When I started out as a PhD student, I loved the flexibility that I could have in my working day. I could work at nighttime (and I did – most of my written work was completed in the early hours) and not worry too much about getting to work for the crack of dawn the next morning. I could work from home a lot of the time, and go for a run mid-afternoon when my productivity naturally dropped off.

But as the months and years of PhD went on, I began to yearn for a more regular existence. I completed an internship as part of my PhD, and so for three months I worked ‘normal’ hours. I’m not naturally a morning person, so starting work at 9 a.m. was a bit of a struggle for me (yes, yes I know 9 a.m. is not that early!), but I found I felt so much more awake and alive once I’d got into the routine. I vowed to keep those regular hours going when I returned to PhD – just because your time *can* be flexible, it doesn’t mean it *has* to be, right? And it worked for a while. But then gradually, especially as the thesis deadline loomed, I slipped back into my old ways.

When I was job hunting, I purposely searched for a job that was full time with regular hours. I wanted that feeling again! And with a partner who has worked regular hours for years, I wanted to finally be able to spend evenings with him guilt-free, without only being partly present because my desk was calling me back. And I got one – a ‘normal’, proper grown-up job. And it’s great!

It took a bit of getting used to, though. The switch between flexible working and regular hours is a bit of a tricky one – at least it was for me. It was a few weeks before I stopped feeling guilty for not doing any work in the evenings (though incidentally at that point my PhD viva happened, and now I feel constantly guilty that I’m not doing my revisions) and stopped feeling monstrously groggy all morning. But now I’ve cracked it, and it’s fab. I’ve even managed to occasionally get up and go for a run before work – previously unheard of for me!

One of the main changes, I’ve found, is that I prioritise different things in my spare time. Before, my spare time and work time were so merged, that it felt perfectly acceptable to spend an hour cleaning the bathroom in the middle of the day, but work until midnight. Now that my free time and work time are more separated, my downtime feels more precious. I prioritise spending time with my other half, running, and playing flugelhorn (yes, you heard me). Unfortunately for my time-saving skills, not all at once: playing an instrument while running is hard; he runs faster than me so we don’t run together much because I get annoyed; and frankly he does not want to be ‘spending time with me’ while I’m badly tooting my way through a new band piece.

Though mentioning cleaning the bathroom… in moving to full time regular work, I have come to realise that, while I like having shiny taps, cleaning was pretty much just a method of procrastination. And now that my free time is more bounded, I don’t want to spend it procrastinating, and subsequently I give much less of a crap about how grubby my flat is.

Now that I’m a few months into my new regular lifestyle though, I have to admit there have been times where I’ve missed the flexibility. Particularly when trying to book doctors/hair appointments, attempting to do food shopping out of peak hours (I know, what an exciting life I lead) – and when trying to juggle all the exciting extra personal work I’m doing. Coming home from a 9-5 and trying to force my brain in a different work direction rather than just going for the whisky is really quite hard. That’s why I gladly spent the long Easter weekend at my desk at home, trying to finish off lots of bits of work. But two days in, I remembered how difficult it can be. I started bleaching the bathroom ceiling at 10 a.m., knowing that I had the whole day left for work, and ended up working right up until bedtime and sleeping badly.

I guess it is a case of the grass is always greener – there are definitely pros and cons to both kinds of working lifestyle, and they depend on how you work best and what kind of person you are. On the whole, I much prefer working regular hours – I enjoy my free time much more and am much more present in it. I just need less work to do in my spare time… like this blog post…

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Mark Read · 24 April 2017 at 14:32

As my PhD began to tail off, our two oldest also ‘tailed off’ – so to speak – to university. With only one offspring at home and no PhD at all now since my corrections were accepted, I too am unfamiliar familiar time-territory. Updating my CV and glossing over now irrelevant advisory posts on Twitter, when only a few months I saw them as lifesavers, my student status has gone but it hasn’t yet been replaced. No longer an outsider, I too am craving the insider work status I worked so long and hard for. I’d much rather have less time on balance, though: I always managed kids, earning money and PhD somehow. 🙂

Michelle Reeve · 6 October 2017 at 11:40

You’re welcome, glad you enjoyed reading it! Good luck with your thesis submission 🙂

Michelle Reeve · 6 October 2017 at 11:40

Thanks for featuring this post in your blog!

Working with a Chronic Illness: Flexibility vs. Structure and Routine – Pain(t)h.D. · 1 September 2017 at 17:55

[…] the second is the story of a recent Ph.D. grad, on the blog ErrantScience: Clutter, who moved on to a “regular” […]

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