One thing I’ve found very difficult with my 5-9pm work schedule for this month’s experiment is switching between ‘work-mode’ and ‘life-mode’ or ‘leisure-mode’ during the day. I’ve found that at least once a day there have been exceptions that I’ve needed to account for – doing half an hour on a phonecall during the day and then taking half an hour less during the evening as a result. Or, the other way around, which is when I have things like classes in the evening (that I’m not willing to just surrender to the experiment!) so I’ve been doing 4 hours, but perhaps in the afternoon instead of 5-9.
On the one hand, you could say that if this was a permanent set-up, then perhaps over time, my life would adjust. But that’s probably being optimistic. I know first-hand from watching my dad, who works permanent night-shifts, trying to manage his sleep patterns – and when I say “manage” I mean sleep at crazy times and in crazy patterns that I know I couldn’t handle.
The result of these little exceptions has meant that I’ve felt no real rhythm this month at all. And quite bizarrely, it’s felt at times as if I’m working longer hours than normal. I am actually sticking to four hours of work each day, but I’m probably thinking about work more than I do when I’m running a normal routine.
This is why when I hear people talk about work-life balance and the main conversations are around what time people leave the office, I think the whole concept of work-life balance is stuck in the 1980’s. Attention is a less understood and more valuable currency than time, and employers and employees are yet to find realistic ways of measuring its’ value in the transaction.
Work-life balance should be about your attention. And more specifically, how easy or difficult is it for you to put your work to one side and just relax. And relaxing doesn’t mean checking the emails, but on a blackberry next to the pool. I mean really switching it all off.
This weekend was rather wonderful and helpful for that – we went to a friend’s wedding. The whole day was full of interesting and thoughtfully planned activities, beautiful moments and good food. And it was in a little village in Wales that had yet to discover phone reception. The perfect conditions for switching off – and I felt refreshed today for it.
So here’s the most awkward question for most of us to deal with: how good are you at putting your work – AND the thinking about your work – into a box. Not because you’re forced to, but because you want to. And not because there’s a distraction, but because you’re choosing to be present and focus your attention on something else.
What I know is that it’s getting harder for all of us. Complexity, connectedness, responsibility and the lightening pace of it all. We are responsible for our own attention struggles, and it’s good etiquette to consider the struggles of others too (for example, waiting until Friday evening until you send your employees emails that they’ll be reading on their phones all weekend).
So before you leave the office today, think about how you can put your work in a box. Will it be when you step out of the building? Will it be when you step through the door at home? Will it be just for a couple of hours or until tomorrow? Perhaps the size of the box you choose doesn’t matter so much as the fact that to step into life, you need to make sure you’ve sealed work in its box and left it by the door.
Like this? try this…
Welcome to flipping the 9-5
Could working three hours a day be enough?