I haven't always been great at this. When I was in my 20s, I thought it was "macho" to be working into the wee hours of the morning. In your 20s? No kids? Cool. For most of us, though, I think this takes a serious toll on our health – both physical and mental.
As I've matured in my career, and more importantly after getting married and having kids, I've taken a much more balanced approach to when I put time and effort into my job. I'm not working less, and I'm not working less hard, I'm just being smarter about it. I've tried to live by a few rules that only get thrown out the window when there is a real "cash registers are down" emergency.
- Even though I have a work-issued laptop, I leave it tangled up with my dock / monitors etc. and really don't ever take it out of my office except when traveling. This means no "kind of working" on the couch while we're watching You're The Worst or The White Lotus.
- When I know I will be working off-hours due to planned maintenance or big furniture sale prep, I let my family know as early as possible, and I try to make up the time. I've kind of taken the reverse philosophy here of making up work time to my family instead of making up family time to my job.
- I take reasonable breaks as I described in another T-SQL Tuesday post; most days I try at least once to beat my personal high score in Mr. Do! (627,550 – today I hit 337,450).
- When we spent all of July in New England, on my days off, I was really off. No checking Slack, no watching e-mail, no browsing dashboards or monitoring jobs. I literally didn't even open my computer. I can't explain to you how relieving it is to not be constantly worrying about what might break in my absence.
Some of these rules may be tougher for people depending on the role, and whether or not you're able to automate systems and build redundancies so no one person is ever critical path. I acknowledge that can be a luxury we don't all always have. Thankfully, most of us aren't saving babies or putting out literal fires… most "emergencies" are relative. At 5:00 PM, I know that, if we want to, we can always find something to do for work; there's always another project to work on, or some documentation to tidy up, or some edge case to test. It takes a strong commitment to stay away from the computer, but I promise your mental health will be better for it.
I am lucky that I work from home and don't have to also factor commuting time into the hours of a given day. This might throw a wrench into things for some of you. If the pandemic has taught us anything, though, it's that people can be just as productive working from home – and, in a lot of cases, more so. Working remotely isn't perfect for everyone, nor is working in the office. If your employer dictates that you must be on-site because they insist everyone will be more productive (read: "Because we said so"), well, I predict that attitude is going to hurt them in the long run. Not everyone can be more productive in the office, and commuting time already puts a huge dent in that for everyone anyway. Employers that are more flexible about where you work are going to have an easier time attracting and retaining the talent they need. (Hint: If you don't give your employees a choice, they may just find another employer who will.)
In the end, I think it comes down to balance – you need to find a pattern that works for you, not just in how you balance work/life, but how you are productive in and out of an office setting, and how you can trust that others can cover you when you need to step away and recharge. Easier said than done, I'm sure, but it's a model I've been working on my entire career, and I'm still fine-tuning it. The most important thing for me – again, especially now that I have kids – is that I minimize the time that future me will regret spending, because nobody ever regrets the time they didn't spend working.