A key unlocks the front door. A large sparkling drink is poured into an aesthetic wine glass. A homemade, healthy meal for two — with an emphasis on healthy — is cooking on the stove. A bout of cleaning follows — of dishes, of laundry and of all the other endless tasks to do around the house. After a shower (cue a shot of expensive skincare products lined up in the bathroom), a streaming service is beamed onto the big screen, or perhaps a recent BookTok favourite accompanied by a mug of tea.
This is TikTok’s latest ‘productivity’ trend — the ‘5-to-9 routine’. Routines are a staple on the video-sharing app; morning routines, skincare routines and bedtime routines are par for the course. But this recent fixation on the four hours after a typical nine-to-five workday feels eerily familiar, with its insidious intersections with capitalism and the patriarchy.
How is it similar to the ‘that girl’ trend?
‘That girl’ is the stereotype of wellness culture, personified. Green juices, 5am wake-ups, skin-tight athleisure and slicked-back buns aren’t just caricatures, but a reflection of her dedication to self-optimisation. Its popularity peaked about a year ago, and as writer Michelle Santiago Cortés wrote for Refinery29, it’s “the internet’s daunting image of female perfection”.
‘That girl’ is a reminder that even though we’re living in a so-called ‘post-girlboss’ era, we haven’t been able to shake its shackles completely. The trope relies on aspirational and aesthetic self-improvement content, which, incidentally, is what the ‘5-to-9’ routine is built on too. Audiences — 14 billion views of them, to be exact — are being sold a prescriptive routine of what their evening should look like.
"In the wellness industry, there’s quite a positive spin in terms of living your best life. But what you're seeing there is really more about a kind of ideal, and whenever you have that ideal that people are striving towards, that obviously always comes with a dark side of rejection when you don’t meet it,” Dr Stephanie Baker, a senior lecturer in sociology at City University and an expert in online wellness, previously told Refinery29.
While ‘that girl’ was quick to draw criticism for being unattainable (its most notable figureheads were all white, thin, non-disabled and wealthy), the ‘5-to-9’ trend hasn’t come under the same level of fire — after all, most of us have to cook and clean after work, right? So what’s the fuss all about?
How does it intersect with the patriarchy?
The ‘5-to-9 routine’ is predominantly spearheaded by women working full-time jobs. On top of working 40 hours a week (realistically, we know that number is higher), we see these women continuing to perform mental labour and complete household chores, often without any assistance from their partners. “The double shift for woman,” one comment reads. “Does your boyfriend do anything? Lol,” reads another.
"From our morning coffee to our weekend laundry load, each event or chore needs to be elevated into a clear-eyed statement about existence."
With constructs like weaponised incompetence, the phenomenon of dodging unpleasant tasks by pretending not to be able to do them, the romanticisation of housekeeping duties doesn’t feel particularly helpful. Of course we know that chores aren’t going to complete themselves, but are we supposed to relish in this extra work that’s been repackaged as self-care?
“Now we’re being asked to find meaning in everything we do. From our morning coffee to our weekend laundry load, each event or chore needs to be elevated into a clear-eyed statement about existence. Today, our relationship to meaning is often more exhausting than rewarding. It’s become just another KPI to clock in the endless job of living life right,” Wendy Syfret previously wrote for Refinery29.
What’s with the fixation on productivity?
22-year-old TikTok user @c.a.i.t.l.y.n has spoken out against this trend, pointing out how its main messaging is around maximising productivity. With almost half a million views in one day, Caitlyn references David Harvey's A Companion To Marx's Capital, which argues that time is socially constructed and more often than not, is moulded in relation to the working week.
“I find it really interesting to think about how the ‘5-to-9 routine’ is primarily built around productivity, maximising your potential as both a worker and a consumer under capitalism,” Caitlyn says.
“[Think] about the ways that we use our time, even outside of the workplace, to serve the purposes of the workplace [and to prepare] ourselves to be better performers when we are at work,” she adds, pointing to how we try and optimise our commutes and work preparation.
"We have developed aesthetics and trends around producing productivity."
Caitlyn then considers the specificity of the ‘5-to-9 routine’ and how it’s an inversion of the nine-to-five work day. “[It] just goes to show how significantly our working day and capitalism have come to shape our understandings of time, it seems nearly impossible for us to organise our lives outside of the nine-to-five.”
“People are doing this on their own accord — they’re not being forced or asked by their employers to do it,” she says. “But because capitalist society has made productivity into an end in and of itself, we have developed aesthetics and trends around producing that productivity.”
Like with any TikTok trends, there are plenty of people who are taking the piss out of these videos. One ‘5-to-9 routine’ video sees the creator laying stomach-down on her bed, napping, a chorus of “so true bestie” and “lmaoooo relatable” in the comments underneath.