The book I mentioned in my last post, Overwhelmed, had some great points. I skipped a lot of the book because it seemed to overly focus on how stereotypes between men and women placed more pressure on women than men, and I wasn’t looking for an equality speech (can’t we women at some point take responsibility for ourselves instead of automatically blaming men?). But she did have some excellent points once I got past that. One of which, was the ideal worker.
The ideal worker basically is how there is a certain expectation that I think anyone who works in a career of any kind is familiar with – that, if you want to make it, you will dedicate more of yourself to your work than any other part of your life. The one who gets promoted, be it women or man, is the one who puts in the most hours, makes it the number one priority, never complains, etc., etc., etc. That is becoming, I feel, a little less of a problem in today’s society – more and more people and employers are finally realizing the benefits of a work life balance, but it is still hard to shake the old idealism even with the best intentions.
I can see it in my current job – both the new and the old ideals clashing together. All the managers put in long hours, are always traveling, always busy, and if they aren’t at work they are running off to a child’s sports game or something else. It doesn’t matter how much time they work, they are paid the same (they literally told us they don’t care what we put on our time sheet if we are salaried as long as we actually work/put in the minimum 40 hours). But, at the same time, they allow us to telework on a limited basis, give us tons of PTO, great benefits, and try to encourage team building events. Nonetheless, I am pretty sure those who actually use all the PTO they give don’t get promoted as fast as the ones who don’t.
But it is more than the expectations – it is almost as though, if you aren’t incredibly harried or busy, always late to the next meeting, and constantly working, you aren’t working hard enough. That is literally the impression you get at work. You must be busy enough to be harried if you are actually working as hard as you ought to. In addition, you must be good at multitasking. Preparing a report while answering emails within 5 minutes (I’ve literally had my manager come to me within one minute of sending an email to ask if I got it), and participating in a conference call where they are upset you couldn’t make it in person all at the same time.
I have three daily meetings, five weekly meetings, and five monthly meetings. Do you know what that means? ~85 meetings in ~20 workdays, not counting the quarterly meetings and one-time briefings. 90% of which is to give status updates on the work I barely have time to do. That demonstrates a world who is desperate to appear busy.
In all the reading I’ve done, I’ve come across multiple references to studies that say the more work/life balance you have, the better your actual work is. According to Overwhelmed, “Research shows that forcing long hours, face time for the sake of face time, and late nights actually kills creativity and good thinking and the ensuing stress, anxiety and depression eat up health care budgets. . . [A research study finds that] the team with [regular] time off increased learning, improved communication with their team, worked more efficiently, and were ultimately more productive than their ideal worker colleagues.”
The book later states that a person cannot be productive for more than 90 minutes at a time and after 90 minutes, they should take a break to refresh their mind before starting again. Another study I found awhile back introduced me to the Pomodoro Technique. It essentially says that you should work in 25-minute bursts. Set a time for 25 minutes and concentrate only on one thing – multitasking hurts both your work and your productivity – then take a 2-5 minute breather, and then start again on either the same task or the next one. After five “Pomodoros”, take a break of 15-30 minutes. I’ve been slowly implementing it and I really think my productivity has increased significantly. I am not as good at the longer break unless it is actually lunchtime, but even the short bursts of concentrated activity have been very helpful.
The other thing many articles talk about is e-mails. We get so freaking many emails, most of which interrupt our workflow. Every pop-up we get pulls us out of our concentration and then we have to refocus. The recommendation I’ve seen most is to turn off pop-ups and only check email at predetermined times. I’ve been trying to get better about that too by not looking every time I get a new e-mail until I reach a break in my work, and that has helped – until my manager comes over when I haven’t responded within a minute or two. But I think he is starting to get used to my response that I am in the middle of a project and haven’t looked at my e-mail. *crossing fingers*
All of these various things have been slowly working their way into my own life. I figured out work/life balance a while ago, I think, and finally decided I would rather be home half my life than climb the career ladder faster, and I’ve been much happier since. (I’ve also become a rather annoying advocate – anytime someone starts talking about working late or on weekends I tend to scold them) Since implementing the Pomodoro Technique, my productivity has increased significantly, and I have very recently begun only checking my email in between tasks, as previously mentioned (though I fail in that a lot, like today – I’m sorry, but I can’t bring myself to turn off the pop-ups, and it’s hard to ignore them!!).
But, all in all, I think that, though these are all valid points, I don’t think they are the biggest time suckers for me since I have actually been working on it. It was nice to get validation though for my continued quest for work/life balance.
The rest of the pointers outside of the ideal worker really struck a chord for me though, so more on those later.