In high school and my first two or so years of college, I worked a lot. I was never a “workaholic”: I took breaks, tried to avoid weekend work, and usually got enough sleep. But I dedicated a lot more time and energy to my work than I should have.
It wasn’t until I made a conscious effort, my last two years (and especially my last semester) of college, to discipline my use of time that I realized how unhealthy my schedule still was. I spent a few months getting full nights of sleep, stopping work at 8pm almost every night, and seldom working more than four hours or so over the weekend. I took only 12 credit hours, the lowest of my educational career.
This is a vastly better way to live.
I’m often dismayed to see stories like this (Lifehacker, links back to HBR):
How to Stop Working When You’re Off the Clock
A few weeks ago I ended up going camping in rural Idaho for a few days. Purely by accident, the trip ended up being the first time I’ve truly disconnected for any significant period of time from the internet in probably 10 years.
Turn your work phone off (or log out of your work email on your phone), stash your computer away rather than leaving it out and ready to be turned on. The harder you make it to access that work stuff, the more you’re likely to think twice about it before using it.
What are we doing to ourselves, such that we feel driven to ask this kind of question, to write about it, to publish it, to click it? Education is supposed to (among other things) empower us to improve our overall wellbeing, and never being able to escape your job pushes that out of reach.
I have to think hyper-connectivity is a big part of the problem. There’s now an expectation that an educated worker be available instantly at any time by phone or email. Major companies revered in our culture require employees – not nurses, not emergency personnel, just office workers, programmers, designers – to be effectively on-call 24/7. This is called being “passionate” and “dedicated” rather than “a serf.” (Self-driving cars could make this worse: it’s easy to imagine an employer saying, in effect, “Oh, you have a 30-minute commute? Great! Here’s some work you can do on the road! Call me as soon as it’s done and I’ll send the next thing.”)
To be clear, I work diligently and intelligently when I’m at work. It’s a major contributor to my ability to disconnect later. But when I’m off the clock, I’m not working. I’m living all the non-work parts of my life.
“Off the clock” is a flexible condition, of course. If I was in a classic full-time, working-for-a-company job rather than an entrepreneur, and especially if I was in a managerial or supervisory position, being “on the clock” could require much more time for me than it does now – with, I hope, a corresponding boost in income and lifestyle. If that’s a conscious tradeoff, then fine, but I suspect many of us are not that willful with our time.
Even in that context, I expect I would be the same person I am now. I would still draw a line between work and non-work. A vacation, for me, would be a vacation. And I would cling jealously to holidays as opportunities to reconnect with family and friends. I just prefer these to be choices I make, rather than choices I outsource to my employer.
Time is our greatest constraint, the ultimate non-renewable resource. I intend to use it with the discipline and discretion that requires.