A friend of mine has a very demanding position within a Fortune 500 company. His inbox is constantly overflowing. Nonetheless, he doesn’t work late or on weekends. I see him with his kids all the time, he volunteers, and he’s even got hobbies. How is this possible?
I think that this ability to set boundaries and work pre-defined, reasonable hours is two-fold.
First, you need to be so good at what you do that your organization doesn’t mind waiting more than 24 hours to get your opinion.
If you really are the best at what you do, they’re not going to let you go because you don’t respond to every inquiry within five minutes. Easier said than done, I know. But this highlights the newest incentives for being a high performer: autonomy and flexibility.
Second, you need to have enough confidence and self-control that you feel comfortable shutting down your system.
Stress management literature would suggest that taking a psychological break from the onslaught of complex stimuli will help us recenter. But we incorrectly believe that if we work through it, and chip away at the never-ending requests, that we’ll feel less stressed. It takes a very disciplined person to recognize the real solution to the problem.
Unfortunately, most organizations “reward” highly productive people with more work. It’s up to you to articulate your value and set boundaries.
A little over one hundred years ago, a New England mill instituted the five-day workweek to accommodate Jewish and Christian day of rest observances.
One hundred years later, this five days on, 2 days off cadence still exists but is somewhat blurred. Thanks to the Internet, then mobile devices, and now the COVID-induced momentum towards virtual work, employees are more likely to sprinkle their work across all their waking hours (I.e., not just “9 to 5”)and across the seven days of the week.
Would it be so bad to work every day? I typically put in somewhere between 2 to 4 hours on Saturday and Sunday. Why not? I have relatively little, if any, emails, calls, or meetings on those days, so I’m very productive.
Additionally, because I work few hours during the traditional five-day workweek, I get more time to knock out non-work tasks, take breaks, and most importantly, spend time with family.
I find it somewhat odd that organizations are going the other direction and experimenting with a four-day workweek. This just means even more hours crammed into fewer days. Most of the time it doesn’t work because the marketplace demands quick responses.
I know that not everyone has the luxury of choosing when they work. But I can’t help be curious why more people don’t try working fewer hours each day, but six or seven days a week. For me at least, I don’t “work for the weekend.” I get my work done when I can so that I can live my life every day.
How often do you have text message conversations with friends and family during your work time? Let me guess - the dozen or so texts are spread out over 30 minutes as you toggle back-and-forth to your work tasks. This is not ideal.
We know that distractions are bad for productivity. However, you can’t ignore friends and family, right?
My colleagues, clients, and students respect my worst-case scenario, 24-hour turnaround time. This is unlikely to fly with friends and family. It’s personal, therefore, it’s rude to not respond quickly.
But what about a compromise? What if we promised to do all of our non-work responses during a specific window of the after-work evening hours? Would that be so bad?
This aligns with the common productivity philosophy of “chunking versus sprinkling.” The more we can chunk together common tasks, the better we’ll be at staying focused on the task at hand.
The downside is that not everyone will be available when we’re ready for our scheduled chunk of communication. Perhaps that deserves a coordination message where you give each other a window of availability.
The upside is that we’ll actually be engaged in the conversation - not multi-tasking with work concerns in the background. Additionally, if we stay focused on getting work done during work hours, we’ll free up more time to engage in more non-work interactions.
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