Jackhammers and Your Circadian Rhythm

What Happens When You Start Working Independently

Today I worked from home and it was the worst decision I made all week. That’s crazy, right? I remember the days when I would sit around with colleagues and we would salivate for this opportunity that I have right now. The ultimate freedom to get work and laundry done at the same time — maybe with the game on in the background — no commute — amazing! I even co-founded a freelance marketplace dedicated to allowing people to work remotely, so what gives with the attitude, right? Shouldn’t I be jumping for joy? But here’s the dirty little secret of freelancing and working remotely — you still have to have structure; you just get the opportunity to create it yourself, and that’s easier said than done.

The freelance economy is about to skyrocket — and with that will come millions of people who will have the opportunity to actually figure out their circadian rhythm, their optimal working style. I had operated on someone else’s timeline (9–5) for so long that I actually had never had a chance to figure out when I work best. It just never occurred to me. It has been difficult to learn on my own, but I get asked so regularly about how I have made the shift that I thought I would share a few tips. Note this is a work in progress and that I learn more every day.

1. Figure out when you work best: I am an early bird. By 9pm my brain is fried, and no good can come from the conversations or decisions I make after that point. But waking up at 5:30am or 6am, working out, and getting started? No problem. This could be, and likely is, totally different for you. I am betting if you listen to your inner pace closely, you’ll notice immediately when you are hitting your stride.

2. Figure out where you work best: I know that I need two things from an office — a quiet place where I can make calls, and somewhere with ambient noise. To such an extent that when co-working with our CTO, he complained about the multi-story crane outside our window and the accompanying construction noise. He turned to me and asked if I too was annoyed, but I had no idea what he was talking about. Strangely enough, I found it soothing to have something going on, even if it came in the form of jackhammering a sidewalk.

3. Figure out how you work best: Remember Boxer from Animal Farm and how he worked himself to death? We share some similar characteristics. I need people around me to actually make me take breaks or I will work myself into the ground. My co-workers are pretty tuned in to this, and it’s nice to have friends working nearby who will also keep me on the straight and narrow.

4. Make it actionable: This is the hardest part, but I have taken a few steps that have helped and would love to hear from others about what has worked for them. Here’s one example: I made a recent rule to not sleep with any tech in the bedroom with the exception of a small, old alarm clock (that isn’t connected to the internet), and I have started turning off my phone completely every night. This may seem drastic, but it has done wonders for me and I have slept soundly since. Here’s hoping my alarm clock never poops out!

In 1926, Henry Ford and his lovely car company popularized the 8 hour work day, geared towards optimizing for laborers. What amazes me is that, despite innovating practically everything around us, we have only just started thinking about how to re-frame the work day. The first place to start doing that, as I have found out, is in your own mind. It is not easy, but if you stick to the actionable items that support your circadian rhythm you’ll end up AOK!