3 signs you’re too creative for a traditional 9-to-5

The 9-5 workday emerged during the 1800s and was popularized by Henry Ford when he implemented the schedule in all of his factories in 1905. 

Contrary to popular belief (and some memes), this was actually a positive development; during the 19th century, some workers are said to have worked 18 hours a day, 6 days a week!

That being said, it doesn’t mean that this centuries-old concept is the right fit for today. 

Most of us don’t work on a physical production line, and the traditional 9-5 is not for everyone. This is particularly true if you are in any way creative. 

Believe me, I know this firsthand. 

Back in the day, I did everything I was supposed to. I studied hard, got into a decent university, graduated from said university, and ended up where? 

In an office, working 10+ hours a day.

I didn’t know at the time, but the limiting structure was holding back the creative juices that were aching to get out. 

I did know it wasn’t for me, however. I was miserable and felt confined.

So, I made a change; it was scary, but I don’t regret it for a minute.

As a writer, I am now lucky to work within a structure that works much better for me. I am more fulfilled, more productive, and produce better work. 

Are you too creative for this age-old working structure? 

Today, we cover three signs that this is the case. 

1) Ideas flow at “odd” hours

Creativity doesn’t adhere to a strict timetable. 

If you find your most revolutionary ideas sparking at the first light of dawn or deep into the night, you’re not alone. 

Picasso, for example, was known to wake up at 11 a.m. He would spend a few hours having breakfast and relaxing with friends before starting his work at 2 p.m. He would then work until around 3 a.m. with a short break in the evening. 

Yes, it’s an almost 13-hour workday, but it’s a far cry from the nine-to-five (or eight-to-eight) schedule that is accepted as the norm today. 

He wasn’t the only one either; history is littered with creative figures who had less than traditional schedules. Painter Jackson Pollock started his day at 1:00 p.m

Charles Darwin, Keith Richards, Winston Churchill, and James Joyce were also known to be night owls

You might be, too. 

This would make a lot of sense; studies have shown night owls to be more creative than those who prefer getting up early. 

I am not comparing myself to these titans of creativity, but I noticed that I worked best late into the evening when I was in university. My most productive times were those hours spent before the library closed for the night. 

I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was probably an indicator that maybe the traditional 9-5 wasn’t for me. 

Can you relate?

If your mind bursts with inspiration when the world is sleeping, you might just be too creative for the accepted schedule of our time. 

Even if you are not a night owl, the traditional 9-5 might not be the right fit if you can relate to this next sign. It was a big one for me. 

2) You thrive in solitude and the absence of distraction

For many creatives, the buzz of office chatter, impromptu meetings, and constant notifications aren’t conducive to producing their best work. 

Instead, they flourish in environments where they can dive deep into their tasks without surface-level disturbances. 

Cal Newport, in his book “Deep Work,” defines this as the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. 

He writes

“Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

Similarly, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in his groundbreaking book “Flow,” delves into the psychological state of being completely immersed in an activity. This state of ‘flow’ is where people often feel their most creative, engaged, and satisfied. 

For many, achieving this requires solitude and freedom from the unrelenting pings of modern work life.

For me, this was one of the biggest annoyances when I worked a traditional 9-5. I would just be getting engaged in a task when someone would pop by with a “quick” question and completely disrupt me. 

I would wear headphones to block out the constant noise (and try to deter those shoulder taps), but sure enough, the company implemented a policy forbidding the wearing of headphones. 

This may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. 

Nowadays, I work from my home office with minimal distractions. I often turn off notifications, and because I live only with my wife, I can work solidly without distraction. 

Compared to my 9-5 grind days, it feels like heaven. 

If you also find that your most innovative solutions and productive times come to life when you’re alone and free from distractions, a traditional 9-5, with its almost unavoidable interruptions, might be stifling your potential. 

Embracing environments that cater to deep, uninterrupted work could be key to unlocking your true creative prowess.

3) You have an unquenchable thirst for learning

habits of a lifelong learner 3 signs you're too creative for a traditional 9-to-5

In the realm of the traditional 9-5, even in roles labeled as ‘knowledge jobs’, there are boundaries. 

Often, these positions are entangled in layers of bureaucracy, rigid procedures, and repetitive tasks. 

The expectation? 

Stick to the protocol, repeat processes, and maintain the status quo. This environment can suffocate those with a relentless desire to learn and grow.

As psychologist Jordan Peterson pointed out in this YouTube clip, most companies don’t nurture creativity, especially at lower levels. 

In traditional corporate structures, innovative thinking can be perceived as a threat or disruption rather than an asset.

As Peterson noted:

“The artist is always the person that sounds outside the system.”

While creativity and the urge to learn can drive progress at the top, these very qualities might be suppressed in many corporate environments.

Perhaps surprisingly, I remember the initial days of my first corporate job with a certain fondness. 

The environment was new, the challenges were fresh, and every day, I was learning. I was soaking in knowledge, making sense of the role, and genuinely enjoying the learning curve.

However, the novelty started to fade. The tasks that once seemed challenging became monotonous, and once I had learned these, I was simply expected to do them day-in-day-out, albeit a little faster. 

I felt like a cog in a vast machine, doing what was expected without any room for innovation or personal growth. It was soul-crushing. 

Sound familiar?

If you’re someone who finds joy in constantly expanding your horizons, who feels restless when confined to a fixed set of tasks, and who craves the freedom to explore new ideas and acquire new skills, a traditional 9-5 will probably feel like a cage. 

It did to me, at least.

Nowadays, I am lucky to have the freedom to dive deep into learning. I explore new topics and viewpoints on a daily basis. Though it’s not always easy, I wouldn’t want it any other way. 

If you also feel limited and like you are not learning anymore, breaking free from the conventional 9-5 might be the only way to quench your insatiable thirst for knowledge.

The bottom line 

The traditional 9-to-5, while a milestone in workers’ rights and a testament to industrial progress, may not be the ideal environment for everyone today.

For creatives, such a rigid structure can feel confining, even oppressive.

If several of the signs listed above resonate deeply with you, it might be an indication that you’re not just made for the regular humdrum of the 9-to-5 grind. 

Fear not, though; recognizing this is the key to finding or creating a more fulfilling role. 

Perhaps, outside the confines of the traditional workday, you might just find the conditions to prosper. 

As always, I hope you found this post helpful and interesting to read. 

Until next time.

Picture of Mal James

Mal James

Originally from Ireland, Mal is a content writer, entrepreneur, and teacher with a passion for self-development, productivity, relationships, and business. As an avid reader, Mal delves into a diverse range of genres, expanding his knowledge and honing his writing skills to empower readers to embark on their own transformative journeys. In his downtime, Mal can be found on the golf course or exploring the beautiful landscapes and diverse culture of Vietnam, where he is now based.

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