I’m Chanpory, and this is my site on how to live and work better as a designer.

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My typical work day is 9:30 to 7:30. Often, my work bleeds into my “off hours”. This isn’t helped by instant messengers, twitters, tiny laptops, and my fancy new 3G iPhone. If someone “needs” me for a random assignment in the wee hours, I’m just a few buttons away–just a tug of the electronic dog leash.

So, the next time you’re twittering away at 1am grumbling about some project you’re working on, think about the benefits of a 9 to 5 job:

  1. A life outside of work
    At 5pm, you’re free to do whatever you want–except work. That means you’ve got time to cook dinner, go to the gym, see the sun set, or go on a hot date. In other words, you get a life.

  2. Less stress
    Since work ends at a consistent time everyday, you spend fewer brain cells worrying about work when you shouldn’t be. Less worry means more happiness. I don’t need to cite the countless studies on this one.

  3. Greater efficiency
    When you bracket your work day, you force yourself to work efficiently. It’s like having a deadline everyday at 5pm. No matter how long the work day is, you’ll find ways to fill it up. Why? According to Parkinson’s law, because you can. Firmly holding yourself to an 8 hour day means you’ve got to prioritize and negotiate your tasks.

It must be possible to be an excellent and passionate designer while working only 9 to 5, right? Is anyone else doing this? Or am I chasing a unicorn?

23 Comments

  • XC

    gravatarAug 4, 2008
    7:53 am

    I just like the sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep-in part of working from home. I hate the rush of waking up to an alarm, rushing to get showered, dressed and made up (girl here, 25-40 bracket) I have hated that since kindergarten!! :P However, I believe all your points are valid and often think about getting a (GASP) job for those very same reasons. I would have so much more time after 5PM every day of the week!! and weekends!! Maybe I’ll get a night job? Truth is, I don’t want a job at all!!! They are fine for a while, then the office politics usually creeps in and it becomes a nightmare. I want to stay home, keep business flowing (and grow a self sustaining plantation!! LOL if I wasn’t so lazy.) Looking forward to seeing what others think. Have a great day!! (See? I believe if I was in an office, I wouldn’t be so chipper) :)

  • liz

    gravatarAug 4, 2008
    10:12 am

    when i had a 9 to 5, i wasnt able to work out my own deadlines, workload and financial goes, my boss did. which meant if she took the work, i had to get it done ,So it was more like a 8 – 8 job than 9 – 5. the days i did leave the office before the sun went down i was usually too worn out to see friends, and after a full day of busing my ass, and skipping lunch for a meager salary, and no overtime pay id come home, binge eat and crash to sleep. now that im freelance, i am happier, healthier. way less stressed, even without the set income.

  • Tanner Christensen

    gravatarAug 4, 2008
    10:37 am

    The hardest part of freelancing is the time commitment. Nobody is there to take care of all of your paperwork, nobody is there to find new clients while you work with current clients, etc. It’s just you, and that means work becomes your life. One main reason I stepped away from freelancing a year ago.

    Then again, a 9-5 means you work for somebody else; sometimes doing work you would rather not be doing.

  • Alexandre

    gravatarAug 4, 2008
    11:01 am

    There are separate issues, here. One is consistent vs. flexible work hours. Another is “compartmentalization.” In different parts of the world, it has been quite possible to keep separate compartments for personal and work lives. Very common in Europe and in Africa. Not so common in North America, except in some very specific workplaces. No matter what your schedule is like, the idea is that when you’re done working, you can have a life. Many people who are scheduled to work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. don’t get that luxury. They’re still thinking about work once they’re home. They hang out with workmates and talk shop. They worry about work while they sleep. Conversely, many people with flexible schedules can easily separate their work from their personal lives, even if they work long hours (say, 75 hours a week and more). Part of it is a question of attitude. Another part is simply about pressure (from peers, employers, clients…). This blogpost makes it clear that stress makes people inefficient. I sure wish more people could understand this.

