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The Harvard Business Review never ceases to speak my language, reveal my deepest and darkest professional secrets and remind me that I am not alone. In a recent HBR blog post “Should You Stay Late or Go Home?” Ron Ashkenas reported that more and more employees are working longer “since there’s always more to do than there is time to do it – [we’ve] gotten into the pattern of expanding [our] workday.” But that was not the most surprising finding in the HBR article.

I’d always suspected it, been warned about it, but never knew how to avert it – getting locked into longer hours:

“But once you begin expanding your work hours on a regular basis, working ‘normal’ hours starts to look like slacking off. In other words, if you establish a pattern of staying late, your extended hours become the new normal.”

Akin to a gateway drug, I’d say – when did an excellent work ethic and honorable commitment become a purgatory of excessive expectations? Being punished for working hard, for working late and, dare I say, for enjoying both when the task calls for it (at least not when forced nor expected to) is uncalled for.

I’ve never been a clock-watcher, neither as an employee nor as a manager. I’ve often felt that the clock is counterproductive. “9 to 5″ is a great song and an even better movie, but as a set work shift, it’s a precipice from which productivity falls far and hard, never to be recovered.

Workshifting is not only a luxury but also a necessity for many who’ve discovered the key to sustained productivity and expansive creativity. At the same time, workshifters are prone to over-extended hours regardless of by whom they’re set. Balance is a fallacy when your “office” is 5 steps from your living room and accessible from anywhere in the house at any hour (thanks to our friend, Mr. Wi-Fi). “Going home” gets you literally nowhere when you’re already there working.

Askenas has some sound advice on this matter for workshifters and traditional employees alike:

Reflect on your goals – both professional and personal. Think through the aspirations you have for your career and your life. What do you want to achieve? What are the priorities? What gives you fulfillment? It’s remarkable how many people wander through their careers without a sense of ‘true north’ to guide their decisions. As a result they lack criteria for determining whether to invest more time in work.”

It all comes to down to this: be the CEO of your own career, learn yourself and lobby for the systems and methods that work best for you.

“Remember that if you don’t take conscious control of your own work hours, the work hours [and others’ perceptions thereof] can easily take control of you.”

Are your hours expanding while your productivity wanes?

Photo Credit: cwaunion

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Natalya Sabga is a project management professional and operational efficiency expert turned author, consultant and executive education advisor. Fascinated by the study of human behavior, she has parlayed this into a successful writing career. Ms. Sabga is also the author of "From Secretary to CEO: A Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder Without Losing Your Identity" (2010). She is also the President of DNterprises, LLC - a firm specializing in project needs' analysis, and project management from implementation to operation. Ms. Sabga is currently working on her next non-fiction narrative, "A PMP's Guide to Project Managing Your Life," and authoring the blog 'ASK N'.
  • Martin Smith

    Excellent post Natalya. I must compliment you on your writing style.
     Time and work load management certainly require an entirely new approach when working from a home environment .  The home business environment posses a far greater number of distractions than an office environment so a higher level of self-discipline is definitely required. 
    Having a dedicated office in your house and integrating your personal and business schedule effectively helps maintain that important balance between productivity and socializing.  

    Martin Smith

    • Natalya Sabga

      Thank you for your kind words, Martin! Some say balance is a fallacy, but its importance cannot be underscored and I will never cease to seek it in personal and professional endeavors. Wishing you utmost success in 2012.