The thought of clocking in and out of the workplace can make us feel like robots. When we clock in at 9 a.m. and clock out at 5 p.m. (or 6 p.m. or even 8 p.m.), it feels like we have lost the passion that fuels us.
As an adult, how do you know that you have worked hard enough? With the eight-hour work shift, typical indicators include getting tenure, a promotion, a raise or you’ve become physically exhausted with all the fieldwork, meetings, paperwork, emails, etc.
The eight-hour work shift is a standard that was set when manufacturing and industrial work were the main livelihoods for the majority of the public. But the world has changed. People can do work that has no physical output or assembly line. We live in the 21st century, where information has become the paramount product and the asset for many professions. Yet we bind ourselves within the same, antiquated eight-hour standard to drive our productivity and evaluate our performance.
And that’s just unfair.
Industrial Age jobs were physically demanding. The Adamson Act was passed in response to factory workers’ need to safeguard their health and rights. For manufacturing jobs, the output and the over-extension of oneself are easy to observe and measure within the eight-hour shift.
But with knowledge jobs, which are increasing both in number and complexity, performance indicators and signs of overextending oneself are less obvious. Many knowledge workers are unsure whether they are over or underworked, especially if the standards they impose on themselves exist within a strict eight-hour work period.
Sometimes, we also feel bad if we are unproductive within the work schedule that has been set for us. It becomes a failure in discipline and willpower if we cannot focus and work, work, work within the eight hours. For jobs that require a massive amount of creativity, curiosity and flexibility, the eight-hour work shift is irrelevant and, at times, constraining.
I won't attempt to claim that we should abolish the eight-hour work shift. Some professionals rely on structure and schedule to accomplish gargantuan tasks and meet deadlines that they would be ill equipped to handle in solitude. You can still be productive within a nine-to-five job. Some people prefer the sense of control it affords.
What's important is to know that you have the option to get out of it if you feel that it mutes your creativity. Doing so becomes a question of whether you can drive your own productivity or not. Do you make time to think? Do you allow your curiosity to run wild? Do you reflect on what truly powers your creativity? How can you establish discipline in your creative work?
Yes, some jobs will totally collapse in the absence eight-hour work shift, but some thrive. All we need to do is take a look at entrepreneurs who regulate their own time to meet the productivity, creativity and efficiency requirements of running a business on a tight budget. Structure and discipline should still find their way into the work attitudes of people who rely on thinking to perform well in their jobs.
So how do we find what works for us?
As knowledge workers, we need to spend time thinking and feeding our curiosity through activities like reading. As Warren Buffett’s business partner, Charlie Munger, said in an interview with CNBC, "In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn't read all the time — none, zero." Munger has also been known to have said this about his partner, “I would say half of all the time [Buffett] spends is sitting on his ass and reading. He has a lot of time to think.”
Reading books is something we often place on the back burner and constantly promise to get to after the day; a.k.a. the eight hours (or more) that we have to fill at the office.
Knowledge does not stop.
By focusing on putting in the hours at work, rather than putting in the quality of work, we run the risk of working our mental engine on the same, overused and gunky mental oil. When we stop learning, we cut ourselves off a major fuel source that could power our career for years to come, and not to mention our personal lives.
At first, moving away from the eight-hour work shift may feel like we are working less, but after awhile you will realize that it makes perfect sense. We must keep on building our knowledge, curiosity and creativity.
Chiara writes about business, finance, social enterprising, health and medicine, and the unique placement of women across these areas. She is also a co-creator at FictionFolk, which designs events that aim to peddle the literature culture.