“What a way to make a livin’…”
A few months ago, I changed up the days that I worked in order to try and achieve a better work-life balance. Instead of the traditional Monday to Friday, I dropped the Monday in favour of working on a Saturday. So still five days a week, but different days.
I wasn’t going to bother blogging about it (honestly because I didn’t think anyone would care, haha!), but I told Lee Sharma (@startuplee) about it and he found it really interesting. I’ve also chatted to couple of other people about it as well (including someone just the other day). This got me thinking that it might be worth writing about after all, as there’s some pretty unexpected pros and cons with the whole thing.
The habits we all fall into…
I’ve discovered a weird sort of irony in that a fair few freelancers I know went into freelancing so that they could have more freedom and flexibility in their working hours… and yet they’ve gravitated towards continuing to work the traditional Monday-to-Friday 9am-to-5pm routine you get in the employment world.
And I’d done exactly the same thing.
Even though I had the option to work whenever I wanted, it still felt like a weird alien shift in mentality to work evenings and/or weekends instead of weekdays. I guess that’s how much it’s become engrained as the ‘norm’ in our society (non-office work notwithstanding). Heck, I even remember reading a blog post by Dom Hodgson (@TheHodge) – which I can’t find now sadly – where he talked about his freelancing style and that he often worked an 8pm to 4am shift, and I thought to myself how utterly weird that sounded. But hey, if that worked for him, it worked for him – we certainly shouldn’t knock it.
Reasons for the shift
I don’t really want to bore you with the reasons why I swapped the Monday for the Saturday, but I guess it’s important for context and to fully understand my personal situation at the time that I made the decision.
Long story short…
My wife and I had a second child recently. With Em on maternity leave, she was struggling to look after both boys single-handedly (especially as our oldest is still a preschooler). On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, our oldest is either with my parents or at nursery, and on Fridays and Saturdays Em’s mum is able to help out. I was off on Saturdays and Sundays, but this meant one day of the week that was always tricky: Mondays. On Mondays she’d have both boys with neither me nor her mum helping out. Neither my parents nor nursery were able to accommodate our oldest on Mondays, either. We were at a stalemate.
The lightbulb went off when I realised I could work Saturdays in place of Mondays – that way she’d always have a helping hand on days where she had both boys. It felt weird suggesting it, but we didn’t even have to think about it for long or sleep on it: we made the decision almost immediately, and I put it into place the following week. A massive help in the decision was the fact that Welsh ICE (my coworking space) had just started to be open all day on Saturdays, when previously it’d only been open for half-days on Saturdays, which had previously made coming in less effective.
Almost straight away, I noticed the pros and the cons…
Everywhere is quiet on Mondays – I hate going places when it’s busy, especially with the kids in tow. But that’s the problem when you’re primarily working Monday to Friday: you have your Saturdays and Sundays to catch up on shopping, to go out on day trips, etc. – and that’s when it’s busy. By treating my Monday as a ‘Fake Sunday’ (as I like to call it), we can go wherever we want and it’ll be quiet: pubs/restaurants for lunch are quiet; Cardiff city centre is dead (except for commuters); most day-out places for the kids are a lot less busy… It’s lush.
Head-down Saturdays, free of distraction – By working on Saturdays, I’m finding that I can get my head down more. Most (if not all) clients have clocked off for the working week, which means no new emails popping into my inbox. If I’ve had a busy week with meetings, playing catch-up, etc. then Saturdays are great at cracking on with some productive work with fewer distractions.
Tuesdays are more stressful – Conversely to the last pro point above, while Saturdays are pretty chilled and productive, Tuesdays can be pretty intense. I’ve never suffered from “Sunday night dreads” as a freelancer (I suffered plenty while I was employed though!), and while I still don’t, I find Tuesday mornings pretty tough-going. Why? Because my clients have gotten a day’s headstart on me. If they’ve emailed me on the Monday then I’ll most likely attack that email when I’m back at my desk on the Tuesday. This means there’s usually lots of email to catch up on – much more than I’d get on a weekend. It can be pretty overwhelming at times, especially if I’m unable to get an early start on the Tue (e.g. if I’m helping get the kids ready for the day and can’t get to my office until after 9am or 10am)…
Saturdays can be boring and lonely – If I do go to ICE on the Saturday, I’m usually one of the only people there. This can be great, as it means few distractions talking to people, however… the whole thing I like about coworking spaces is the social element. Working for eight hours solid with very few people to talk to can actually have the opposite effect on productivity at times – and that can generate the temptation to procrastinate. It doesn’t help that ICE’s on-site café isn’t open on a Saturday, so there isn’t really anywhere to ‘escape’ to, unless I walk around the business park or hop in the car to drive somewhere.
Before you decide to do this yourself…
Thinking of doing something similar? Here’s a few important things to think about…
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly: will your clients be ok with it? In my case I was very fortunate that none of my clients had a problem with it or voiced concern when I gave each of them a heads-up via email that I was considering making the change. Telling them the reason why (having a better work-life balance around family) probably helped though, especially given that some of them have kids themselves. I told them that I’d be available all day on Saturdays (essentially an extra day each week), and even though I’d be less readily available on Mondays, I’d still be available via mobile and occasionally checking emails should any issues or emergencies arise.
As a reminder to them, I set an Out of Office message on my work emails every Saturday afternoon until Tuesday morning. So if one of my clients forgets and emails me on a Monday, they’re reminded that I may not respond until at least the Tuesday. I’ve set up a weekly reminder on my phone to remind me to action the OoO every Saturday afternoon before I finish for the day. Nice n’ simple.
It’s also important to think: will this affect other aspects of my life? What if someone I know is visiting Cardiff but they’re only around on the Saturday? Or what if people wanna go out on Friday night? …Or what about bank holiday Mondays (vs. normal Mondays)? Obviously take all this stuff into account – Tue to Sat may not necessarily work for you, but you might configure your working hours into something that really works for you, your friends, your family and everyone/anyone else who matters.
I suppose simply trying it out is the best thing to do. Try it for a few weeks first of all. If it works then great; if it doesn’t then simply revert. Nothing’s set in stone, and I doubt your clients are going to feel messed around if you decide to go back to the way things were previously if it doesn’t work out.
So… Have you given an ‘alternative 9-to-5’ a go? How have you found it? Have you seen different pros and cons to the ones I’ve listed? Did you stick it out, or go back to Mon to Fri? Drop a comment with more info below.