A friend of mine is working in a temporary job. Her temporary boss needs someone just to “be there” at the front desk. There are very little other expectations; she was told she could “bring a book.”
What if, in this situation, all you did was sit there? Not even a book to read? Then you could wrap up your current use of time in this statement: “I sit at a desk at the command of another person from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day in order to pay for how I use my time after 5 p.m. on those days and on Saturday and Sunday.”
My friend does more than just sit there. But there are people who view their time in jobs as “jail time” that must be spent in order to use their “free time” as they want, with the means to do so, meaning surviving (food, housing, medical care) and beyond (travel, movies, material goods, education, philanthropy, etc.).
What makes a job more than just “jail time?” Does paying a person by the hour exacerbate the effects of this mentality? What is the difference between working in a role where you feel “job satisfaction” versus working in a role that you consider your life’s calling?
We see that our “job time” is spent to support our “free time,” but it is also the other way around. We check our work email when we leave work. We stress about a meeting, distracting our full attention from a conversation with a loved one. We work on projects on the weekends. We show up late to a dinner party because work went late. We spend a lot of “free time” currency on supporting our careers… and sometimes buy on metaphorical “credit.”
Where is the balance, and when do you know you are spending your time fully in every moment, so that you never feel you are trading “time in exchange for time”?
It’s coming up on that time of year when I assess my activities as an employee. By the time a year has passed, I find that I must redefine my job description. Needs have come up that have required me to step beyond what I was originally hired to do, for example. And I have a bigger vision of what I could be doing to be a more effective member of my team.
My mentor suggested going through the following steps:
- Write down everything you currently do – how do you spend your time at work?
- List all the elements of your job description – the one that someone would find in your personnel file.
- What else would you like to do? List things that are absent from both lists that you want to do as part of your job that you currently don’t do and aren’t in your job description.
- Determine the percentage of time you spend on each current activity. Write these values next to each item in your first list.
- Determine the percentage of time you want to spend on each item on all three lists.
What have you learned from this exercise? How different are your actual activities from your job description? How different is your vision of your job from what you actually do?
This week a few people asked for my advice and expertise regarding some projects. In one case, I told the individual that what they needed for their project was an in-person or screen-sharing consultation because it would involve visual, hands-on work. The individual got back to me with a quick response that they had a really busy schedule and that they’d be available by phone.
In this case, I wasn’t establishing boundaries for my own work-life balance or learning how to say ‘no’ to people asking for too much of my time. Instead, I offered more of my time and effort in the name of doing the project correctly: I was asserting that for this specific stage, the meeting had to be both auditory and visual with live editing (it is a visual project and in this case no one has impaired hearing or vision). This means we had to be in person or use online software to communicate effectively.
I have decided to call this principle “asserting my expertise” because in this case, someone with little understanding of the appropriate process for a specific type of project was trying to set the terms of the process. I needed to step in and assert my expertise. And, I did. I replied to the individual that I could not be involved in the project if the meeting were not on the terms necessary to complete the project successfully.
My mentor sent me an article called “22 Ways to Say No” in which the author lists ways to say no to adding a task that would not be in line with your priorities.
- Encouragement. Saying “I feel you can do this on your own.” You encourage the person to do something they think they need you to do by showing confidence in their ability to find the answer or finish the project.
- Principles. If the task is not in line with your values, you can say so as a matter of principle. “According to my experience, doing that will not be worth the investment of time.” Or, “I don’t do that sort of thing as a matter of principle” (if it is a moral issue).
- Priorities. You can let people know, “I can’t take on new commitments right now, otherwise my existing priorities will suffer.” It shows you want to perform well at what you do, and that person cannot ask you to sacrifice your job or project for theirs.
- Meet half way. As a rejection, offer a “cheap alternative,” such as “Frank, I’m terribly sorry I can’t assist you during that meeting. However, I could review your presentation slides in advance.”
If you want to know more ways to say no, read the rest of Evomend’s article here.
On June 15 my mentor and I discussed balance. I’m working myself too hard, which I physically cannot maintain. One cannot come in early, work late, not eat lunch, and maintain that work style for the long term. He mentioned a struggle with eating lunch as well, so I challenged both of us to eat lunch at least 4 times a week. And he challenged me to plan out my day and get done what I can in a normal work week. Of course, I should work diligently, efficiently, and effectively, and I can always improve, but I can’t push myself beyond If there’s more than that, I shouldn’t expect myself to do all of it. After all, I am human.