It was a dark and frosty morning.
My hands were freezing, stuffed in their pockets. My shoulders hunched up around my neck.
I was walking as fast as I could, running almost.
Then came the hill. I hated that hill. It made me scared because it slowed me down.
The murderer chasing me would surely catch me.
At the foot of the hill, I would break into a full on run and just as I pushed the door open to the newsagent I would glance back to see if my pursuer had given up.
Those morning trips to the paper shop were exhilarating to say the least. After a few weeks, my fear of the early morning shadows and imaginary murderers disappeared.
The cult of time is money…
Looking back, I can see how my first job as a paperboy was more than just shoving newspapers through letterboxes.
It was an introduction to the cult of time is money.
I wasn’t paid by the minute or paid per paper delivered. I was paid if I turned up on time and if I delivered the papers by half seven.
The boss made clear he would deduct a day’s wages if I was late, even by just a few minutes.
I got the point. If I wanted the money, I had to do things by the clock. I guess you could say that’s when my obsession with time began.
I also learned to hate the broadsheets and the weekend supplements. They made my bag heavier. And heavier meant slower and harder to carry, which meant more effort to deliver them on time.
In spite of the broadsheets and the cold and the dark and the imaginary killers, I was only late once in four years. It still hurt. I hated losing that pound.
Faster and faster
With each day and every round, I’d be thinking how I could shave off ever more time to make things shorter, quicker, more efficient and reduce the risk of my being late and losing money, or worse, my round. There was no shortage of paperboys waiting in the wings to take my job if I couldn’t cross the finish line on time.
Now that I write it out like that, it freaks me out a little. How could an eleven-year-old be so fixated on time and worrying if he would have a round at the end of each week? Shouldn’t eleven-year-olds be doing stuff like hunting for pirate treasure in underground caves?
Same old, same old
As I grew up and took on different jobs, not much changed. The bosses’ attitude was almost always the same: don’t be late, do your job in as little time as you can, preferably quicker each time, and move onto the next task. If you don’t like it, leave. There are plenty of other people who will do it if you won’t.
In other words, hurry, hurry, hurry, time is short, time is money!
During the Eighties that mantra became a religion. If you disagreed, you were a heretic.
I noticed a lack of trust in employees, to varying degrees, in almost every workplace. If you weren’t in front of your desk, visibly doing stuff, you weren’t working. If the boss couldn’t see you, you weren’t working. Working from home was almost unheard of or considered skiving. Working from a cafe, non-existent. Not working at all – God forbid – meant you weren’t a productive member of society, which made me wonder: do we humans only have value if we are busy producing something?
But then something strange happened…
Twenty years or so later, when I started working for Cisco, things were remarkably different. I could pretty much work any hour of the day, as long as I got my work done. I could break that into shifts if I wanted to. Do three hours here, two there, another one there. It was up to me. I only met my boss about three times face to face. I could work from wherever I wanted. As long as I got my work done.
No one watching me.
No one checking I was at my desk.
No one counting how many hours I did.
People set me a task and trusted me to do what needed to be done.
It was poles apart from what I had been used to. Which initially I found exciting, empowering and emancipating. But I found it hard to regulate my work.
With no formal working hours to structure my day, I found the lines between work and pleasure became blurry. I had no real sense of when I had done enough. I drifted back to clock-watching. If I’d done about 8 hours, that was enough.
I work a six-hour day for Curveball, but I’m paid for 37.5 hours.
Officially, I can start by 10 and go at 4 if I want, but unofficially it’s way more flexible than that. If I need to shift things around a bit to suit what needs to be done or meet another commitment in my personal life, I can do that without having to submit an impact assessment.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing.
It took time to adjust. In the first six months:
- I felt guilty the first time I started at 10 and left at 4, and that didn’t stop until four or five months in.
- I was looking over my shoulder to see if anyone would make a comment.
- No one did.
- I don’t think they noticed I’d gone.
- I began to focus less on how many hours I’d done and what I was doing in them.
- I felt relieved I didn’t have to account for every minute spent.
- I began to imagine all the things I could do with the hours I’d regained.
- I felt happy that people were simply trusting me to do what needed to be done.
- They wanted me to go when I’ve done what needed to be done.
- And because I’m not spending eight hours chained to my desk, for the sake of racking up eight hours, I have more time and energy for family and friends.
- Things are better this way.
The most important thing I’ve learned…
Not to make time the focus of my attention.
It’s better – meaning healthier and more productive – to focus on output, but with a deadline attached.
At Curveball, we don’t spend our time making sure people are clocking in and out and noting every minute spent or making sure they’re at their desks. Because we don’t get paid for that, not to mention that approach calls into question the trust you have in your employees.
We get paid for making animated explainer videos and other types of video productions. So we plan in what needs to be done by when and by whom. Then we do it. We don’t put a stopwatch on and pressure the hell out of everyone, because that encourages corner cutting and diminishes the chances of coming up with creative solutions.
We’ve designed our working day to fit around us, not the other way round, because for us, life comes first. If we’re healthy, we’re happier. And that means we can be more creative, and do what needs to be done. We love it so much, we even made a video about it.
Even though we were the first video production company in Norwich to adopt a six-hour day, we’re not the only ones. MADE have a six-hour day, which is quite different to ours. Farnell Clarke have a six-hour day and unlimited holiday. Further afield, Radioactive PR work a four-day week (with no loss in pay).