If you’re a faculty member in higher ed, good chance your schedule is full but flexible. If you’re a university staff member or college administration and have some freedom to decide when and where you work, others likely envy your flexibility. After all the constraints of “nine to five” jobs are lionized in popular culture. TGIF needs no explanation since the bulk of the workforce longs for an end to the traditional work week.
The benefits of a flexible work schedule are obvious.
You can align your work with your personal and family needs, as well as with your energy ebbs and flows. Who doesn’t want the freedom, WITHOUT asking permission, to start late some days after a long evening or squeeze work into Monday thru Thursday for periodic long weekends?
The benefits of constraints are less obvious.
Of course, since the yin-yang principle is at work in the universe, we can anticipate a downside to schedules without fixed boundaries. Indeed!
• Flexibility creates an array of choices that invite decision fatigue. Thus, zapping your energy.
• Flexibility nurtures procrastination, which needs no encouragement.
• The ever-present temptation, which whispers to you that a future time will work better for particularly difficult tasks, thrives when the work can be completed almost any time and place.
What can you do when this highly prized work-schedule flexibility generates stress and misery?
Is more willpower the answer? Do you need to give up and find a job with regular hours and a boss to keep you focused? Of course NOT!
Instead of climbing the willpower mountain or drastically altering your career, simply become a better boss of you!
Essential ingredient? Constraints, but the self-imposed variety rather than the loathsome external ones.
I accept that constrains are synonymous with limits. But don’t reject the suggestion yet. First consider the upside.
Constraints unleash creativity!
Writers loath the blank page just as artists fear the blank canvas. When possibilities are limitless, the mind struggles to focus.
Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, wrote the phenomenally successfully Green Eggs and Ham when a publisher challenged him to wrote a children’s book using only 50 words.
Consider the creative value of these restrictions:
• Japanese haiku-word & stanzas limit
• Classical symphony-four movement limit
• Every sport & game-plethora of rules and restrictions
These constraints fuel creativity and hone strategic thinking for poets, composers, coaches and athletes alike.
Just as constraints spark creativity, real freedom emerges from structure.
Within a structure, your creativity and focus can reemerge and thrive. Your self-imposed structure can resolve the time-consuming questions of when, how long, where, and on what will I work today. Deciding these in advance saves time and energy, avoiding decision fatigue.
Strategies for crafting your self-imposed structure:
1. Embrace the truth of the relationship between constraints and creativity—structure and freedom. If you’re resisting, you won’t create structure. If you doubt, explore the idea more.
2. Let go of perfection! You won’t create a perfect schedule the first time or ever, but your structure-building skills improve with practice. Plus, you can revise your structure. Another beauty of flexibility.
3. Create a default schedule. If others in your life work and play by the dominate rhythms of 9 to 5 Monday-Friday, then you might consider it, but creating a schedule does NOT mean choosing the traditional one. A default schedule offers the boundaries that limit decision making and reveal potentially valuable times for your focused, creative work—that signature work you create that fulfills you, breathes life into your ideals, and offers value to the world!