3 Signs You Are Too Creative for a 9-to-5

A "workday" is just not your thing.
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Stock photo of person in stock workplace with stock juice and a tall candle. (Avatar023/Shutterstock)

"Why the 9-to-5 Day Is So Tough on Creative Workers." The Atlantic ran a post on Friday (via our friends at Quartz ) that posited this. The post became very popular—viral, if you will—at midday on a workday. It remains so. The concept clearly resonated with many creative people.

The reason creative people may be unable to thrive or advance in their profession is in fact because they are too creative. The creative person is unduly burdened, marginalized by default. Many, as one told me on condition of anonymity, "just could never do the nine-to-five thing. Like it wasn't for me. Just not my thing."

Your plight as a creative person may not be immediately apparent to regular-brained people, who don't mind going to an office every day for decades. Here are the lessons I learned from this article and the reaction to it, about creativity in a society tied to anachronistic concepts of structure, and the signs that identify a creative brain.

1. You sometimes feel unfocused early in the morning.

The aforementioned article cited academic research that found some people are not maximally productive until four hours after waking up. ("It can take up to four hours for your mind to crank itself up to full awareness and alertness—and in that time, you won’t make good decisions.") You understand that it does not make sense to work until then. You are most productive at midday, not in the morning when a "job" demands it. Why is a job making these demands? The system is wrong, and sleep researchers have proven it, and you understand this.

2. Your brain won't allow you to work for eight hours in a day.

You may not be a good neuromatch for the structure of a "job." For creative people, the nine to five routine is just not a good brain fit. Neuromatch is a scientific term I just coined. You can tell your boss about it. Most people love the daily routine of going to work and spending most of the day working, but creative people can feel bogged down, or stuck in a rut. You might feel that you can do some work later in the day when, as the article described, you "get another energy boost in the late afternoon when lung efficiency peaks." Why would someone try to work when lung efficiency is not peak?

3. You agree that it would be better if jobs demanded fewer hours of work, and paid more money per hour.

John Maynard Keynes first touted the six-hour workday long ago, the article reminds us, "predicting that by 2030 only extreme workaholics would work more than 15 hours a week." If you want to make a scientific case for something, look to an economist. Keynes' 1930 essay "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren" predicted a society so wealthy that the weekend would be five days. Do the fat cat executives upstairs not read Keynes? He's only the founder of macroeconomics. Do they even know how to read? Probably too busy on their yachts.

Many creative minds are stifled by the dailiness, too, of the working. After hours of working, the creative may become less efficient. The monotony of steady income can grow suffocatingly predictable. This is an important area of study and dialogue, which I have experienced firsthand living in the area most heavily affected, Los Angeles. If people want to know your talent, all they have to do is ask you to describe it. But do they even care to do that? This is a system from which you cannot escape.

4. You understand the science of creativity, which proves why you can't work in a cubicle. A cubicle is literally a box that you are put inside, and this is the least comfortable place for your brain.

The wrong colors in a room, or the wrong music—the sort of factors rigorously documented in Jonah Lehrer's Imagine—may be to blame for the unrealized potential of thousands of creative people. This can make the creative brain simply a brain.

5. You understand that at least one day a week, you should be allowed to play acoustic guitar for much of the workday.

You understand why this is important.

6. When your boss tells you to sign off of Facebook, where you're trying to stay connected to what's happening in the world, it literally feels like your frontal lobes are being scooped out of your skull through your eye holes with a hot spoon.

The metaphor is dated, but the Internet really is an information superhighway.

7. This panda perfectly like encapsulates your experience at work.

You get what the panda is trying to do. Imagine if his lung efficiency was peak.

84. You get that numbers and lists are a product of the man. See how I just jumped from 7 to 84? You are on board with that. Things don't have to be in order.

This post promised three signs and gave you way more, whatever. You get why that makes sense.

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James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The AtlanticHe is the host of If Our Bodies Could Talk.

 
 
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