Image courtesy of Yuki Nakamura on Unsplash.
This week is the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC. It’s less than an hour by train from my house, and is arguably the prettiest harbinger of spring in the mid-Atlantic corridor. Saturdays and Sundays in the limited-run showing of the more than 3,000 cherry blossom trees are a chaotic influx of visitors from around the globe. Busy is a deep understatement. Crowded doesn’t begin to describe.
A fair-weather weekday, though? That provides nearly perfect viewing conditions for the gorgeous 1912 gift from Tokyo.
Alas. That would interrupt a work day. If I took the 2pm train to DC and wandered about the tidal basin for a couple of hours, the earliest I could be back home would be, say, seven p.m. assuming I stop for a bite to eat and don’t rush to ride the train home at 5pm with all of the commuters.
And yet – I’ll likely do it. I’ll feel no guilt about stepping away from my desk at 2, because it’s very likely I’ll sign back on at 7 or 7:30, and will have started my work day at 6:30 a.m. as usual anyway. I’ve been known to crank out some pretty great work at 10 p.m., or to manage some very focus-heavy work before 7 a.m. EST. I very frequently get some good writing done on Sunday morning, or a rainy Saturday afternoon.
Sometimes the 9-to-5 model of work doesn’t work.
Even before the pandemic, strict adherence to a 9-to-5 schedule was on its way out of favor. The onset of COVID-19 made it nearly obsolete not because workers were taking more time for themselves, but because working from home allowed them to take less. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been working for companies whose workforces span international time zones, sitting on multiple continents. Working a traditional office schedule just no longer seemed pertinent.
There are days when I wake up at 5 a.m. and am energized enough to get started. There are other days when I prioritize going to the gym in the morning, meaning I won’t be at my desk until 8:30 or so. I am a fairly morning-centric person and I like the time to work without disruption from team members with questions or tasks. Working a bit on the weekend allows me the same kind of freedom from slack messages and time sensitive emails. Focus is good for this writer.
I’m not here to brag about my weekend work ethic, I assure you.
I’m here to point out that if you are super-efficient at 8 p.m. after you’ve put the kids to bed and are beginning to settle your mind into tasks you can handle, then by all means work at 8 p.m. But if you choose to do that, don’t feel tethered to your desk from 9 a.m. the whole way through, because that is where burnout happens. Burnout doesn’t come from logging time on a Saturday or before the rooster crows. It happens from feeling the need to be present at your desk even at your lowest capacity. If there are times of day that you are not productive, it’s likely those are the times you should go for a walk, make a grocery run, meditate, read a chapter from that book on your nightstand. You get what I’m saying.
Shed the idea that opening your laptop at 10 p.m. is a sign of overwork. If you provide room for “me time” when it is best for you, then you can also provide “work time” when you are at your peak.
I get it, sometimes you simply must be present for the typical work day to answer emails, attend meetings, and all of those necessary elements of our jobs. But there are other times when you can totally work “outside the box,” and not only should you, but you should also then take advantage of offsetting your time.
Take some time to smell the roses.
Or the cherry blossoms.