the years.
We’ve been working 40-hour (or more) schedules for decades. It doesn’t matter to our employers if there’s research that says we’re more effective and happier working fewer hours. Nope, you’re expected to be there and be engaged for 40 hours (at least).
No time and even less energy.
By the time you get home, you have just enough energy to binge watch something on Netflix and then curl up in bed. Gym? Yeah, right. How about chocolate instead? What if you have kids? You need time to make dinner for the family, supervise their homework, and whatever else parents need to do.
Now combine all of this with a long commute! Something has to give. I wasn’t happy with my daily schedule and I wanted to do something about it. Don’t get me wrong as I truly like my job, but the schedule was burdensome. Due to the 1-hour commute each way in addition to my 40+ hours, it didn’t leave me with a lot of free time to pursue my interests outside the cube.
What can you do about it?
Your first answer may be, “Nothing! We’re all screwed!” Surprisingly, that’s not necessarily true. There’s one significant change you can make that will have a dramatic impact on your life outside of work. It takes a candid conversation with your manager, but the payoff is worth it.
Change your schedule, change your life.
The concept is fairly simple, yet many of us write it off as impossible. If you don’t like your schedule, change it. Wow! I know, seems nuts. If you look closely, perhaps it’s not so crazy after all. The entire goal of changing your schedule is to free up some time to either pursue other interests or spend extra time with your family (maybe both!).
You’re probably thinking, “My boss won’t let me work less than 40 hours.” Perhaps you’re right, but I’m not proposing going down to part-time or anything that drastic. Your career is important to you (as is the salary) and you can’t meet your professional (or financial) goals if you’re never in the office.
What are your options?
Start Early, End Early
This is perhaps the easiest to do and it may not even need your manager’s approval. Instead of working 9-5, how about 8-4 or 7-3? This gives you added flexibility in your evenings. For those with kids, this schedule’s benefits are immediately obvious. You can pick them up from school, spend time with them on their homework, prepare meals, or spend some quality time with them having fun. Of course, you could always use it for a little me time too. There’s nothing wrong with that!
For those of us without children, this early finish-time opens a slew of possibilities. Perhaps you’ll take an evening class, improve your terrible dating life, finally go to the gym (let’s not get carried away), or just go to happy hour five times per week.
Kids or no kids, starting early and ending early is a small change you can make immediately for a huge impact on your life outside the cube.
4 x 10’s
This schedule is commonly called “four tens.” This means you work 4 days per week times ten hours per day for 40 hours total. Two characteristics of this schedule leap out immediately. First, ten-hour workdays seem extreme. Second, three-day weekends! Woo hoo!
I’m actually on this schedule now after having a discussion with my manager (it was fairly painless). In the beginning, ten hour days were brutal and I thought my revamped schedule may be a mistake. However, I grew accustomed to the longer days and learned to be more productive with my time. How so? I used to spread a project out over a course of a few days (or weeks), spending a few hours each day until it was complete. Now, I sit down at my desk and I get it done. Things that used to take 2-3 days now only take one long afternoon. I actually feel I’m more productive on this schedule than my old 9-5 schedule. Seriously! I finish things at a faster clip than ever before and I feel good about the time I spend in the office.
What about three-day weekends? Four ten schedules allow you to take Friday or Monday off. That’s an incredible benefit! It opens up all sorts of possibilities; from traveling on the weekends, to taking a weekly class, or simply finding extra family or personal time.
I don’t recommend asking for Monday off as it’s typically a busier day and your manager is more likely to say no (and possibly get turned off on the idea). Your manager may say no to any three-day weekend proposals, but there’s still an available compromise. I’m taking Wednesdays off. It splits up my week nicely, gives me room to breathe, but doesn’t make my fellow coworkers overly jealous that I’m always taking three-day weekends.
I spend my Wednesdays taking a film history class. It’s a prerequisite for a photography class that starts soon and another film production class that starts in the fall. You may do whatever you want with your day off, but I recommend getting off your sofa and being productive. Productive means different things to different folks, but the important part is pulling yourself away from the television.
Flex Time Schedule
Finally, there’s the flex time option. It’s a compromise between the various options. In fact, I’ll be moving to a flex schedule very soon. Instead of a 4-day workweek or leaving early every day, your manager allows you some degree of flexibility. What does it look like? There are lots of options and you should discuss with your manager something that works for both of you. My flex schedule will look something like this:
Mondays, Wednesdays: free in the mornings for class, work from home from 1-6pm.
Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays: work in the office from 8am-6pm.
This is (5 hours x twice per week) + (10 hours x 3 times per week) for a total of 40 hours.
This schedule, or something similar, is ideal for people with a planned activity (for me, it’s continuing education courses) or for those who need to be in the office everyday as they may miss too much by only working four days per week. This is an easier pill for some managers to swallow as no one thinks you’re taking time off every week for one long weekend party.
Your flex schedule can be anything that fits you and your employer’s needs. Try to be flexible and remember that it’s your manager doing you the favor, not the other way around.
Less than 40 Hours?
Not all of us need the money of a full-time schedule or have the responsibilities that call for our presence in the office for 40 hours. If you’re one of these people, then I say go for it! Always make sure to check the least number of hours for you to keep your benefits, such as health insurance, 401(k) contributions, and other perks your company provides. For me, working less than 40 hours isn’t an option. However, if it was possible, the minimum to keep my benefits is 30 hours. Find out your minimum first before making any major decisions. You should also keep in mind that your career advancement will grind to a halt. The employee that’s only in the office 25-30 hours per week is not the employee getting a promotion. Sounds great when you’re young and single, not so good when you’re older.
If that doesn’t scare you away, then I say go for it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you first.
How to Speak to Your Manager
I have had 4 managers in my six years at my current employer (team changes, promotion, one turnover). I was able to negotiate a reduced or flexible schedule with all of them. I think this shows a willingness on many managers’ part to do right by their employees. For my first two supervisors, I reduced my hours to 30 to allow me to take more classes. For my current manager, it was clear that I was expected to be here the full 40 hours, so I worked on a four tens and a flexible schedule she would allow.
Before speaking to your manager, I think you should be ready for the worst, but be hopeful for a compromise. Check your entitlement at the door and remember you work for them and your presence at work isn’t their blessing, but rather something you earn through hard work.
During your meeting, don’t make it all about you. “I’m going to have long weekends, have fun, expand my horizons, etc.” Instead focus on your productivity improvements, your overall job happiness, the skills you will acquire from furthering your education, and any other benefit you feel is appropriate to mention.
Most importantly, be willing to compromise. Don’t make demands. Have one goal, to have more free time outside the cube. No matter how little or how much free time you get by adjusting your schedule, it will be a lot better than what you have now. Consider yourself lucky. Prove to your manager that you’re making the most of your time and perhaps they’ll be even more flexible in the future.
A few parting words
Work-life balance isn’t something out of reach. It’s there for the taking if you’re willing to try. The easiest way is to change your schedule. Maybe you don’t get a lot of vacation days or maybe you would rather not spend your money on a vacation, yet you need time away from the office. It’s better for your mental health and definitely better for your family (if you have one).
A flexible schedule, no matter the format, is a great first step in achieving the ideal work-life balance. Don’t be afraid to ask your manager. They’ll never fire you for asking (and if they would, it’s time to look for another job anyways), so the worst that could happen is they say no. That’s a pretty small risk and one worth taking.
As I always say, you should get out more and remember that life is best lived Outside the Cube.