From 9 to 5 to 5 to 9

Another thing that I am practicing of late (or trying to) is a “5 to 9” routine – in place of the usual corporate “9 am to 5 pm” one. Hold on though! I do not mean 5 am to 9 pm. I mean 5 am to 9 am! 4 hours. And I am serious. Get enough done from 5 to 9 am and make the rest of the day a lark! Let me explain since an explanation is in order. We live in bewildering times. Extreme opportunities coexist with extreme limitations. I live in Noida, near New Delhi. It is one vast city. And how it bustles! There are certain times however, when the city doesn’t just bustle – it goes berserk! The 9 am to 5 pm slot falls in this period. At 9 am, everyone is rushing to work, to  office, to college, to up their shutters or to do whatever it is that urban beings do at 9 am. The city resembles a river in spate. You cannot fight the current, you can only surrender to it. Your choices get overtaken by the sheer momentum of the city. Travel to office takes an hour instead of minutes. At the office, almost everyone lands up at the same time and each person begins to unload his or her priorities onto others. Action overtakes thought. Other’s priorities overtake yours! At such times, there is no choice! You sprint through the day trying to stay abreast. That one important thing you had sworn would get done, lies untouched on your table, to be gathered up and taken home at the end of the day, like on every previous day. The next day of course, is the same! Most of what we do in the office is ‘face-time’ – interacting with bosses, teams, colleagues, customers and others. These interactions are essential. We discuss what we have already communicated through email, since no email can ever be as expressive as a human can be. We interact for reassurance. We hold meetings about overt issues whereas the covert ones are far more important and ‘human’ – the building of motives, creation of agreements, forging bonds, eradication of tensions, assertions of authority and so on. This ‘face-time’ is essential. It is also a killer of thought and planned action – one gets very little useful ‘individual work’ done from ‘9 to 5’. There is also negligible ‘alone time’ or the ‘think time’ or ‘just me or ‘my problem’ time that every executive needs. The higher up in an organization one gets, the more such time one needs. There is little opportunity for such time from 9 to 5! At 5 pm, the madness repeats. If anything, people are even more aggressive on their way home – they would kill to get home faster than you! When one finally stumbles home, one is almost ‘brain dead’. There is neither the time nor the inclination for meaningful activity. One just grabs a meal, watches TV or indulges in something equally mindless before hitting the bed, bracing oneself for another similar day ahead! That is what used to happen to me at least! My biggest problem with a “9 to 5” has been that it rarely allows one to ‘act’ – you only ‘react’ to developing situations. By definition therefore, you always remain a step behind. Freedom to choose is one prerogative of being an owner. So I tweaked just one element of this seemingly straight-jacketed routine. I altered my time slot. That did not just change my routine – it shortened even the time slot! If one gets up at 5 (OK, 5:30, 6:00, 6:30 am, whatever), the city is playing dead. There is no traffic, no noise, no TV and no disturbance – It is like being a kid all over again, like being woken up by my mother with her favourite quote, “Uth jaag musafir bhor bhayo, ab rain kahan jo sowat hai, jo jagat hai so pawat hai, jo sowat hai wo khowat hai.” (“Wake up traveler, for it is morning, and not night when you can sleep. The one who is awake at this time, gains while the one who sleeps on, loses!”) A quick shower, and you are ready for a brilliant two to three hours on the laptop, reviewing the day ahead, reviewing urgencies, thinking up delegations, whatever. Those 2 – 3 hours are worth way more of the same at any other time of day. Early mornings are great for the ‘individual’ and ‘just-me-and-my-problem’ kind of tasks. By 8 or so, you are ready to cycle or drive to the office in a leisurely manner as all the fires ahead have been “out-thought” and “out-planned” in advance! At office, you tend to observe the madness around from an elevated perch, for your fire fighting cylinders are full and ready. You can check things that threaten to engulf you. Your team is anyway surprised that you are prepared for a change. You attend to the inevitable ‘fires’, but without losing the plot.  You are now in control – and at least one step ahead, if not several. As a bonus, I miss the 9 am and 5 pm madness. The altered routine allows me to leave early whenever I want, as my work gets done earlier. Back home, I have enough energy to spend time with family and others, follow my other interests and do things like writing this blog – without always ‘scurrying’ and worrying about pending work! My days appear to be longer too. I guess riding downstream in a river is a lot easier than trying to beat an upstream current. This is a routine that I try to follow – I am not always able to do it, but who cares. A late night movie or an outing with the family or a drink too many demand a late morning the day after – to catch up with the sleep time that I so love. It does not matter. So long as I am able to beat the “rut” most of the time, I am fine. The thing is, I am not really a “morning person” at all – my mother always had a hard time waking me up. And I love my 8 hours sleep – I feel it is essential for both body and mind. I also do not believe in squeezing 25 hours in 24. Nor is it merely a military thing, though as an ex-military guy, I could be accused of trying to relive the “good old days” merely out of habit. To be fair, I do not at all find it hard to get up, after many years spent in the service. The decision however is not driven by that. I have observed myself and have discovered that mornings add to my productivity in ways that late-night-ers never have done. That said, this might not be a universal truth. For me, a “5 to 9” works in over-populated Noida. For you, it could be something else, peculiar to your circumstances. The aim is to remain in control of what one does. It is hugely efficient. It is about timing right the things that you do. One is always open to learn more and the quest is never ending. New learning will surely follow. Till then, my morning 5 to 9’s serve me quite well, thank you. P.S. I wrote this article a few years ago, on 29 June 2013, to be precise, then titled as, “From 9 to 6 to 6 to 9” for my WordPress blog ( Since then, the practicality of this routine has been reinforced through practice, as well as through the learning of others, who have been seeking their own paths through life. I recently (in Dec 2017) joined a business coaching program by Rahul Jain, a business coach and owner of Business Coaching India, that taught me a few more facets in favor of this routine. Rahul advocates starting your work day at 4 am. Apart from the benefits mentioned above, he mentions the Brahma Muhurtha (the time of Brahma, the Creator, or, literally, “The Creator’s Hour”, a period during which the mind is supposed to be at its stillest) in support of his recommendation. I am currently seeking an original resource to read about the Brahma Muhurtha, to learn more about it. In the interim however modified my routine since the last few weeks. So far, this seems to work even better. Hope to write more about it after learning some more. Sunil Prem, 15 Jan 2018 Time Management
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