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How To Get Ahead Without Killing Yourself

Steve recently posted the question the
 best employees are necessarily overworked. While I don’t think it’s necessarily so, it does tend to happen in my experience.

I’ve been interviewed in the past about 
work/life balance and have some strong opinions on the topic. I’ll lay out some of my thoughts, and I hope you will share your own strategies and techniques for balance and productivity.

I have a natural tendency to volunteer for more work. I want to make a difference, and there are so many things I want to do. I’ve had to develop systems to combat this, because I’ve realized my time is a non-renewable resource.

I was once an operations manager who took my job home with me, just about always. There is a particular date with my wife I remember where I lugged my laptop along with me, just in case I had to remotely restart one of the cards in a base station that was acting flaky. That is NOT a good work-life balance.

My cell phone was always at the ready, and I tied myself to work even when I
 really didn’t need to. It was cultural. I thought it was my job. After that role in particular, my wife and I re-evaluated this paradigm of the always-on culture, always available at a moment’s notice.

Since then, I have a rule.

Unless there is an emergency of some sort, I work 45 hours per week maximum. Here are some of the changes I’ve made to keep my rule feasible.

1 – Eliminate multitasking to the full extent possible

If you increase your Results-per-Hour (RPH) you can get more done in 45 hours than would have normally taken you 60 hours.

Have I written about this before? Let’s see….yes I believe I have. If there are 4 things that I hate, they are multitasking,

Turn off email notifications and check your email at scheduled times during the day. Have some kind of
 system that keeps your email in check and not a time-suck.

2 – Make your meetings effective

How much
 time do you spend in meetings each week? What if you could reduce that time by 75% or even cut it in half, and still be involved where it counts? Many professionals could do exactly that, if they look hard enough.

3 – Empower your team

When you seek to hold too much control and decision-making power, your team will have to come to you a lot more than they should. By empowering your team they gain more commitment to the project and there is a nice benefit of freeing up your time.

4 – Set healthy boundaries

I once interviewed for a role where the hiring manager said (and I quote) “We expect you to work no less than 50 hours a week.” No mention of results and output… I was offered the job, and declined it.

If your current boss expects you to work for the sake of “putting in your time” or
 does not have any respect for your free time
 outside of work, it may be time to have a candid conversation and
 set some boundaries. It is not acceptable for you to be called while you are not at work unless there is a very, very good reason for it. (Note: If you are in an always-connected paradigm right now, this will take time and some convincing to change your environment.)

5 – Avoid “keeping up with the Jones’ ” at work

In some organizations, working 80 hours a week is a “badge of honor”. Not for me.

It’s strange, but in my experience many of the people who put in that much time (and ‘complain’ about it regularly at the water cooler) seem to be doing a lot of chit-chat and unfocused activity at work. I wonder if they are
producing 80 hours worth of value? I wonder how long they can keep it up…

Psssst… You know your
 work laptop? Guess what that’s for?

Just because you
 can take your laptop home with you every night doesn’t mean you
 should. There are times when I take mine home, but most of the time it stays in the dock on my desk. The majority of the time is during the winter when I think I might be working from home the next day due to a blizzard.

Voilà! More Time To Be Awesome

Now you can focus on doing some volunteer work in new areas to advance your career. If you’ve eliminated 15 hours a week and are still producing the same results, an hour of volunteer time or training each day becomes very feasible.

Share your thoughts below, that comment box isn’t just for pretty looks.

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Corey McCarren

It really is a shame that there is the perception that 80 hours pays off. The fact is, there’s no way you’re really doubling your productivity there because people just can’t be “on” that much. I see little utility to having a lot of money if you never get the chance to use it since you’re always working. I believe, firmly, that when I’m at work I owe my time and best efforts to my employer, but I don’t owe them my entire life outside of that.

Josh Nankivel

@Corey – Also there are times when I can tell one of my team members is fried for the day – the only thing to do in my opinion is ask if they’d like to leave early and flex the time later.

Kevin Lanahan

A question I asked myself a long time ago is “Do I live to work? Or do I work to live?” The government buys my brain and body for 40 hours a week. If I have a particularly interesting project to work on, I may put in more time, but I’d like to think that when HR says we are supposed to work 40 hours, we should.

Some careers (medicine, law, military, leadership) require 24/7 availability, but you know that going into those careers, and your family knows it, too. Construction, police work, and street crews know they may need to work long hours, but not all the time.

If you have to put in 80 hours, there is a fundamental management and cultural problem with your workplace.

Patricia Houghton

I have a colleague that keeps an out of office message running that states:

I check my email routinely at 8:00 AM, 11:00 AM and 3 PM. Please call me if this is something that needs to be addressed immediately.

This alerts anyone who communicates with this person to expect a response – not immediately but within the day. I haven’t quite been able to embrace this for myself yet but it seems to work for her!

Joe Flood

Good advice – also those environments where long hours are the norm are generally mismanaged. All the work could be done in the time allotted if managers did a better job at prioritizing and organizing tasks. Long hours and constant chaos are symptoms of a bigger problem.

Josh Nankivel

Love that Patricia! I thought of doing that but I don’t think it necessary. People know I only check email a few times per day over time. I don’t run into too much urgency from people around email, it’s usually self-imposed urgency when we have notifications grabbing our attention.