Setting your own working hours sounds as though it would be the dream, but it is actually not as fantastic as it may seem. In fact, being able to work flexible hours may bring out some of the worst of human behavior and be a whole lot less productive (and enjoyable!) than you may hope. So why is that?
It has been proven time and time and again that too much choice makes us unhappy. The paradox of choice is the concept that we are happy with a limited choice, but the more choice we have, the more stress and pressure it puts on us and the unhappier we become. Being able to choose when to work, from all of the hours in the day, is not a freeing feeling, it is likely to just cause added stress.
As humans, it is natural for us to be biased towards the current moment – as much as we think about our past regrets and future anxieties. That’s why we try to do everything right now and end up working late, rather than being able to balance our work and life healthily. When we work in a rigid 9-5 setting, we know when we are going to finish for the day and can plan accordingly. If you are in a position where you set your own hours, you can set up deadlines yourself (for example, make your childcare end strictly at a specific time, so you absolutely have to have finished work by then) to make sure you complete your work and make the hours you do have productive.
The Planning Fallacy
We like to be optimistic when it comes to guessing how much time a project is going to take, and therefore, often end up running far over the projected timeframe. Not only do things tend to take longer than expected but we are also easily distracted which adds to this. So how can you work around this? Set yourself some contingency time. Not just for each project, but once a week a block of unscheduled time which you can use to finish off all the work you didn’t get completed before you enjoy a work-free weekend!
Almost everything we do in life is influenced by the people around us and social queues. That is why, when we see emails coming in at all hours of the day and night, we too feel as though we should be working to fill all allotted time. If other people are working, shouldn’t you be too? To combat this, you need to set clear boundaries on communication at times when you have decided not to be working. Of course, the joy of flexible hours is that you can work when suits you best, and perhaps that is of an evening; however you have to accept that other people are going to email at different times of the day. Queue up your emails to go out at a time during which your clients work and set yourself set times to read emails and communications.
If you are not in a job where you have a work schedule, you need to set up some guidelines to help you make the most of your flexible working hours. Keep your work-life balance healthy and make flexible working work for you.