  • Skoobs

    gravatarAug 4, 2008
    11:05 am

    I’ve never felt that creativity could happen in a fixed mode – though from what I understand there are a lot of writers that sit down at a fixed time everyday and work – not sure if they are working to deadlines or just working on their next novel though.

    The other option is to realize when nothing creative is working and step away and do something else. Or create a set NO WORK time. Now that I have kids I shut off my work day at 5pm and am with them until bed – but then I often go back to work after 9pm for a few hours. While not a 9-5 it does give me some time to do what I want that is not work.

    But working in this field means that you constantly see things that you wish were better or provide inspiration. Its the blessing and the curse of creativity.

  • Brett Legree

    gravatarAug 4, 2008
    11:22 am

    It doesn’t matter whether you work “9 to 5” or freelance for yourself. If you cannot put boundaries on your work schedule, you will work extra hours.

    9 to 5 is a myth for many people – especially those who want to “get ahead”.

    Like always, you have to work smarter, not harder. The thing is, though, in a 9 to 5 job, working smarter doesn’t always work – other people who don’t understand this still see you leaving work “early”, and you’re branded as lazy.

    (Excuse me for having a family.)

    As a 9 to 5’er, I am accountable not only to my clients, but to my boss too – instead of just my clients.

    So, in my opinion, if you’re a freelancer and you find yourself working too hard, just go look in the mirror.

    Sorry, you’re chasing unicorns here.

    -Brett

  • sir jorge

    gravatarAug 4, 2008
    11:26 am

    YES it is a bad thing. I am a tech worker, working nine to five and by the time i get my brain back after 5 i can barely think.

  • Chanpory Rith

    gravatarAug 4, 2008
    11:32 am

    @Alexandre

    Thanks for articulating the two issues much better than I did.

    The problem I see in design firms and technology companies relates to what you call “compartmentalization”. We can’t seem to separate work from the rest of our lives. This isn’t surprising for designers or other creative professionals. If you’re very passionate about your work, then it naturally permeates into all aspects of your life.

    The problem happens when you’re expected to work all the time or long hours to demonstrate that you’re “passionate” about your work. If you have strict compartments and don’t work long hours, then there’s an implication that you don’t care enough about the work. This can be both a self-imposed expectation and an employer-imposed expectation.

    My goal is to adopt a more balanced view of work and life. And to not feel bad if I’m not working every waking hour.

  • Chanpory Rith

    gravatarAug 4, 2008
    11:42 am

    @Brett,

    Thanks, you’ve hit the nail on the head.

    You’re totally right about being branded as “lazy” if you leave work at 5pm. That’s part of the problem. Workers are rewarded by having an “appearance” of working hard, even if they are not. So if you’ve gotten all the work done, you’re expectated to stay late to prove how dedicated you are. Even if you’re just surfing the web and reading email. Because of this expectation, the normal workday for the design jobs I’ve had have been 9:30 to 7:30 or later. The task is the find ways to reverse this expectation. And to create a system that rewards working “smarter” rather than “harder.”

  • kadavy

    gravatarAug 4, 2008
    1:41 pm

    Whoa! Having a bad day? Hang in there, man. I respectfully have to disagree with just about every word of this post.

    As far as a life outside of work – I love my work too much to really want it to be so compartmentalized. Not that I work all of the time, its just that when I work for others, there’s something I don’t like about how that work becomes “theirs” instead of “mine.” They can fire me tomorrow and desecrate my intellectual property.

    This goes hand-in-hand with the stress issue, too. When you work for yourself, you can fire the clients that cause undue stress. Sure, you may have to cut back on your living expenses, but at least you’re in control of your sanity. Also, you can determine how much life you have outside of work by taking as much, or as little, work as you want.

    I’m more efficient working on my own schedule, too. Employers don’t understand that you can be “working” while you’re taking a jog, riding your bike, or just sitting in a cafe, thinking. Real creativity is fed by time you spend away from your computer.

