Life is short – Do you really want to spend it working?

A relative of mine recently visited us in Asia for two weeks.  She works a normal kind of job.  Nothing fancy or high powered.  She is paid by the hour.  Dreads some aspects of work, loves other parts, but for the most part just does what she needs to do to bring home an income to keep the household going.

About a week into her visit, she pulled me aside and said, “Mr. Zero [no, she doesn’t really call me a Zero], I am worried about you.  You are obviously doing great, but the amount that you work is just not right.”

A typical week for Mr. Zero

  • 5:30 AM:  Wake up.  It’s a new day!  Drink one cup of coffee.  Check stock market performance and read the news for 30 minutes.
  • 6:00 AM:  Pour the second cup of coffee and then check work email that came in from those industrious East Coast Americans that work while I am sleeping. Typically, I respond to three to ten that don’t take much thought.  I scan and flag the more difficult to deal with.  Double check my meeting schedule – already did this the night before, but you know, those pesky people in the US sometimes like to schedule meetings with less than 8 hours notice.
  • 6:30 AM:  Shower, dress, kiss my wife and depart for work.
  • 7:00 AM to 8:00 AM:  Deal with the remaining emails from overnight.
  • 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM:   Typically in meetings about 6 to 8 hours of the day.  If I am lucky, I have an hour or two to catch up on all the email that was generated by those pesky, industrious folks working in Asia.
  • 5:00 PM to 7:00PM:  Scoot home (I drive a scooter to work).  Spend some time with family.  If night meetings don’t start until 8pm, I spend 45 minutes to an hour on the treadmill.
  • 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM:  Monday to Thursday – more meetings.  I draw the line at night meetings on the weekends unless something is literally on fire or an executive decides my presence is a must.
  • Weekends:  A good weekend consists of one to two hours of email and random phone calls throughout the day.  A bad weekend means 8 to 10 hours completing an urgent task that was assigned on a Friday or something I didn’t have time to complete during the week.  Weekends are also often used as travel days for business trips.

It is hard to calculate the number of hours I work because I am essentially always connected and never really not working.  The only time I can confidently say I am not working are the 6 to 7 hours I am sleeping each day.

No, Mr. Zero, you aren’t special at all

As it turns out, my experience isn’t any different than millions of other professionals employed by large corporations with multi-national footprints. With the proliferation of technology making it easier to be connected and the world’s economies becoming ever more intertwined, the expectations on the typical corporate professional are getting a bit out of control.

The Centers for Creative Leadership conducted some revealing research into the subject.  Some interesting tidbits from their work:

  • 60% of Executives, Managers and Professionals (EMP’s) that use a smartphone average 13.5 hours of work per day.
  • Nearly 50% of EMP’s who are managers of managers or above believe they are expected to respond to their bosses emails on weekends and evenings.
  • Many don’t blame technology as the problem, rather they believe the issue is due to the ineffectiveness in their organizations.
  • Most report being worn out. [No shit, Sherlock]

OK, maybe a little special

Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining [much].  I feel fortunate to have a well-paying stable job where my work is respected and valued.   I am thankful that we are not living paycheck to paycheck.

BUT, I am most thankful that Mrs. Zero and I saw the light early enough that we did not build a financial prison of debt and lifestyle that requires me to continue to do this type of work for another 20 years.

The realization that there is another path and that there is more to life than working and spending is the most valuable dividend our increasing wealth has brought me.

It is this lesson that I hope I can instill in my children.   Money is important only in the context of the freedom that it provides.  Making money to buy more stuff comes at a great risk, so choose wisely.

4 Comments on “Life is short – Do you really want to spend it working?”

  1. Hey Mr. Z — enjoyed this post. I just did a similar review of my work hours, although I’m realizing I underestimated a little. I have a lot of atypical days that are 12 hours+.

    I completely get what you’re saying. At the same time, I have a slightly different take on work at this point. Is there any part of your work, or your company’s goals, that gives meaning to the long days? Or is work just a transaction: your time in exchange for money? If the former, a person can be energized, at least for a while, in working the long hours to accomplish something meaningful. If the latter … which I’m guessing is yours … save as quickly as possible to get out.

    Not sure if this is making sense, but thanks for writing and best of luck with those long hours!

    R
    Rich @ pennyandrich.com recently posted…Rich On Work: Responsibility And Meaning, Human Capacity, Kindergarten Soccer, and Bathroom Breaks For Lawyers In NYCMy Profile

    1. Nice to hear from you Rich. Yes, I do get some meaning from my work and there are many aspects I enjoy. To be clear, I am very appreciative of the opportunities and trust my company has given me. We are a great company and I am proud to be a part of it.

      The issue is my willingness [and at some point physical capability] to continue spend my limited time on this planet working. There are many other activities that I am NOT doing (family, friends and pursuing other life goals).

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