Recently I was speaking with an inspiring fellow business owner about traditional work hours which then led us to discuss the history of timekeeping.
I wanted to capture that conversation here because I think it’s worth remembering that the traditional 9 am to 5 pm way of thinking is relatively new and is not static. So get ready to discover how time has evolved over the ages.
Back in time
Firstly, let’s go back to ancient civilisations, a time when our ancestors would ponder the concept of time by observing the sun and moon’s rise and fall, and the ever-changing seasons—to grasp the essence of this elusive dimension. Time was fluid, intimately intertwined with the ebb and flow of nature.
Fast forward to the days of ancient Egypt, around 3500 BCE. Egyptians divided the day into 24 segments, and these hours changed in duration based on the season. I can imagine a lot of confusion and chaos ensued! But then the Greeks came in with an ingenious idea. They simplified things by introducing equinoctial hours, where day and night were divided equally into 12 hours each, regardless of the season. Voilà! That’s the foundation of our modern hours, right there!
Now, let’s jump to the Middle Ages. European monks, like meticulous timekeepers, were ringing bells to mark the canonical hours for prayer and devotion every day. Those harmonious bells created a harmonious rhythm, helping everyone in the community stay in sync. However, the notion of a strict start and end time for work, as we know it today, had yet to emerge.
Silver Lining of Covid
And that came with the Industrial Revolution. In the 19th century, factories sprouted up everywhere and with it, a desire for standardisation. And thus our beloved 9 am to 5 pm schedule was born. Bring in the advent of the electric light bulb, and work hours were able to expand beyond the boundaries of sunlight. Suddenly, people found themselves working late into the night, disturbing the delicate line between work and personal life. Not a great thing…
As an aside, in the heart of Melbourne, Australia stands a statue in honour of the power of collective action and the fight for fair working conditions—the Eight Hour Day Monument. The monument commemorates the 8 Hours Movement which was initiated in Victoria in 1856. The Eight Hours League campaigned for an eight-hour day on the basis of: eight hours work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for recreation and education. On 26th February 1856, James Galloway convinced a meeting of employers and employees to begin implementing the 8-hour day.
And so here we find ourselves. With the rise of the digital age and the normality of remote work, thanks in large part to Covid, now’s the time to redefine our weeks. Considering how relatively new the 9 am to 5pm Monday to Friday schedule is, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine that we can again redefine how we ‘do time’. We can do time in a way that honours the unique rhythms of our lives and our biologies.
It’s something I’m seeing a lot in myself and my clients who have a menstrual cycle. By embracing menstrual cycle awareness, those who bleed can tap into the innate wisdom of their bodies and align their activities accordingly. Just as the moon waxes and wanes, our energy levels ebb and flow throughout the month. By attuning ourselves to these natural rhythms, we can optimise our productivity, creativity, and overall well-being.
Just quickly, I’ll give you a high-level overview… During the follicular phase (what I like to frame as our Inner Spring), our energy surges so we can dive into tasks that require focus, innovation, and fresh ideas. The ovulatory phase (Inner Summer), akin to the full moon, is a time of confidence and heightened communication skills, perfect for collaborative projects and networking opportunities. As we transition into the luteal phase (Inner Autumn), our energy gradually recedes, inviting us to channel our focus inward. It’s a time for introspection, reflection, and meticulous attention to detail. And when the menstrual phase (Inner Winter) arrives it offers a sacred space for rest, renewal, and self-care. Honouring this phase allows us to embrace our natural cycles of release, recharge, and rebirth.
All of this is to say, remember, that time is a construct—a human creation that has changed and evolved throughout history. By understanding its origins and embracing its malleability, we can gain a new perspective on how we manage our time effectively.
So, seize the opportunity to explore different approaches to time management, experiment with alternative schedules, and find the rhythm that works best for you and your body. Embrace the freedom to shape your own time, and let it enhance your productivity, well-being, and overall satisfaction in life.
Now, go forth and grant yourself the compassion to honour your unique journey through time with a newfound appreciation for its fluid nature. And the next time you find yourself in Melbourne, take a moment to visit the awe-inspiring Eight Hour Day Monument. A reminder that our collective actions can shape a different future for us all.