When Do You Stop Working for the Day?

I made a big mistake the other night. I was doing maintenance on my mailing lists. I was quite excited about deleting people who were no longer valid subscribers. I deleted too many people and screwed up the Create Adaptable Life mailing list. I fixed it, and that got me thinking about several things:

  • I am behind on my mails to this list. Not the weekly posts, the quarterly emails.
  • I am behind on getting all the newsletters up on the newsletter page.
  • Why was I doing this important work at 9pm???

Bad Johanna. (For all three.)

I know myself. I can read at night. I can sometimes write drafts of articles, as long as I review them another day. I am not good at thinking well that late at night. I wake up at 6am. By 9pm, I should be long done. What was I thinking?

I’m not the only one working long hours, even though we know  better. Some of my clients explain that they regularly work 14-16 hours a day. I ask, “When do you stop working for the day?” and they say, “When I go to bed.”

That’s nuts. The longer we work in a given day, the more tired we are. The more tired we are, the more likely we are to make mistakes. Our companies don’t hire us to make mistakes. They hire us to deliver valuable work.

I understand where this comes from. I was trying to get just a little bit more done that day. I succeeded in making more work for myself. (Not too bright, eh?) I did that because I’m behind.

Here’s the problem:

You can’t make up time. 

You can’t. It doesn’t matter if you what work you’re doing, you can never make up time. Time marches on, regardless of what you do. You can choose what not to do. You can choose how long to spend on something. But, there is no way to make up time.

I teach this in all my workshops. And, it’s so insidious, that every so often, I fall prey to the same problem. “If I just spend another 10 minutes, I can get caught up.” Nope, that will never happen.

So, I work until 6:30 pm. Sometimes, if I have homework for a writing class I’m taking, I write after dinner. But, that’s a rare event.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question this week: When do you stop working for the day?

P.S. If you subscribe to this site’s newsletter, I expect to release one this coming weekend.

10 thoughts on “When Do You Stop Working for the Day?

  1. Jim Grey

    I have been trying to figure just this question out for myself lately. I’m defining “work” broadly, because I’m good about the paying job not leaking out past about 5:30 pm. But the nonprofit I donate time to, and my personal blog, and other things that really are work even though they’re not paid — well, my favorite time to work on them is 9 pm to midnight, and I get up at 6 am as well. I work on them then because it’s quiet time at home and 9 pm is when I catch my second wind. Yet I’m often too wired to fall asleep at midnight and so I’m too tired on Friday to function well. What’s clear is that I’m involved in too much, but I like it all too much to give any of it up.

    1. johanna Post author

      Ah, I know of other people who have the “I can’t put my hand down” problem. When I started my consulting business, I did a lot of volunteering, so people in the Boston area would get to know me. As I became more busy with paying work, I realized I could either do more non-paying work or more paying work. I decided that the paying work would allow me to create a better life. I decreased my volunteer work and integrated some into my paying business. That was my decision.

      You might have other questions to ask yourself:

      – What provides me the most benefit or value to my overall life?
      – What provides me the most joy in my life? (If it’s the volunteer work, can you make that your paying work?)
      – If I had all the money I need, what would I choose to do?

      Those questions might help you decide what to keep and what to stop doing for now. You might have other questions, too.

      I wonder if you can try an experiment for a week or two and see what you get the most value from? I suspect it’s not staying up too long at night. Sometimes, when we make small decisions (stop working at 9pm, for example), our other decisions become more clear.

      1. Jim Grey

        I feel like I just got some free consulting! :-) Thank you for the advice and perspective!

        What provides the most benefit/value is my day job. What provides the most joy in my life is a very tough call as I’m fortunate and everything I’m doing is a blessing, even the day job — but I think I enjoy photography/blogging the most. Oh, and my relationship with my new wife! The last question is the hardest to answer. I think I’d still want to do all of the things I do even if I had all the money I need. I might try to work less on the day job — maybe four days a week. That’s hard to do in middle management, but we are talking fantasy here.

        I do wonder how I’d be forced to reorganize my life if I stopped working at 9 pm for a while. I bet I’d go through withdrawals first. I think I’m going to try that.

        1. johanna Post author

          Jim, it’s great that you can answer these questions. I am curious to know what happens if you stop working at 9pm, so you can enjoy your relationship with your new wife :-) (You can tell I am an “old” wife :-) If it ever fits for you, please do let us know what you decide.

  2. Trevor

    I’m much in the same place as Jim in regard to leaving the ‘paying job’ at 4:30 being easy. However, I convince myself that in order to stay ‘in the game’ I need to be keeping skills sharp with development, writing, architecture, whatever it may be. The part I really struggle with is deciding at what point that ends. The solution I’m currently iterating on is to just give myself set time blocks throughout the week. They are my time to learn, blog, etc. It’s not perfect but it does seem to be helping mentally release after the given block is over.

    1. johanna Post author

      Trevor, I wonder if you could learn on the day job. Back when I worked for other people, I had learning goals every year, and learned new things. I suspect managers think they are “too busy” to allow people time to learn. (Don’t let me start on that stupidity.)

      I also take blocks of time for specific learning. It’s working for me. I hope it works for you.

  3. Yves Hanoulle

    Interesting, for me the community work I do, not because it brings me money, I do that, because it brings value to everyone.
    I see it as a pay it forward.
    I learned so much from so many people, that I want to make sure I pay that learning back. I do that to the community, for multiple reasons:
    – these people also invest in others
    – it offers people who can’t afford spending money on training, a way to pay with their time
    And mostly I learn as much as I invest, so it’s also a cheap way for me of learning.
    (cheap in money, not in time.)

    that said I started to track the the evenings and events I go to, to make sure it stays in balance.

    In total I know spend 220 days a year on non family time. (ignoring the fact I try to fuse them if possible)

    part of it paid work, part of it community work.
    that is about the same amount that employees work in companies.

    before I tracked the community work also, the total went completely overboard…

    I also track the training I follow, I have spend 10 to 20% of my revenu on training myself, the last 10 years

    1. johanna Post author

      Yves, tracking time and training is something I do, also. I use my blogs as a way to pay it forward. I used to volunteer on committees, etc, but that’s long gone.

      I also find that the more training I do, the more I learn. I have been more selective on my training the past few years, and now I’m taking as much as possible in very specific areas.

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