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23 Mar Blurred Lines:  Keeping the Balance in the 24 Hour Workday

(By Mike Raftery)

“Friends, family, religion.  These are the three demons you must slay if you want to be successful in business.” – C. Montgomery Burns

Somewhere along the way, the workday extended to 24 hours a day.  I’m not exactly sure when, but it was sometime after the laptop was invented and sometime before this moment where I find myself writing this on a tiny tray table at 40,000 feet somewhere over Des Moines.  We’re constantly connected, constantly working and always available.  There is no more “leaving it at the office” because the office now fits inside your pocket (or god forbid on your belt) on that same device that has Facebook.  It’s one thing to be able to be connected.  It’s invaluable to send an email from the beach to approve a hiring decision, or catch up on email during a flight.  I think what’s changed is the expectation.  It seems that now the 24 hour work day is the expectation, rather than the exception.  Meetings happen late, early, onshore and offshore.  The home office is in front of the TV at night and the weekend is a great opportunity to catch up on your work for Monday.

I’m just as guilty as anyone else.  Starting your own business, doing something you really enjoy is addictive and fun.  And when you’re not working, you have the feeling that your competition is.  Despite all that, I think I’m doing a pretty decent job at keeping a balance.  (It helps to have a very understanding and supportive partner.) So I wanted to share a few tricks I use that might help you find a bit more balance before you explode from stress, or start communicating with family exclusively over IM and Webex.  Disclaimer:  I have no real credibility to give this advice other than the soapbox a blog on the internet provides me.  But anyway here it is, hopefully a bit of it helps you.

Buy Your Time Back

You can’t do everything; it’s not possible.  Between working, groceries, cleaning, little league, school, friends, family, sleep and yard work, there’s just not enough hours in the day to do it all.  So buy your time back.  Yeah I know, I’m already talking money, but hear me out, cheapskates.  This is the benefit of the connected world that created the 24 hour workday: the service offerings at your fingertips have exploded.  There’s grocery delivery like Peapod and Instacart (90 minutes), cleaning services (2 hours), lawn services, (60 minutes), alcohol delivery (30 minutes, yes it exists), Amazon Prime 2 day shipping, automatic dog food delivery, automatic diaper delivery, food delivery like Grub Hub (60 min each).  You can outsource your daily chores with ease.  Add it all up and that’s at least half a day on the weekend or 25% of your time off.  Yes, all of these things cost a few dollars, but it’s worth it.  The time adds up and every hour you save is an hour you can potentially exhale and enjoy yourself.

Schedule Your Downtime

You schedule meetings for every minute of your workday, so schedule a meeting for yourself to get some sanity as well.  This can be large blocks of time like an entire Friday once a month, long weekends, or even a full week of sanity a year.  Or it could be short mental vacations like a walk outside, or a quick run at lunchtime.  The key is to schedule these as a standing meeting and stick to it.  If you have to cancel, reschedule for later in the day.  If work can steal your night times and weekends, you can steal a few minutes here and there at work.  If you need to justify this, and are a non-smoker, consider it a single break to take the place of all the little smoke breaks you don’t take throughout the day.  These mental vacations are tremendously valuable.  Coming out of the work bubble for real oxygen gives you back some perspective, which not only helps your stress levels but your work performance as well.  I can’t tell you the number of times that eureka moment happens the moment you stop thinking about a problem.  Block your time, hold to it religiously, and it will do wonders to allow you to reload for the next round of email assaults.

Don’t be Afraid to Say No

Here’s a stark realization: nobody is looking out for you except for you.  It’s a must that you look out for yourself and your own time.  I’m a realist; you can’t say no to everything, and you can’t say no every time, but say no when it counts.  Personally, it’s been my experience that people are generally good and understanding and will accommodate you if you say no with a good reason.  Graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, kids events, these are good reasons to pull a trump card.  I’ve done this and never regretted it.  Even if it means more work for you later, say no now, protect what’s important and stand up for what matters.  What matters?  My rule of thumb is, “will I remember this thing a month from now?” 9 times out of 10, I’ll remember the personal stuff, and cannot recall the work stuff.  Which brings me to….

Keep Your Focus

OK, this is an oldie but a goodie, “Nobody on their deathbed ever wished that they spent more time at the office.”  I cannot imagine that in my lifetime, there will be more than 3 meetings I will recall five years after I retire.  Most jobs I’ve done have had a magnified sense of importance.  My first job had to do with the manufacture of insulin and cancer drugs, but that is the exception.  Most corporate jobs are totally focused on making someone else’s margins a fraction wider.  Not that this isn’t important, it is your career and your reputation after all.  But your reputation extends beyond your office.  Your friends, your family and your pets also notice that reputation.  Consider what’s important to you and make sure you allocate your disappointments appropriately.  People are generally understanding, but even that is only up to a point.  Work people are just as understanding as family people, so just remember to balance your commitments.

I’m afraid the 24 hour workday is here to stay.  It’s the reality of doing business in the 21st century: constant connectivity is assumed.  With this pressure and these expectations you need to be your own advocate, and your own agent.  This is not your father’s office, (I assume everyone’s dad’s worked at an office like Mad Men) where you can drink scotch at 2pm, sleep on the couch, and outsource tasks to your various admins.  This is the office of the future, where people work around the clock, emails constantly vibrate in your pocket, and texts are an acceptable form of meeting.  As a result, it takes more thought and effort to keep your sanity, so keep focus, carve out your time, and enjoy that life you’ve fought so hard to achieve.