How Overwork Taught Me the Value of Freedom

How Overwork Taught Me the Value of Freedom

Freedom Software Engineer Adis Hasović overcame burnout, finding a new career and new work philosophy along the way

As I sit and enjoy the sun that I haven’t seen for so long, and the company of friends I haven’t seen for longer, I’m reminded of what freedom really means. It’s those extra days where we have time to devote to the things that define us outside of our work. A day that we can spend with our pets, friends, or family, enjoying long walks on the beach at sunset, reading a book, watching a movie, and most of all – resting! Here at Freedom, we’re well aware of how vital good rest is for our health, wellbeing, and productivity, which is why we have the privilege of a little thing called Freedom Fridays here.

Freedom Fridays mean that from June to September we enjoy an extra day off every second Friday. Being fairly new to the team, I am experiencing Freedom Fridays for the first time, and I underestimated the effect of this extra time on my life! One day for every nine working days – one-tenth of my working time doesn’t sound like much, but living my first Freedom Friday changed that view. My weekend expanded by 50%! Going back to a job you love is even easier after three days of complete rest – the ability to order your thoughts is striking. After Freedom Friday I feel much more motivated and focused. Having a clear and rested mindset helps me to view obstacles differently, and I find I can accomplish more with less time and energy.

Freedom Friday has given me back the gift of time and focus!

Matters of Time

Time is the constant we cannot change; events and experiences that will fly by us no matter what we do. It is up to us how we embrace it. Do we live each day cautiously, committing each experience –good or bad– to memory, in the hope of never making (or at least not repeating) mistakes? Or should we live each day as our last, relishing every spike of adrenaline, celebrating our hits, and truly feeling the pain of our misses? 

However, we choose to spend it, the passing of time teaches us the greatest life lesson of all: that we must use it wisely. Whether we do that or not, depends on several factors.

The Industrial age taught us the old adage of “eight hours’ labor, eight hours’ recreation, eight hours’ rest”. But in 2020 we are living in a different epoch, where consumption of our time isn’t as simple as that. We are working longer and resting less, which, in the short term is detrimental, and in the long run, can be extremely harmful. The constant creep of technology into our lives has warped our perceptions of time. How often have you found yourself still working at 10 pm, or socializing with strangers on social networks at 3 am?

We consider Freedom Friday the antidote to hustle culture. It’s a paid day that we can spend as we will, recharging our batteries for the next week. Does it have any effect? Oh, it does, it really does!

The Paradox of Freedom

The idea of freedom is something that has perplexed generations of great thinkers for centuries. Do we choose it or is it given to us? Is it earning enough money so you can live comfortably or is it being able to buy more stuff that you don’t need? Is it doing what makes you happy and content or is it spending hours working on something you’d rather not? For sure, your concept of freedom is different from the next person’s, and it’s highly likely that it will look different in 5 years, next month, or even an hour from now. We are living in a world where uncertainty can happen in a second, and we hear stories every day of people having their freedom taken from them. 

Some losses of freedom are unavoidable, and some of them can even be a blessing. Sometimes it takes a loss to wake us up, to shake us from the tree and remind us that sometimes the higher we climb, the greater the fall. 

Sometimes it takes a loss to wake us up, to shake us from the tree and remind us that sometimes the higher we climb, the greater the fall. 

The Height of Success?

Last year I suffered a fall. I had a desire to achieve something, but the timing was not right. Pulled between my personal and professional lives, eventually, I snapped. I ended up in the hospital. The night that was so stressful for my parents and my wife, I cannot tell you about it. I woke up with no idea of the day, or even where the hell I was!

Maybe that’s what led me to my biggest mistake – the fact that I didn’t change a thing. I continued working like before, with the same passion to finish all the projects I’d started. You might think that sounds admirable, but the truth is that I valued my goals more than my health.

So of course it happened again. Even if this time the earthquake was smaller, the aftershock was much greater. I realized that the fight for my health – my life– was worth so much more than the career highs I was fighting for. Changing my life for the better became my new focus, and I’m proud to say that I did it! 

I embarked on a new career which brings me so much joy. I work beside people who inspire me every day. My health improved, not only just confirmed by my doctors, but I can feel it, too. 

Like everyone else, I’m still experimenting with how to organize my time, how to be as productive as possible. Keeping track of my daily tasks, and reporting to myself helps, but the biggest discovery for me is the importance of focus. By focusing on just one problem at a time, I can solve it quickly and with better results. That means I can work less while delivering more.

What We Will: graphic and song by Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, 1886

Time for What We Will

I believe that we need to move away from the eight-hour shifts of yore, and I’m not the only one. Earlier this year we spoke to Alex Soojung-Kim Pang about his new book, Shorter, which makes the case against the 40-hour workweek. The good news is that he’s not the only one who sees the potential in shifting to a shorter workweek. Sweden, who are ahead of the game already when it comes to work-life balance, even trialed the idea in their public services. When Swedish nurses tried a six-hour workday program, they got some interesting results:

During the first 18 months of the trial, the nurses working shorter hours logged less sick leave, reported better-perceived health and boosted their productivity by organizing 85% more activities for their patients, from nature walks to sing-a-longs.

As others have commented on the study, we are no longer living in the Industrial Age. Many jobs require that we begin the working day with a clear head and peace of mind. The Swedish study shows that to do our best work, we must eliminate unnecessary distractions, plan effectively, and measure actual productivity, not just the hours clocked.

Unfortunately, because of high costs, Sweden had to shut down the program. I cannot agree with the decision – I think that putting profit before health is a gamble that can only result in much greater losses later down the line. And I’m one of the lucky ones because our CEO happens to agree!

Image by Freedom CEO Fred Stutzman

If there’s one thing I hope that we can learn from this year, it’s that good health is a priceless asset which we should all be entitled to.

That’s what freedom means to me, what is it for you?