Project Management

Pros and cons of working evenings and weekends

IT consultant Chip Camden explores the benefits and the drawbacks of working overtime. Take the two polls in this column to let us know how often you work extra hours.

What a hectic week! Unexpected requests from four different clients vied for my attention, pushing all the things I had planned to accomplish into my calendar's waiting room. Consequently, here I sit on a Saturday afternoon writing my weekly TechRepublic article that I usually submit on Thursday or Friday. It's a good thing that I can fall back on the weekend to let some steam out of my schedule. Or is it?

Evenings and weekends are usually free of interruptions from clients, so I can put my head down and crank out some productive work. But family members, friends, and neighbors may not consider that time quite so sacrosanct. Either I have to accept those interruptions, or try to lay down the law against them. If I don't give those people attention at these times, when will I? I also need to find time to take care of non-work-related duties: chores, family paperwork, etc. Then there's spending quality time with the family -- not to mention just having fun. When does that happen if I'm always working?

Just knowing that the extra time is available contributes to the problem. I try to reserve time during my normal working hours for learning new things. Work emergencies sometimes push those activities aside, but I promise myself I'll do them on the weekend. If things continue to heat up, though, I'll find myself planning to do client work on the weekend, and the self-improvement gets postponed to the next week. Pretty soon, it's nothing but work seven days a week. If I didn't give myself the option to expand my work week, that wouldn't happen.

On the other hand, I'm sure that being able to respond to client emergencies and put in the extra hours when needed contribute positively to my relationships with my clients. I hope they don't take it for granted, but in any case the alternative would involve a lot more of saying "I'm sorry, I just don't have time for you right now." I hate saying that, and my wallet hates it, too. I bill by the hour, so it's hard to feel exploited. But that makes the temptation to work the extra hours even greater. I can go from "working to live" to "living to work" in no time.

I derive a great sense of accomplishment when working extra hours. I get a lot done, whether for clients or for my own benefit. I also have to admit that I find solace in dealing with computers instead of people, and I sometimes use working alone on the weekends as a refuge from interpersonal struggles. That can't be healthy.

After a certain number of hours at a stretch, I do become less productive, though. Between 10 and 12 hours in a day is about my limit -- after that, I start making stupid mistakes. So I'm much more likely to work extra hours on the weekend than in the evenings.

How about you? Are you able to put work aside at the end of the workday and work week?

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About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

16 comments
tech_ed
tech_ed

"bill by the hour, so it???s hard to feel exploited. But that makes the temptation to work the extra hours even greater." So, basically you are saying that your desire to avoid your family and friends is driven by greed...What is it you really want? Bigger house, better car, country club membership? Look, I can understand if you're living in the nation's richest county (like me) and you need $90k/year just to be middle-class, but come on...do you *REALLY* need that 2011 BMW 9-series? Or that 5,500sq-ft mini-mansion in that exclusive gated community? I can understand if you are working 50-60 hours a week just to put food on your table an you live in government section-8 housing and take public transportation...Yeah, you *NEED* to do these things just to get by! But if you're in the $100k+ range of income, then you really don't need that extra level of stress! It is all based on what is important to you! My wife was laid off from a $60k/yr job a few years ago...she got a new job a few months later, making slightly more than half that...*BUT* her commute to the new job is 5 minutes against traffic instead of 45 minutes in traffic...her position is ultra-low stress and she doesn't suffer from the hovering boss syndrome! Sure, the loss of her income hurt, but we make due...my salary more than made up for the her loss...Sure, I have never had a new car, but that isn't important to me...I don't need those payments! My bosses told me that perhaps I should persue a management position, but I figured, that I don't need that level of stress either..I'm making good money doing what I'm doing, and as long as I maintain my knowledge level, I'll have this job for as long as I want...And I think that sometimes *I'M* greedy for living in a 3,500 sq-ft house in an exclusive neighborhood! But I'm not...I'm living well within my means and enjoy wonderful vacations to Hawaii and Colorado. I have several cars (used) that I use as hobbies (off roading is fun) and I can afford my main hobby, computers...I run several rack mount servers in my basement to do things that I enjoy...And, I don't work more than 50 hours a week...and *THAT'S* if I have a maintenance that week!

dhays
dhays

I will put in overtime if needed, such as during the Cash for Clunkers exploitation last year. As a rule I don't have enough work for the time I put in anyway. Your poll questions don't really have th right answers to vote in, ergo I didn't. That is the trouble with surveys in general, they don't ask the right questions or don't provide the right answers, if multiple choice such as these two are.

JoeyO506
JoeyO506

I telecommute so the temptation is always there to slip into the office for "just a minute". One thing that helps me is that I have a 2 hour window in the middle of each workday when no calls are taken. This really lets me plow through a lot of work and means that I don't need to work over so much.

kseaman
kseaman

Work has it's place in life and is neccessary to make a living NOT for the living itself. Our time here is very short, the blink of an eye as one poster put it, way too short to spend it all at work. And once you are gone someone else will do what you did. Will you be remembered at your place of employment once you are gone? Very unlikely. Unless you did a really heinous job while you were there, then maybe for a little while after, but not for long in the end. Work is neccessary, of course, but life is meant to be lived and enjoyed, savored! Don't let the time you have pass you by so that you have regrets when you pass. Get out there and live it!