    And what if you aren’t feeling creative between the hours of 9 to 5? Then you’re stuck banging your head against the monitor, trying to look busy, and not getting anything done.

    Compartmentalization is an antiquated concept that resulted from limited communication technologies. It’s very possible to stay sane in our hyper-connected world, but it take discipline and lucid use of the myriad ways of communicating.

  • Kyle

    gravatarAug 4, 2008
    1:49 pm

    I think it all boils down to your own personal convictions. If you feel comfortable leaving at 5, like I do most every day, then you should. I don’t buy into the games of “getting ahead” and “climbing the corporate ladder”. At the end of the day if I can look at my work and be satisfied, then I know I’ve given it my best. Who cares what co-workers think. When the client is satisfied and gives my work praise then my boss will do the same because he knows that the client is happy, and that’s what is really important.

  • SpilltoJill

    gravatarAug 4, 2008
    3:53 pm

    I do not believe I am able to be passionate about my 9-5….I just am waiting for the time I can quit it to become a freelancer…who is passionate. I miss being passionate about my career!

  • josie

    gravatarAug 4, 2008
    7:49 pm

    My take on all of this is that you always want you can’t have. Mostly everyone with a 9-5 wishes they had the luxuries of one who works at home and vice versa. No one will ever be truly happy, in my opinion.

  • Anna

    gravatarAug 5, 2008
    6:51 am

    I’ve been a corporate designer, employed by one company or another, for over ten years now. YES it is possible to be an excellent and passionate designer and work 9-5.

    Yes a job has it’s own problems, but so does freelancing. I love having a job because I can clock off at 5pm and not even think about work until 9am the next morning. All those hours in between are mine to do my own thing, and I still get a paycheck every week whether there’s been clients or not.

    I totally agree with Kyle’s comment (a few above mine) – don’t worry about getting ahead / climbing the corporate ladder. They’re just games your employer likes to make you play so that you’re a better little money-making machine for them. I never work for free (unpaid overtime, etc) – I value my after-hours time with friends and family and for my own projects far too much.

    And yes it’s also possible to remain passionate and excellent at what you do working 9-5. Even after 10 years I still love my work (web design) and there is always something new to learn. Just don’t settle for less than you want – do your dues with the smaller companies for a few years (as we all have to do, it’s not fun but it seems to be necessary) – and then become the best damn designer you can be and name your terms.

    I also believe 9-5 can definitely work for freelancing as well – deadlines are fantastic motivators, they separate the wheat from the chaff so you end up doing only what really needs to be done. I use deadlines every single day in my job, and life in general, to help me concentrate on what is important.

    Just my two cents anyway, I hope it’s helpful :)

  • kaske

    gravatarAug 5, 2008
    12:41 pm

    There are several factors to be considered in this issue:

    1. personal affinity ( I wanna work 20 hours for you for free beacuse I love my work so much that I’m ready to bust my ass for it; or: I am a person who likes deadlines and planning my life precisely so I’ll work only 8 hours; … )

    2. job conditions ( I am working 20 hours a day but I get twice as much money; or: I am working only 4 hours a day beacuse I can! )

    3. global system ( USA: Oh yeah, I work 20 hours a day and have XXXX,XX$ salary; or: India: I work 10 hours a day and have 5XX,XX$ salary )

    How come nobody considers the importance of place we live in and the influence of the whole system on our atitudes we express here? Do you really believe that this story wouldn’t take a different path if it’s written in e.g. Albania? Are our opinions perhaps influenced by a capitalistic system approach only? If you think not, tell me about China Web Design? Do/Can they really care like us? I don’t think so.

  • Michael@ Awareness * Connection

    gravatarAug 8, 2008
    5:03 pm

    This is a great question. It is a tough one for me as someone in private practice. I’ve worked over the years to get the bulk of my clients scheduled in a block of days leaving me time to spend with may family that I know can’t end up being interrupted by someone scheduling after it looked like it would be free.

