Dealing with Long Work Hours

Monday, September 1, 2008

Ever since I actually started my job two weeks ago, I have been working kind of late. I say kind of, because I get off around 8 p.m., sometimes 9 p.m. and have gotten off at midnight a couple of nights. I have also worked at least one day during the weekend. Since we have a final product that needs to roll out to a client in two weeks, I am expected to work late and on weekends the next two weeks. I also worked two days out of the Labor Day Weekend.

Now, this kind of shift in schedule from doing everything and anything I wanted in college and doing one thing for 12 hours a day is pretty daunting. By no means is it easy for me. I like my personal time and I need about four hours of it a day. Which is proving pretty hard with these kinds of work hours.

Last week I talked to my mentor, who has been in my life for four years now. He has always helped me out with any types of questions I have, both personal and professional. He said something very interesting to me. He told me that my parents never really lay any strict rules on me about work. I always got summers off and if I did work, it would only be a part-time job of under 10 hours a week. During most of my summers since I turned 16, I went to Russia and Ukraine to party 24/7. This is the first time that I am operating under such structured time constraints. And the most important thing he told me is that everyone goes through it, that this transition from college to your first job is completely natural and that it will get better (at least in my mind).

So why do the long work hours bother me? It is mostly because I consider this time in my life a time of not only professional, but also personal growth. I want to learn how to live by myself, how to cook for myself, how to be a young adult. I want to have a personal life and be able to spend time with my friends during the week. I want to fall in love. But my current work hours do not allow for more than going for a jog and perusing through the entries in my Google Reader.

So how do I deal with working long hours consistently? Here are a few things I think about:

1. This is a time of transition and I am just learning how to live with such structured constraints on my life. Even if the work hours remain the same, I will get used to them.

2. This is a time in my career where I need to prove myself and is the best time to do it. I am young and not tied down by any family responsibilities. My time belongs only to me, so I am free to spend it all on work if that is what it takes. No other time in my life will it be this easy to work long hours. So I should take advantage of this opportunity, prove myself to my employer (and my managers), solidify a good professional reputation and then go from there. If worse comes to worst, I can opt for a less time-consuming job. The challenge of adapting to such work is a great experience.

3. Although it is an external motivation, I focus on my team. Working on a good team is crucial. I was fortunate enough to be assigned on a team where I knew the people from my last summer and whom I really like. When I am stuck in the office with them at midnight creating some exhibit, I am excited to be there. I take comfort in the fact that they are also working hard and that they really need me to help them out. They could do it without me, but why would I want to leave them when I can help and cut down the work for them? A sense of camaraderie develops and makes it actually fun to stay in the office and work on something fairly late!

4. These long work hours make me think hard about the activities I really value in my life and keep them. Everything else I need to cut out. I care about my friends and I will carve out time to keep up with them. On the other hand, shopping (which used to consume a lot of my time) has to be cut out. If I am to be successful, I am to be busy. And if I am to be busy, I cannot afford to participate in activities that I do not care about.

5. And of course, a sincere thank you from your managers is an extremely powerful example. But more on that later.


Shaun Tippett said...

Hey, thanks for your blog, I found it interesting and useful. I'm a little older and have a young family. My kids are 3 and 4 years old. It's true that when you get older and have a family you are a lot less able to put in the long hours at work. The work demands seldom seem to lesson in sympathy of that fact though. I take work home. I'm able to log into the work servers remotely from home, but I sometimes get resentful about having to do so to get everything done. At home however I have a work style which allows me to enjoy my work more. It's a relaxed style where I think a lot about the best way to achieve an end result before starting out and I allow myslef to be destracted by other useful tasks such as building web links or researching on the net. These are useful and benficial in their own right although not specifically related to the task, and they keep my work at home interesting and relaxed.
I try also to backwardly integrate this relaxed ethic at the office with varying degrees of success. When I am successful in this I tend to work more efficiently and get just as much done but without the stress. It's not always possible though as deadlines often loom and then the job just needs doing. I good diet also helps a lot. I have recently cut back on coffee and added nuts and raisons to my daily routine. They are a good low GI source of energy, which get me to the end of the day without feeling exhausted.

Cheers for your blog.

Good luck.