9 to 5, 5 days a week, 46 weeks of the year. That’s my placement. I work 7 hours a day and get 2 days off a week – and I’ve never had so much free time. The fact is that when you’re studying, there’s rarely any clear end goal, more could always be done. This makes it easy to just keep working all the time and lose any structure to daily life.
When I started my placement, the idea of a ‘9 to 5' working day actually made me nervous. I was worried it would be too rigid, worried that each day would become repetitive and boring. But I’ve actually found that it’s made both my work life and home life happier and, although it may not be for everyone, I think others will enjoy it too.
The most refreshing thing about my new 9 to 5 life is that work really does finish at 5. I know that every day at 9 I should start thinking about work, and that every day at 5 I can stop. This means that for the hours that I am actually at work, I am focussed and ready for the day.
It also means that when 5 o’clock hits, I can give myself permission to think about other things, to relax, and to do what I want to do. I can make the most of that precious evening time, because I’m not distracted by other things. It helps knowing how much time I’ll have each evening, so that I am confident throughout the day that I will have time to do things I enjoy after work – this really helps me stay on track.
Of course the mind wanders sometimes, and that’s ok. The key thing here is that I make it normal, automatic, to focus on work for certain chunks of the day, whilst always knowing I’ll have time for myself. I love that when I get home, that’s my space. That’s not a space where I do work, the evening is not a time for work, and so I genuinely do get a chance to switch off.
There’s more to life than work – and that’s a good thing!
When work has no clear boundaries and just spills over every day of the week, it can be hard to remember that life is about more than that. It’s great that when I get home I have the rest of the day to just do whatever I feel like doing. Yes there’s the boring household chores, but I have designated time to live the life I want to.
Now of course some people don’t need scheduled time every day for their hobbies, but for me (and I’m sure others), I struggle with the guilt. I feel guilty when I sit down to read my book, feeling like I could be reading a textbook instead. Or I feel like baking is a waste of time when I could squeeze in more revision. But as more and more people are starting to realise, that way of life is not sustainable, or pleasurable.
So it is amazing to have a slot every day where I can do what I enjoy and feel no guilt because I have set aside the time for it. I appreciate that 9 to 5 may not work for every one with different commitments and different types of work – but the important thing is giving yourself permission to use certain hours of the day to do the things that you care about, that make your life worth living.
Optimise the hours you do have
If you’re anything like me, then you have probably read all this so far and thought to yourself ‘Ok, that’s great, but I would never fit all the work I have into 35 hours a week’. I was exactly the same at the start of the year. But take the leap, give it a go, because it really does work.
Because I know I only have 35 hours a week, I fit tasks to the time that I have, instead of filling all my time with the tasks. What I mean by this is that I start with a plan of what needs doing, and then I divide that into chunks that fit into 35 hours. I still allow for unpredictable delays, but generally I find that this optimises the hours I do spend working. I know I have 2 hours to finish that report, and so I work hard for 2 hours and finish it. I don’t give myself the option to spend longer, and I find that I can do a great job.
It’s about balancing what’s realistic, and what’s excessive. If one week you find you have more assignments than usual, work an extra hour a day. But then make sure on a quieter week, you take that time back. 7 hours working at your best, with a couple hours to relax and recharge, will result in much better work and happiness than pushing through an 11 hour study session.
So does this matter beyond placement?
When I return for final year, I am definitely going to try and work 35 hour weeks and take back overtime – I can be productive in the time I give myself, because I have dedicated that time to work, and have other time for ‘play’.
Studying and your career is one part of your life – It can be a very important part, but don’t let it be the only part. We all have other interests, and we all need to be kind and take care of ourselves, so just give yourself permission to do that.
Placement is a really great chance to practice this way of living, and hopefully when you go back to Uni you’ll know if this is something you should try to maintain. I know that I have never felt better about work and myself, and I will definitely be taking this skill back with me.