Tuesday, July 21, 2015

working for the weekend

Lately I have been inundated with certain ground-breaking announcements. This just in: working over 60 hours a week is not productive. Actually, it can become counter-productive. So stop working so much overtime. Don't give up your personal life for more billable hours. Take control of your work addictions. Step away from the phone...

All of which is not really a problem for me. I'm happy to work my 30ish hours per week (many of them from home) and call it a success. That is, until I was asked to work over the weekend. Because, well, there was a mix up. A mistake. And a 50 page report that had yet to be completed. It needed to be compiled and written already. But it didn't quite exist yet.

So, at 4pm on a Friday I finally accepted my future; because there would be a report by Monday. And I would be the one to create it. I looked at my weekend calendar. I cancelled everything. I started to drive home from work, ready to get started on the report. But first, I stopped to go for a run.

Because that is how I work best. I need time for me. I need to calm down, to breath, to step away and come back to whatever I am working on with fresh eyes. I need to know that before I spend 80+ hours doing something for someone else, that I did something for myself. Plus, if I go for a run first, I'll do a better job in the end. It's just how it works for me.

When I finally got home Friday evening, I got to work. I printed hard copies of instructions, spread out in the living room, organized my emails and documents, and read up on what I needed to know to get started. Then I started organizing my thoughts. Hours flew by. Once I couldn't see straight, I knew it was time to stop for the night. So I went to bed.

I woke up the next morning and went to a class at my gym. Yes, I had an insurmountable amount of work to get through. Yet I still needed a little bit of time that day for me, an appearance of weekend. I had already cancelled all my other Saturday plans, but not this class. It was over before I normally get out of bed on the weekend and I was back home, back to work, before I knew it.

I worked until the sun went down. I ordered myself a pizza. It tasted amazing. I ate it over the computer screen. I worked and worked and again once my eyes started blurring the type, I set aside the computer and went to bed. I was making progress, but I had so much more to write.

This isn't a lesson in complaining about having to work. Or about how much more I work than anyone else (we all know that isn't true). It isn't even about how I manage to work every weekend. It's about how something good came from something that at first seemed completely awful. At first, I was afraid to tell my friends what I was up to that weekend. I immediately thought they'd judge me and my job for letting it control me and dictate my life.

But this couldn't be further from the truth. My job is amazing. The best job I've ever had. It's a treat to do my job, to go to my office on a beautiful college campus, to work with brilliant and caring individuals, and to help send low-income students of color to college. It's a privilege. Sometimes it just becomes like every other job; too much work and not enough employees or time. It's rare, but it happens.

Except that I've just learned it doesn't much happen in San Francisco. I'm shocked about this. When I did tell a few people I was working all weekend, they complained. No one around here works weekends. I thought that was crazy. Of course they do. They go in to the office on Saturdays. They work from home on Sundays. They are always checking their work email throughout the weekend.

But that's in Chicago, not in San Francisco. The last time I checked, almost every single member of my family works weekends. My dad, as a doctor, worked every weekend of my life. My brother, as a corporate lawyer, most definitely went into the office on Saturdays. My sister, as a lab tech, works a Saturday shift every week. My cousins and aunts and uncles all do this as well. They work during the week. And then on the weekend they work some more. Whatever it takes to get the workload done. To get the promotion. To get the recognition.

Except that it doesn't need to be done. After working 22 additional hours in one weekend I did get a promotion (I got a bonus). And yes, I did get a ton of recognition. But I also got the best gift of all: permission (and funding) to hire another staff member. In response to the "great jobs" I was receiving all around for my (to be honest) kick-ass work, I was able to say, "let's make sure it doesn't happen again" to people who are now making sure it doesn't happen again. Because I am not my best at 90 hours a week. I'm just not. And thus my organization is not. I don't know anyone who is their best self at that rate. 

If working this much is your life, I won't judge you. Maybe you have to. But maybe you don't. Maybe you work this much because you let yourself work this much. It's okay to push back every now and then (if you can). And it's absolutely okay to do something for yourself every day (if you can). For me, this is mandatory. Because in the end, it will make you happier, more balanced, and simply more pleasant to be around. And that will pay off in spades.

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