One of my favourite finance bloggers, Ben Carlson, wrote an interesting post this week about why we should be working less. He makes a compelling case about the health and productivity implications of long hours and suggests that we take time off each week for some activities like reading.
I found Ben’s post to be more honest than a lot of the work-life balance advice out there. He was not telling us that it is possible to put in 60-70 hours each week at work and still have time for a family, bootstrapping a start-up, writing a book and going to graduate school simply by not checking your e-mail on weekends. He suggests that if you want more time for life, work less. I think more honest thoughts on this subject are needed and that is why I am writing this.
Six years into my career, I have realized that as I took on new roles at new jobs, work has become a larger part of my life. And it does not look like this will change as time goes by. If anything, it will be the opposite. A quick, unscientific poll of some friends reveals a similar situation. And no, we are not whining; many of us are grateful to even be in a job. A recent recruitment exercise by the Ghana Immigration Service saw over 84,000 people apply for a job in which only 500 people were needed. The unemployment situation in Ghana is no joke.
If a life climbing the corporate ladder is your kind of thing, your work is likely to comprise a large part of your life. There is little chance to get around that. If you can get away with doing the bare minimum, then it is likely your employer does not have long-term plans for you anyway.
Some may say technology is the solution to this conundrum but increasingly, I don’t see that technology has made the office worker work less. The ability to work remotely does not mean people are working from home. Rather, people are putting in regular working hours and still working during time away from the office. And do I need to mention the fear of jobs being lost to automation that is making people try harder than ever to justify their salary?
Another solution sometimes suggested to the work-life balance problem is to work in a field which one enjoys. The idea is that by doing that you will not have to choose between work and play. I think that sounds better in theory than in practice. For one thing, even people in work like music (which I assume requires a lot of love on the part of the artist) are known for high levels of depression. Keeping this blog for example, is not easy to do. I do not jump with joy at the thought that I have to put up a new post and yet I love doing it. Even love is hard work.
Eventually, one has to admit that the most likely way to put in your best at work and keep a thriving personal life is to manage your time as well as possible. Planning out your day and avoiding distractions are good things to attempt even if you will likely fail regularly.
Selecting the most important things outside of work to focus on is important. And if you do select something, go ahead and do it. If you want to start a family, do it. If you want to take a course, do it. If you want to catch up on your reading, do it. Your schedule will either adjust to fit it or you will abandon it (don’t abandon your family though!). At least that has been my experience. Before you think of skipping something, ask yourself if you can reasonably assume that you will be less busy next year.
I am hoping to hear from people also trying to find the balance between being effective at work and keeping a fulfilling personal life. No matter what your experience is, I would love to hear from you in the comments.
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