Operation Bootstrap

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Work-life Balance Is Personal

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I was once (or three times) told that I was working when I should not. Usually this happens in response to a 10pm email, or an email on the weekend, or three of them. The thing is, that’s an important part of my balance and if I don’t do it I get thrown off.

I like the idea that companies try to embrace work-life balance, the ideal that says you should have a life outside of work. What I do not like, however, is that anyone thinks they know what time of day I should be working. Just because someone 50 ¬†years ago said that 40 hours a week is ‘normal’ doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for everyone. I get ideas at 10pm & I want to share them while I’m inspired.

Inspiration & opportunity come my way when they do, and when they come I have to decide if I want to make my move and get something done or wait until I’m “on the clock”. Doing the latter almost always means not doing it at all. Inspiration, after all, expires rather quickly.

What if work-life balance meant being honest with yourself and your employer? What if it meant that when there was an opportunity, you jumped on it, and for doing that you were given the flexibility to take that time back when there were personal¬†opportunities¬†outside of work? A number of companies do this already, it’s just informal and largely based on trust. The problem with this is that when it becomes a problem because of an individual, it has to get corrected for the whole team. Usually that correction comes in the form of “core hours” or some other lame blanket of consistency placed on the many because of problems with the few.

Part of the reason individuals see a problem in my work habits is because they feel pressure to conform to their interpretation of my actions. If I send a note at 10pm, that doesn’t mean that I am working 8 hours during the day + 2 hours at night. Some days it might mean I worked 10 hours, other days I might put in 6. The problem is that people feel pressure to do the same. They see someone else working “overtime” and feel like they need to. But they don’t know what I’ve been doing – they just see me working off-hours and assume it’s “overtime”. This turns into the ultra-competitive work-all-day-and-night environment that some companies have. That’s not what I’m talking about. That’s not what I do.

I have the good fortune of having work that overlaps with my passion, which is often my hobby. My hobbies contribute to my work, and vice versa. This blurs the distinction between work & life. My wife struggles with this – “I can’t tell if you are working or not when you are on the computer”. To which I ask “Why does it matter?”. Whether I’m working for my own goals, or working to get paid, the parameters are really the same. She doesn’t like that answer because she doesn’t want to interrupt me when I’m working, but if I’m not working it’s ok. The truth is, it’s always ok – and I’ll tell her (nicely, I hope) if it isn’t.

Maybe if we were more honest about how we worked & more open about what we expect from each other it would be easier to work this way. If we managed more based on achievement than hours or individual tasks. Maybe then we could all work better.