how much we work & how little we sleep
My first reaction to the CNN article about Sheryl Sandberg going home at 5:30 was the same as Pamela Stone’s: “This is news… ?” I mean really, a woman has two kids and she goes home in time to eat dinner and hang out with them. Shocking.
But I think back to the last time I went to dinner with friends. Imagine this conversation on a Friday night:
“Man, I’m exhausted. I got up at 6 cause I had an early morning meeting. I hate tax season.”
“Oh that’s nothing, I didn’t get home from the office till 9, cranked through some more work, went to bed at 1:30, and then got up at 5:30 with the dog.”
“Yeah, I’ve gotten less than 18 hours of sleep this whole week.”
“Forget tax season. We work 80 hours a week, every week.”
I too work in Corporate America, and let me tell you, in Corporate America, we do not brag about going home at 5 PM. I started to think, if Sheryl Sandberg didn’t have the courage to talk about this until she became the COO of one of the most recognizable tech companies in the world, what is that saying about the millions of us who aren’t in that position? About the balance of our lives?
Why has this become a badge of honor? Why are we so competitive about how little we sleep and how much time we spend at the office? We’re a culture of one-uppers competing around the wrong metrics.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m just as guilty. There are days when I get up to run at 5:15 so I can be in the office at 7 AM, but there are also days I get to the office at 8:45. There are days when I leave at 7:30 PM, but more often than not, I’m gone before 6. And I’m just as apt to chime in about crazy hours and sprints and stress and work at the dinner table as any of my consultant / lawyer / accountant / software friends.
I’m early in my career. I’m not the COO of a huge tech firm. I don’t have kids, or a family to cook for, or kids to drive to soccer practice. But does that mean that my life is my work? That my time should be spent only at the office? Do I even have any credibility to talk about effectiveness, productivity, or work-life balance?
And the real question there is, does spending more time at the office make me more productive? Does taking my work home with me every night after 11 hours at my desk make me a better engineer? Does eating lunch at my desk so I can finish a CAD model make me a better designer?
Because of (or in spite of) my type-A-sleep-deprived-11-hours-a-day-in-the-office, am I creating better devices? Am I saving more lives?
Activity does not equate to value.
We know this, but we still refuse to believe it, to internalize it. We live in a culture where the perception of a young, single professional means if they’re not in the office beyond the 9 – 5, that they’re not serious about their careers. Where if you don’t have kids to take care of, you don’t have a legitimate excuse to leave early (although one look at my dog’s puppy eyes when I get home for a walk should make you disagree). That people who skip out at five are doing less, or producing less.
My very legitimate excuse to leave work before the sun goes down.
It’s clear that time spent on a task is not the right metric to measure success. So the next step is, what are we doing about it? As young engineers, consultants, developers, accountants, lawyers, researchers, are we using the right metrics in our own lives? Unless you’re working for yourself, it’s hard to completely quash the perception issues with working a four-hour workweek, but first things first: are you productive? And if not, what are you doing about it?
A few weeks ago Brandon gave me an interesting quote from a mutual friend: a truly meaningful career is “more than a job, but less than a life.” Don’t wear your my-life-is-work mentality as a badge of honor. Understand that there are things more important than how many dimensioned drawings you can produce in a week, or how many spreadsheets you can jockey before tomorrow morning.
Understand what the organization values – what you value – and pursue that. And then stop. And go home. And walk your dog.