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?
Related IT consultant resources
- When calendars collide: Five scheduling tips for busy IT consultants
- The absentminded IT consultant: How to stay focused and organized
- 10 things consultants can do to stay organized
- Setting priorities as an IT consultant
- Prioritize consulting tasks by mapping them to client goals
- Avoid the interrupt-driven model of time management
- How to juggle time between multiple clients