When the UK government extended flexible working rights to over 20 million people in 2014, they prompted many of us to take a step back and review how we approached work.
That’s exactly what I did, and while I took it to something of an extreme – by leaving full-time employment and setting myself up as an independent worker – the new legislation has been the catalyst for many to lead a far more flexible working life.
I’ve now been working ‘flexibly’ for over two years, and it’s taught me an awful lot about myself. As a result, my productivity levels have increased significantly and – dare I say it – in-line with the quality of my work.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
It takes quite a while to become flexible
For several months after the decision to work a flexible week, I couldn’t get my mindset out of the 9-to-5; it had somehow ingrained itself within me.
If you’ve worked a regular job for a significant number of years and decide to swap traditional working hours for those of your choosing, you’ll probably find yourself in a similar situation. As humans, we become attuned to routine, and breaking out of it can be incredibly challenging – frightening, almost.
To overcome this, I had to continually remind myself that I didn’t need to start work at 9am or finish at 5:30pm; if I needed to pop out to the shops mid-morning, I could. Equally, if the gym began calling my name halfway through the afternoon, I could don my workout gear and get some serious exercise.
I also continued to focus resolutely on every productivity tip I held dear to ensure I maximised every single minute I chose to work.
After a while, I became accustomed to not being bound by time. And when it ‘clicks’, boy do you feel free!
I’m actually quite a disciplined worker
I primarily work from home, and, despite what many tell you it is the absolute best place to work but there’s no escaping the fact that it contains numerous distractions.
Thankfully, I quickly discovered that the TV, my beloved piano or magnetic garden on a sunny day were incapable of drawing me away from work projects.
Granted, this might be due to the fact I’m self-employed, and therefore any time spent sat in front of the TV is time for which I’m not getting paid, but distractions are distractions and learning that I have more willpower than I thought has been a key component of my increased productivity.
Technology has become my best friend
My office consists of my laptop, a smartphone and a tablet – that’s it. No paperwork, pens, Post-It notes or filing cabinets stacked full of documents I’ll never read.
I have no doubt that I simply couldn’t be a productive independent worker on flexible hours if it wasn’t for technology.
All of my projects and client communication can be handled via any one of the three aforementioned devices, and because everything is conveniently synchronised, I can chop and change in order to suit the environment in which I find myself.
A big part of flexible working is the ability to get stuff done in as many disparate locations as possible. For me, that might be the home office, kitchen, local coffee shop or even the MOT service centre waiting room. Without the right technology, you simply end up chained to a desk, at which you may as well be undertaking regular 9-to-5 hours.
I’m getting fitter
I noted earlier that I no longer find it difficult to squeeze in gym visits, and the ability to work my body whenever I need to means I can in turn refresh my mind.
In the past, I may have found myself at 3pm gazing helplessly at the clock on the wall, wishing time away as my productivity levels slipped. Now I can get some much-needed air into my lungs and brain and pick up where I left off when I return fully refreshed.
Since working flexible hours, both my mind and body are far fitter than they used to be.
I can get more done in a shorter amount of time
There’s something of a fallacy about work, which is that you have to undertake colossal hours every week in order to fully complete your to-do list.
Think about the number of times you’ve heard a colleague say “Oh, I was working until nine last night” (you may even be prone to saying it yourself). And while that may be true, how much work do you think was actually completed?
The longer you work, the more tired you get, and as a result, both productivity and quality decreases quickly. By working flexible hours instead I’ve been able to get stuff done when I feel most up for it and, when you’re ‘on point’, the amount of work you can complete in a day is astonishing.
For reference: I average about six hours work per day and I’ve never been so productive in my life!
Final thought: I’m happier
Work shouldn’t make you sad. It might frustrate, anger or disappoint you, but it should never make you question why you bother getting out of bed in the morning.
If your working life depresses you (as mine once did) and you work a 9-to-5, a flexible working arrangement could be the answer. It’s worked for me, and I continue to improve every day for one very good reason: I’m much, much happier.