2007-11-09 : What IS this magical thing that happens at 9am, anyway??


It would be fair to say that I'm not one of the world's great “early risers”. Getting out of bed is a traumatic experience that occurs daily, and I don't seem to always cope with the idea so well. Typically any problems with this manifest themselves mostly in a workplace context, however as it's a blog and therefore a place to express and explore my personal thoughts, I thought I'd y'know… do that.

My confusion I suppose is two-pronged: firstly, where this notion of 9 to 5 came from. The phrase “9 to 5” really is the cliche of typical office life. In many many cases I suppose there are environments where 9 to 5 are the hours of the day where the business happens, and therefore that's when you've got to be there. For example, a chef needs to be in the kitchen for their shift, because the shift occurs when there's people in the restaurant trying to buy food, and there clearly needs to be someone there to produce it for them. A librarian needs to be in the library so that when it opens there's someone there to loan books out and to help with whatever library stuff needs doing for the patrons (you'd think after this many years I'd be more articulate about what librarians do, eh?). Stock market traders can only trade their stocks during the hours the markets are open. Pilots have to make their planes take off at certain times in order to get people where they're going on time, as well as not fouling up all the other airplanes scheduled at that time as well (although, cynically, this always happens anyway).

As a result of this general acceptance of 9 to 5 as “the core hours”, it seems a great many businesses have geared their approach to coinciding with this framework. Generally speaking this would be complimentary businesses (e.g. stationers that supply offices need to run at the same time offices do). Schools tend to start earlier still – presumably this is partially geared at making it easier for parents to drop their children off on the way to work. The need for a school day to run to fixed hours is obvious enough – it's not economical or possible for a 1:1 teaching ratio, so it must be done in scheduled batches.

Additionally, there are other support businesses which use the timing of office hours as a basis for their core hours – coffee bars and sandwich bars do most of their trade immediately before 9 (the period when the 9 to 5ers are rushing to get to the office on time), lunch time (the mid day break), and then the post-work traffic.

As so many businesses are 9 to 5, it is therefore customary and expected that the periods between 8-9 and 5-6 become “rush hour” (a fairly stupid name given how much less rushing gets carried out at this time of day). Many people are attempting to stuff themselves into the transit networks, which results in crowding, jams, blockages, frustration, delays, and on the whole it's usually a far less pleasant experience. Speaking personally, the London Underground is quite a pleasant way to get about, except for during those “peak hour” times, where you find that you're wedged in there in conditions which would typically qualify you as a perpetrator of indecent assault.

There are certain categories of endeavour which aren't directly connected with other business time constraints – for example a dry cleaner. You drop off your clothes, agree a delivery time, and from there on it's largely immaterial how the dry cleaner operates in between. I'd also say that freelance software developers and my mate Albert the engraver fall into this category.

The beauty of being involved in this latter type of business is that it generally removes the need to participate in rush hour – at least as far as work output is concerned. Granted, there will be times when a meeting is organised which require all the participants to be in the same place at once, but outside of that the key factors are quality of output and meeting the delivery deadline.

Unsurprisingly, I’m all in favour of the latter mentality, and as such my perfect work day schedule would be:

  • 10:30 Arrive (having missed Tube crush and related holdups).
  • 10:30-1pm: answer questions, discuss with colleagues, etc.
  • 1pm-1:30: Lunch
  • 1:30-4: work on stuff
  • 4-4:15: Latte break
  • 4:15-5:30: Work on more stuff
  • 5:30-7pm: work on stuff with no interruptions from external sources (I term this the Productive part of the day
  • 7pm: go out for the evening, e.g. straight to dinner, show, movie, etc. And negate the need to get public transport home only to then have to turn around and come straight back in again.
  • 10:30-midnight: somewhere in here get Tube or bus home, again avoiding peak hour crush

I suppose the part I find hardest to get my brain around is that while this later-focussed day is frowned upon and deemed unacceptable by many, for some bizarre reason people who apply the same hour-shift but in reverse to be ok, and in fact celebrated! The number of times you hear “Bob’s been here since 8am!” being cast about as a statement of virtuous conduct… never mind the fact that Bob’s going to be leaving his desk at 4pm, and will therefore be identically unavailable for whatever it is the 10:30 person is unavailable for at the start of the day!

Society’s prejudiced in favour of the Early, that’s what it is. Daylight Saving – there’s a plan that only an early riser would have thought of.