Work. It is what we do for a large part of our lives, for a large part of our years and for a large part of our day. It helps us shape our schedules, gives us purpose, a (social) network and an identity. Some people truly are their work. Unsurprisingly, people out of jobs (involuntarily) often find themselves struggling with their schedules, their networks but more importantly, their purpose and their identity.
However, as we have seen throughout this century, work can cause a whole platter of issues as well. Especially when working too much. The never-ending-working day (checking e-mails till 10 pm anyone?), the never-ending-working week (weekends are for unambitious people) and the burn-out culture are ingrained in today’s society. So maybe, just maybe, it is time to focus on work as a job, not an identity. And to stop doing it 24/7.
How does one stop working? It should be easy. You can in fact just “up and leave,” but there might be some repercussions to that when seeing your colleagues and boss the next day. So maybe not that easy. There are several things you could do, to not work all the time, have a life next to your job and have an identity that reaches further than your job description:
Review your hours Most jobs have official hours. The standard (9-5), or variations on it. Sure, sometimes overtime is needed (check you are getting paid for it, otherwise time to have a talk), but this shouldn’t be a frequently occurring event, otherwise you really should renegotiate your contract.
Issues here can be the culture you are working in. It seems as if the consultancy sector is a favourite here. This sector seems to have a very strong emphasis on the company culture. You’re in a team, you do projects together, doing great work and you are also working from 8 in the morning till 8 in the evening. Because that’s what everyone else in the team does. If you are stuck in this type of cycle it is time to ask around whether this is really as “normal” as everyone seems to think it is. If it’s a tough pill to swallow for the first couple of years in your career, you might consider continuing it, but if this seems to be “normal” at all levels, you might want to take a much harder look at the company or sector you’re in, and plan an escape.
Leaving a company because of insane work hours might sound a bit too intense for some, but I am mainly suggesting you do some research into the normality of your situation. If you have a friend (or vague acquaintance thrice removed) that has a very similar background to yours and is not caught in this hamster wheel from hell, the least it’ll do is give you some perspective. Company cultures are designed to make you feel more comfortable and get higher levels of enjoyment out of your job, but they also promote herd behaviour (read: sheep) and pose different standards for what’s normal and what’s not. You might find what’s normal for company X, is considered absolutely insane outside of that culture. Think about it.
Switch off Let’s assume it’s not the working hours in and of themselves that are driving you (or your nearest and dearest) insane. It’s the fact that when not at work, and not supposed to be working, that you still are. In order words: you don’t switch off.
When not at work (also goes for working from home), you should not continue working in your head. This seems to be a very tough thing to do for most. If your work is mentally stimulating in any way, shape or form, you will continue thinking about it, or continue milling over issues you might have encountered. And the hamster wheel continues.
Now there seems to be a whole self-help section on this problem. I’m not going to recommend you meditation or “being present.” It’s not my thing and it’ll likely never be my thing. Meditation is one of the few tasks that makes me actively think: “I could be doing something much more useful right now.” So, no thank you.
What I am going to suggest is pure and simple distraction. If your work requires intellectual (or creative) capacity, knock it out. Try things that are also stimulating in that regard, just have nothing to do with work. Activities like this just need to be able to capture your attention wholly. For some people reading a good book (murder mystery anyone?) can do the trick. Others walk, work-out, paint, take photography classes etc. Most extroverts benefit from surrounding themselves with people, so go out to dinner, be social, hang out with friends. Just don’t work!
Activities like these, or hobbies if you will, make sure you are distracted and have more to live for than just work. These things might be an end in themselves, or they might be a means to transition into a state of being switched off, so that when you go home you leave your work phone and e-mail alone. Either way, it ensures you are not working. And that was the whole point here.
Switching off could also be taken much more literal: switch off anything work-related, meaning your work phone and your work laptop. Don’t answer work e-mails when not at work (or on route to/from work). No one needs to receive an e-mail at 11 pm. No one. You don’t need to call people around that time either, unless you are dealing with some very inconvenient time differences, there’s not too much that can be done there. However, that shouldn’t function as an excuse to suddenly work 3 extra hours per day…
Homework There is another category of work that is becoming increasingly popular, and massively suffers from the over-working phenomenon we have been discussing so far. It’s working from home.
Initially bosses all over the world thought their employees would just slack off and do nothing at all. Turns out, they were wrong, and people get a lot more done in a day at home, than a day at the office. It can make sense. You are in a more comfortable environment, you don’t have to commute, you can take things at your own pace without colleagues intervening, and no meetings!
But when your home, your safe haven, your actual chill zone, suddenly also becomes your work place, it can lead to some issues. Lines between working and not working may start to fade. Sure, you can watch a Netflix series in between skype-meetings, e-mail and report-writing, and that is fine now. But if those series add up to three hours not worked, they are going to have to come from somewhere else. As such, you now can’t stop at 6, you’ll have to keep going till 9.
The question becomes: How likely are you to stick to actual working hours? There is no one telling you it’s time go home, because you are home. There is likely no one there but you to set a standard. And you seem to be thinking it’s fine to keep going for a bit more. Just to finish another thing…
Solutions for this is to treat your day from home like any other day: get up, get ready (yes, dress work appropriately) and maintain the same hours as you would in the office. It can also help to have only one place in your house where you work. So don’t work on your kitchen counter, if that’s also where you cook, eat and socialize with friends. Get it? Keep it as separate as you can, to make sure it’s easier to distinguish for yourself what’s work, and what isn’t. It’ll make it easier to determine when you should be working, and when you shouldn’t.
I think these are the best tips I can give. Go meditate if it helps you, but I think having a solid set of hobbies, an identity outside of work and a clear idea of when you should and should NOT be working is a better idea. As it’s 9 in the morning, I’m going to get ready for work. I’m working from home today though.