Quasar Kid
Quasar Kid

In the grand scheme of the universe we are here but the blink of an eye. I am not now, never have been, and never will be defined by my job. To many roses to stop and smell along the way. You will NEVER find anyone on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time at the office...

eCubeH
eCubeH

There are some times when something just HAS to get done, when you are the only person who can do it, when doing it will make a BIG difference to many many people. Or is it that there are other ways to go about it, only we just don't know how? Or the value of the work is overstated? but I don't think so, not in my case. Who does though? For me its been 12+ hour days, many 7 day weeks, for over 3 years, to the point where one gets exhausted and grouchy by Wednesday, health going somewhere deep some drain, look and feel like #@$%. The positive is that the turn is around the corner, just a few months away (it was always a few months away, but now it is really so, really!). The it will all be worth it. If you are only working for more $, then the call is easy. But if its for a bigger purpose, then its a tough call.

Tigger_Two
Tigger_Two

After hubby was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We were both work oriented and often let work needs trump personal time. In the hindsight that is always 20/20, I can see where that wasn't good thinking on our parts, but it was reflective of the work culture we both came up in. He even had a coffee mug that said, "Whatever it takes". I can't see me returning to that kind of work life, even now that he has passed. I would like to think that as time goes on I will find things that interest me and stuff I want to do that isn't necessarily work oriented. I would like to think I have learned to prioritize family and friends and will make myself more available to them. Time is a precious thing. There's never enough of it, and managing it can be impossible, regardless of the systems you put in place. As I have been known to say, "Plans are made, life intrudes." Let's face it, you can't schedule an emergency. It gets important to CHOOSE how you will spend that precious time currency, and recognize that it IS a choice you are making. I've spent too much time in cemeteries lately, and read a lot of epitaphs. One I have yet to see is one that says, "I wish I spent more time at work". Edit- clarity

apotheon
apotheon

I think people who do work connected to fields of interest for them, especially when they work for themselves, tend to have this problem a lot more often than most others -- and they also find it very difficult to identify the line between "more is better" and "too much". I know it's a pretty fuzzy "line" for me -- to the point where it just becomes sort of a smudgy blur as wide as anything on either side of it. I think things work out for me, though. While I'm loath to let my "significant other" pull me out of work, I'm also loath to get into work in the first place when we're together, unless she's doing something on her own as well. As a result, I end up with many, many hours in which work is effectively verboten, even though she'd quite easily back off and let me do work if I told her I wanted to do so. It might seem a bit contradictory, but I think the fact she's so supportive and would step aside for my work without complaint when I need to do work actually helps me spend long stretches without working on the weekends and in the evenings. My desire to spend that time with her outweighs my desire to just do that "one more thing" that needs to be done for a while, and as a result I get more time for her, for us, and for me, away from the "real work".

apotheon
apotheon

> So, basically you are saying that your desire to avoid your family and friends is driven by greed No, that's not what he said. He did not say he wanted to avoid family and friends. He said that being paid by the hour does not make him feel like he's being exploited -- not that greed makes him hate his loved ones. Are you completely incapable of understanding that there may sometimes be conflicting desires, that one might desire both the money to better provide for one's children and the time to spend with them, and that finding the right balance might be difficult? Did you intentionally overlook all the commentary in the article about feeling a responsibility to the client? Should responsibilities be shirked -- including the responsibility to pay for kids' healthcare and education? Are you aware that consultants generally lose a lot more income to taxes than salaried employees, and have to pay for their own healthcare, retirement funds, and other "benefits"? You appear to have (mis)read one statement and ignored the rest of the article. It sounds like your attitude about work and life is pretty healthy. It also sounds like your tendency to read evil into others' comments rather than reading them for what they are is unhealthy.

apotheon
apotheon

Things get more difficult when it feels like the work is leading to something Big and Important -- curing the ills of the world, advancing the state of the art, substantively improving oneself, or securing one's children's futures, for instance. Biotechnology engineering, security, certain types of writing, formal instruction, autodidactic pursuits, and artificial intelligence may all fall into these categories. One still needs to find the time to recharge one's "batteries", though -- to avoid burning out and becoming less productive, even if only for the sake of the project. What good is a dedicated worker who is so burned out (s)he cannot get anything meaningful done, makes mistakes all the time, or otherwise suffers substantially from having never taken a break? Yeah, taking some time off can definitely be a tough call if the work is for a higher purpose. It still needs to be done, though.

sissy sue
sissy sue

I have reached the age when I can see my mortality. Neither of my parents reached 80. If I follow this pattern, I have less than 20 years to live. I don't want to live them working. I've been on this treadmill since I was 17. The minute I can afford to retire, I will. Then, for once in my life, instead of doing what a boss tells me to do, I will be doing what I want to do.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I have the unfortunate habit or appreciating things only in retrospect, and I have a hard time breaking free of that even though I know it's a problem.

Tigger_Two
Tigger_Two

Diagnosis was a heck of a wake up call. He was 54. He died 13 months later, nearly to the day. After we finished the first chemo and radiation, I told him we were going to Alaska. Taking a cruise to Alaska was something he had always wanted to do. At that point, he was as healthy as he was ever going to be and it only made sense to get off our tails and go. Once we started making plans, they expanded. We would take a month, drive to Seattle, take the cruise, then drive down the coast stopping in the places he had always wanted to visit. The day before we left, we found out that the tumors were back and that we would return home to more chemo. It was harsh news- we had hoped for more time- but we left anyway. Today, my walls are covered with pictures of him on that trip. I wouldn't part with the memories for the world. It took a lot of work on both our parts to realize that our priorities had changed- NEEDED to change- and that it was okay if that happened. We almost didn't get married because of how we had prioritized- didn't [b]make[/b] the time initially, almost ran out of time at the end. We got married four days before he died. I hope I never again allow things that are only artificially important to cloud my recognition of what really IS important.

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