It dawned on me the other day that one reason I feel rushed and time-stressed is that I’ve been living on other people’s schedules most of my life. I’m willing to bet that’s true of many people.
Mothers feed babies when they’re hungry, interrupting their own sleep to do so. As soon as children are old enough to start school, they are forced into someone else’s schedule. The school day starts and ends at specific times; breaks occur at specific times; the day is even broken into chunks to allow specific subjects to be taught at specific times. Anyone who attempts to vary the routine by being late or needing to use the washroom between breaks has a rough time.
The same is true of after-school activities, be it sports or Boy Scouts. The people that lead them have to adhere to schedules, too.
If you are an employee, you need to adhere to the employer’s schedule, however inconvenient. Work and break times are determined by the employer.
In practice, this means that you need to cram all the other activities of life wherever you can fit them, and that usually forces you into some sort of rigid schedule that may or may not be compatible with your own rhythms. If you have a nine-to-five job and it takes an hour to commute, for example, you may have to get up at 6:30 to allow enough time for grooming, feeding the kids and getting them to daycare, etc. When you get home from work sometime after six, it’s a scramble to get dinner ready. Chances are you have less than an hour until someone needs to be somewhere.
Activities run on strict schedules force order into what could easily become chaos. It’s a necessary evil in many cases. That doesn’t make it any easier.
Back in the day, there was a need for this kind of structure, and still is for most jobs requiring physical labour. In offices, records were primarily on paper and only available on-site. Collaboration was face-to-face or long-distance via telephone, but all parties had to be available at the same time.
Schedules don’t need to be rigid
Today, we have records in the cloud, accessible anytime from anywhere. We have computer apps to do what used to be done on paper. We can send mass mailings by e-mail, scheduled for delivery at a certain time, if they need to be scheduled, so we don’t need to rely on open hours at the local post office or delivery hours. We can even attend meetings or attend classes on-line from our own homes. There is no need to cluster together in one spot at the same time.
The internet can be immensely freeing if we can let go of our old ways of doing things. Unfortunately, rather than freeing us to work on our own schedule, it often means work hours are extended indefinitely. If we can be reached by phone at any hour, we should be available at any hour, or so the logic goes.
Schedules vs biorhythms
But it’s a flawed logic. Aside from the fact we all need downtime, we aren’t all cut from the same cloth. We have individual biorhythms, and when we force ourselves to accommodate a schedule that violates it, we are tired and cranky.
My husband is a morning person. He wakes up before dawn and is ready to go as soon as his feet hit the floor. Of course, he’s ready for bed in the early evening.
I’m not a morning person. If I had my druthers, I’d sleep in until nine or so. Sadly, it never works out that way. When I do get up, it takes an hour to be ready to face the day. The advice I see constantly, “get up an hour earlier and spend that hour writing” is unworkable. I can do physical work if necessary, but nothing that demands brain power. Don’t even ask me my name before I’ve had a couple cups of coffee. It would take too long to remember.
That same discrepancy in biorhythms carries through to mealtimes and other activities. Hubby’s ready for lunch before I’m ready for breakfast. He wants an early dinner; I’m seldom hungry because I ate lunch two hours later than he did. Hubby has finished his workday and wants to relax in front of the TV when I’m most deeply ensconced in my project for the day. I have to interrupt that to prepare dinner and it’s difficult to get back into it in the evening.
We’ve all experienced the havoc in our circadian cycles caused by shift work, jet lag or even the change to or from daylight savings time. Biorhythms are real and it’s time to acknowledge that they aren’t the same for everyone. We can override them, but only to a certain extent.
We should all be free to eat when we’re hungry, sleep when we’re tired, and work when we feel energetic, rather than at set times. These days there are few good reasons to force someone to subjugate his or her biorhythms to someone else’s schedule, as long as he can meet deadlines for the work to be accomplished. Chances are, he’d be more productive running on his own schedule.
This may be a gift Covid has given us, hidden behind the grief of losing or even just being separated from loved ones. With so many working from home while juggling family tasks, workdays have become more flexible while at the same time, many workers now have access to apps they could previously only access at the office. When Covid is over, we could easily continue this flexible approach, perhaps having a segment of the day for group collaboration at a time that works for everyone’s biorhythms.
Why don’t we try it?