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I have been working from home a lot in the past few years. First, I worked from home a few days per week because my commute was too long. With a journey of 1.5 to 2 hours each way, I would sometimes spend up to 4 hours of my day travelling just to get to and from work. More recently, I went completely freelance. I’ve done that before, and one of the big differences between then and now is that I’m trying to keep to normal working hours.
Working hours in research
The first time I went freelance was soon after my PhD, and I had no concept of what normal working hours were supposed to be. I was working around the requirements of the experiments I was doing in the lab, and those didn’t care about weekends.
Near the end of my PhD I was doing a series of experiments that ran over 6 days. The most efficient way to do them was to start on Sunday afternoon. If I had to start on a Monday, it would run over into the Saturday after that. At least one of the experiment days during the week took up about 12 hours. I also used a microscope that was always booked during the day, so I would come at weird hours just to use the equipment.
There was also a culture of needing work very long hours. In many (North American) research groups, a regular working week is considered to be about 50-60 hours, and more than that is cause for praise and reward, not concern. A 40-hour week is pretty much slacking off.
Finding my schedule
Immediately after my PhD, I worked in an office for 6 months. For this short period I had a normal work schedule, roughly 9 to 5, and at the same time as my coworkers. As soon as that was over, though, I reverted to my bad habits of working whenever. I often wouldn’t even start until later in the day, and I’m fairly sure this is one of the reasons why things didn’t go so well during my first time freelancing.
Since then, I’ve worked in regular jobs for several years. There was a clear start and end to the day. One job had flexible work hours. That meant that you could chose your start time to be somewhere between 7 and 10, and once you chose you were still expected to be there at that time every day. At my most recent job, on days where I worked from home, I would stick to a 9 to 5 schedule, so that colleagues could contact me when they were working.
Fulltime freelance again
This month, I’m focusing on setting up a new thing (more on that soon) and pitching some more freelance work. Occasionally I need to talk to someone on the phone, but mostly I’m doing my own thing, and there isn’t really a need to be at my laptop 9 to 5. But I still try to stick to these hours.
Not everyone works this way. At the recent UK Conference of Science Journalists, Dalmeet Singh Chawla mentioned in a panel discussion that he often works weird hours so that he can get a scoop in another country’s timezone. If you work late enough in the UK, you can start emailing people in Australia and catch them in their morning of the next day.
When do most freelancers work?
Still, it seems that most people stick to working during regular work hours. FreshBooks recently published an infographic (scroll down to see it) in which they compare the times their users work with that of the American working public.
All types of freelancers work predominantly during traditional working hours. However, the creatives & marketing industry (which includes science communication) does tend to work more in the evenings than most others, only surpassed by accountants. That makes sense, since most of these jobs are limited by deadlines rather than opening hours or daylight.
But even night owls need to work during the day, and the average freelancer workday peaks around 11AM, just like everyone else’s. There was only one big difference between Freshbooks’ data and the working pattern of the average worker. Lunch! It turns out that self-employed people don’t all take their lunch breaks at the same time, so there is no visible dip in the graph.
You can see the full infographic below. And I’m off to have some lunch, now or whenever I feel like it.