Saturday, October 25, 2003

Take Back Your Time

Friday, October 24, was Take Back Your Time Day.

This grass-roots "movement" attempted to make a dent (or at the very least, make a scratch) in the well-rooted mentality of working "extra hours", or long hours. I applaud such a movement.

At my former employer, Open Market, I was a classic "long hours" guy, especially in my last few years. I often gutted out fifty, sixty hour work weeks. On top of that, I added more hours by being "on-call" after work (I was a customer support technician for an e-commerce system). I have missed my wedding anniversary by being on a customer visit. I have worked draining technical issues ("help, my system is down!") at nearly every holiday. When I was promoted to management, the hours didn't go down, but they changed into an even more stressful version of my "individual contributor" years.

I had the occasion to read my diaries from those years. There were plenty of entries in big, angry letters: "I'm so SICK of working!" and "I'm so TIRED!". I was loyal, but I was burned out. So I had mixed emotions when the company, in a steep downward spiral, decided to transition the product I supported overseas. I volunteered to be laid off (there were incentives). Three days before the lay off date, my daughter entered the world. My work life abruptly ended, and it was incredible.

I didn't work for the next two months (eleven weeks, actually). I lived on severance and unemployment checks. Mia was her own "after-hours" operation, but it was a stress and pressure that I could share with Jenn. While I was jobless, I began to write this BLOG in earnest. I read. I avoided wearing shoes. I watched movies. I put up I had so much time. But I knew I couldn't "stay on the beach" forever.

In June 2001, I rejoined the work-force, at another technical support gig. The customers, however, weren't working on "live" systems. They were developers, working on future systems. My hours could be regular, and there was no after-hours support. After a few weeks of adjustments, I found myself working exactly between 9 and 5. Sometimes earlier than 9. Rarely later than 5. I was rigid about when I left the office. I managed my workload so that by the time the 5 o'clock hour arrived, I was headed out the door.

As a result, my days have achieved a relatively peaceful and pleasant routine. I get home by 5:45 PM. I have dinner with Jenn and Mia. On the weekdays, I put Mia to bed. Then I do clean-up and laundry chores. By 8:30 PM, I settle in for television (a DVD, or sports) or run out to see a movie (my resolution this year). Sometimes I do some computer stuff, or Internet stuff. I try to get in some reading and writing.

Working 9 to 5 life has improved my work productivity. I try very hard not to slack off at work. I push myself in those hard hours (between 2 and 5PM), when the tendency is to slow down (I'm a morning person). But when 5 o'clock arrives, I am able to put down my work, and save it for tomorrow.

I feel like a hypocrite because when I was in management, I often gave more credit to folks who put in extra hours, who put in extra time. Heck, I called some part of my group for a Sunday afternoon training session. Sunday! My mores have changed, I suppose.

The premise of Take Back Your Time was to bring attention to the culture of overwork. Political solutions would be wonderful, but I believe overwork starts with the individual. We should look at ourselves closely if we're working a lot of overtime. And if we are, then what would it take for us to scale back, to take back our time?

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