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Chronoworking may sound ideal as it means you get to choose your work hours, however, it can also lead to consequences like burnout. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Tired of the constant battle between the alarm clock and your inner sloth? Ever wished your workday started later or desired a later shift where your brain felt more alive?

Well, enter chronoworking.

The idea is to ditch the rigid 9am to 5pm rules and design the workday around your energy levels. So, early risers can wake up at the crack of dawn and tackle the onslaught of emails and tasks; the night owls battle it out at night. It’s a customised work schedule, tailored for you, by you.

‘Work with your Circadian rhythm rather than against it’

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People need to work smart and not hard, say experts. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Forget forcing yourself into the rigid mould of the traditional workday.

Coined by British writer and podcast host Ellen Scott, the term ‘chronoworking’ describes adapting your regular workday to your natural Circadian rhythm, which is the cycle of physical, mental, and behaviour changes that the body goes through in a 24-hour cycle. As she says, early birds should be allowed to work early shifts and consider taking breaks in the afternoon, when a few of us are at our most productive.

When we're working 9-5, we're not actually being productive. In fact what happens is so many of us go back and forth between different tasks, emails, writing reports, meetings. What's actually happening is we're just wasting a lot of time and not optimizing our productivity. In fact, trying to multi-task and switch tasks can add 25-100% more time to complete tasks...

- Kai Simmonds, wellness expert

Yes we know, starting at 12pm or finishing early might be a hard sell for your boss, but research shows that there are benefits of working with, rather than against your Circadian rhythm. According to the 2018 study The effects of time of day and chronotype on cognitive and physical performance in healthy volunteers, published in the American journal Sports Medicine Open, peak performance on cognitive tasks were significantly different between morning larks and night owls. The early risers performed best at 8am, while the nocturnal ones performed best after 8pm.

According to American clinical psychologist Michael Breus’ surveys in 2024, 55 per cent of people are the most productive between 10am and 2pm. About 15 per cent, prefer the early mornings and late nights, respectively. A final 10 per cent have a rather erratic body clock, which means that their peak performance varies from day to day.

Why is chronoworking such a buzzing trend?

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Chronoworking encourages ‘deep work’, which means that you have more time to focus on one task. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Work smart, but not hard: That’s the motto of the trend that’s sweeping social media these days.

Kai Simmonds, a Dubai-based American corporate wellness expert and mindset coach asserts that this concept has strong merits. She explains that the traditional 9am to 5pm format often leads to fragmented work patterns, with people constantly switching between tasks like emails, reports, and meetings. This culminates in multitasking chaos, according to Simmonds, it can waste 25 to 100% more time and drastically decrease productivity.

“Chronoworking encourages ‘deep work’, which means focusing on one task at a time in uninterrupted bursts. Research suggests the average person can only handle 4 hours of cognitively demanding work a day. By understanding your natural energy levels and scheduling your work accordingly, you can maximise those high-focus periods and get more done in less time,” she says.

We’re not machines and after a certain amount of work, our productivity drops significantly, adds Simmonds. “It’s not about the number of hours we work; it’s actually quality over quantity that matters,” she says.

Evading stress in commutes

Chronoworking isn't just about peak productivity at your desk – it extends to your well-being beyond the office walls. According to Dubai-based business psychologist Alvira Diwan, this trend has another benefit: Reduced commuting stress. You won’t be battling rush hour jams, or packed trains at the same time every day. Chronoworking allows you to adjust your schedule and travel during off-peak hours. Moreover, as you spend less time in traffic, you feel less stressed, she adds.

In essence, with chronoworking, companies can create a work environment where employees can work at their best, without stress, and more importantly, make time for what matters outside work, she says.

Is this too good to be true?

‘Chronoworking prompts critical considerations’

Chronoworking might sound like the ultimate work-life balance hack: sleep in, work when you're most productive, avoid rush hour. Before you ditch your alarm clock and embrace a life of working in pyjamas, here are a few things to consider.

For starters, chronoworking can lead to chaos in co-ordination. As Diwan explains, it will be tough trying to find a time that fits both the early risers and the night-owls. “It can cause potential disruptions in communication and collaboration among team members. The varying schedules can complicate co-ordination and lead to inefficiencies in project management,” she says.

Chronoworking can cause potential disruptions in communications and collaborations among team members. The varying schedules can complicate co-ordination and lead to inefficiencies in project management...

- Alvira Diwan, business psychologist, Dubai

In short, be prepared for havoc.

Certain professions simply require set schedules and real-time collaboration, reminds Diwan. Remember, healthcare providers and bankers don’t have such luxuries.

And, where’s the science behind this? Cakil Agnew, Associate Professor of Psychology at Heriot-Watt University Dubai, feels that these discussions on chronoworking lack empirical research evidence. “The conversation stems from anecdotal accounts, blogs and commentaries,” she says. “While it appears innovative, it prompts critical considerations. So far, there’s just talk on how it enhances productivity, flexibility and time management, overlooking impact on well-being. However, instead, it can actually foster a culture of overwork and burnout,” she says.

By prioritising productivity at the expense of well-being, chronowork risks exacerbating challenges related to work-life balance and mental health within the workforce, says Agnew. This relentless pursuit of maximising every minute of the workday may undermine creativity and innovation, and the one-size-fits-all approach is not suitable for all industries and individuals. “Different jobs require varying levels of cognitive demand and flexibility in scheduling,” she says. So, the adoption of chronoworking requires consideration of negative consequences on work-life balance, creativity, and individual well-being in the workplace.