On working 9 to 5

By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, August 27, 2014 At 1:10 PM

The other day I read this excellent article, Why the 9-to-5 Day Is So Tough on Creative Workers.  And really, it's not just about creative workers, but all "knowledge" workers -- anyone who uses their brain in their job, as opposed to their body.

Basically, the article talks about the rhythms people go through during the day, and points out that a person's regular sleep schedule is actually more important than how much they sleep.  The first few hours after a person typically wakes up are when cognition is at its worst, which is why people tend to feel like they have a hard time getting going on work in the morning.  I know a lot of writers (myself included) who say they have to "warm up" with easy tasks such as checking and responding to email first thing in the morning.  Some even allow themselves a little time on Facebook or blogs.  It sounds like this might not be as much "warming up" as just waiting for one's brain to start functioning at higher levels.

The other thing that I found very interesting is that your brain's peak time, when cognition is the best, occurs several hours before you usually go to bed.  For a lot of people, that may not be in the work day at all!  In general, during the work day people have a boost in cognition sometime around late morning, and again later in the afternoon.

The article is all about how employers can work with people's rhythms, benefiting both employer and employee, by instituting shorter workdays that fall more within people's peak cognition times.  As freelancers, though, we can easily manipulate our schedules to take advantage of the times when we are most productive.

This makes me think of how I used to function years back, when I hadn't been freelancing all that long yet.  Typically I woke up late, around mid-day, and spent the afternoon emailing clients and marketing, working on my blogs, reading other writers' blogs, and performing other networking tasks.  Then my husband came home, and we ate dinner and spent the evening together.  After he went to bed, I went back to work, this time working on client projects -- sometimes until 3 or 4am.

It was an unconventional schedule, but it was probably the most productive period of my freelancing career -- for a few reasons.  One, because of the break I took for dinner and to spend time with my husband in the evening, there was a solid differentiation between two very different aspects of freelancing: networking, marketing, and other admin tasks, as opposed to the actual business of writing.  Two, it also meant that there wasn't much of anything to distract me when I was actually writing -- no clients emailing me, no friends or family up to bother me.

In retrospect, I think the stuff this article talks about -- when cognition is at its peak -- probably also had something to do with why that unconventional daily schedule worked so well for me.  Does that mean I want to go back to it?  Unfortunately, it's not practical for me now, just as it probably isn't all that practical for a lot of writers.  However I can still try to work with my body's (and brain's) rhythms a little better, by continuing to do more admin-type tasks first thing in the morning, and only switching to actual writing once my brain has had a chance to wake up.

It's something I've taken into account when setting up the daily schedule I intend to follow now that school is back in session.  I'll blog about my new daily schedule soon.

What about you, though?  Have you found the rhythms discussed in this article to be true for you, too?

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Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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