    The blogging and writing I do to support and feed my practice bleeds all over the place though. I love what I do for a living and love the writing. And one of the results of loving what I do is that work and play begin to blend together. In many areas it is downright hard to tell the difference. Am I reading this because I’m curious about the light it sheds on human relationships or because I need to know if for my craft?

    On the other hand there are days where I wish my work were more defined and contained. I think there will come a time later in life where the containment will be more important to me. For now I am enjoying riding the wave and seeing what I can accomplish and how many clients and families I can be helpful to.

  • MADPHILL

    gravatarAug 11, 2008
    12:33 pm

    It’s very possible to do this. The irony is that passion and excellence goes right to shit, because you will then be working for a corporation and creativity by committee never freakin’ works.

    I’m speaking from present experience.

    Creativity and innovation requires flexibility, and sometimes as we all know, you are just no on it. Creatives need to be able to break away and 9-5ers can’t.

    Grass is always greener I suppose, but don’t under value freedom from monotony.

  • Kalle

    gravatarAug 26, 2008
    12:37 am

    Seems to me ‘9 to 5’ is read here as a synonym for wage slavery, ie. working for someone else. But what about freelancers setting setting their own hours according to a similar scheme? Having start and finish deadlines for daily work doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.

  • Wendren

    gravatarAug 27, 2008
    9:55 am

    You make a good point and make a 9-5 actually sound like quite a good deal. However, I wish it would work for me. As a designer there is nothing I hate more than to be tied down to a set time where you must clock in and out. Perhaps there could be a balance…

    Either way I think I need to take note of point 2. It could not be more true. When I worked 9 to 5 the evenings really were mine and were not plauged with my to-do list. I am going to try and set myself a set work time from now onwards (yeh right, here I sit at almost 10pm writing this comment!).

  • Bren

    gravatarAug 30, 2008
    11:41 am

    I have to say, I like the 9-5 schedule. I can relate to you as well, it seems as even if I am out of work at 5 I either get text messages, emails, calls and being the nice person that I am you want to help those in need of your magical powers. Even if I do work 9-5 I still do work other hours outside work, but Atleast I feel as though I have a little bit more control of my life activities. I do say I am at the gym at 7pm, during and after that I am unavailable. That is the real deal.

  • Rob Keller

    gravatarSep 1, 2008
    6:19 am

    A List Apart did an article about a 4 day work week and it sounds similar. Next month when I hope to try this out to some extent because I think it could work. Not the 4 day part, but maybe 6 but with set hours… well we will see…

    http://www.alistapart.com/articles/fourdayweek

  • Naboo

    gravatarSep 2, 2008
    5:12 am

    This is all so interesting, as only yesterday I decided to break the 9 to 5.30 (good old UK!) and go it freelance after 10 years being employed.

    Reading all these posts only heighten my excitement… Yippee!

    Yippee for working when I want, be that until the wee wee hours or between 10am and 7pm.

    Yippee for stopping when I want to take the dog for a quick walk.

    Yippee for no more non-designer corporate middle managers thinking they can design.

    Wooo, get me OUTTA HERE!

  • Tim

    gravatarFeb 26, 2009
    3:07 pm

    Very interesting.

    I suggest looking at Anna’s post, it’s quite true in my opinion.

    I’m also a web designer so maybe anna’s comment are recongnisable to me. I live in the netherlands by the way.

    also don’t confuse work with art. Commercial design is not necessarily always about top notch personal creativity, profound inspiration and innovation. I know that some people really ARE top artists and strive to be the most creative. But i also know that my job and a lot of other commercial jobs, can be structured and planned.

    Also sometimes, it helps to just get started. Make sketches, talk, do SOMETHING even though you haven’t got much inspiration at some points. Indeed it’s a bit like what writers do, when they sit down each day and just try stuff out.

    And about free time: if you want more free time you simply have to work less. And probably make less money too. I’m not a freelancer, but i can’t imagine freelancers are any less busy, than designers working in companies. The job still has to get done, no matter at what time of day you do it.