Work Hard, Play Hard?

Work Hard, Play Hard?

DrWife sent me an article that she read titled Why we have to go back to a 40-hour work week to keep our sanity by Sara Robinson at AlterNet which makes a compelling case for why the 40 hour work week was initiated and why it’s need for us to be economically successful as a society. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do so now. It’s OK, I can wait.

There, all finished.

The article essentially discusses how people are not that much more productive working more than 40 hours per week (or 8 hours in a day) and the work efficiency drops off significantly. There are many facets to discuss based on this article, ranging from the current unemployment level in the US to the work-life balance that many of us would like and overall human rights issues that the NY Times has pointed out in articles about China’s manufacturing of Apple products. Essentially, there are numerous social, political, and economic issues that are all intertwined in this issue. For the record, I’m mostly left-of-center on a lot of these issues. I did, however, live in a socialist country when I was in Europe and did see the ramifications of moving too far in favor of worker’s rights.

But rather than discussing the bigger themes, I thought I would use this article and analyzing as a reflection of my own work habits. Do I have the mindset of work hard, play hard? Sure. But if I take a step back, the truth is that I don’t like the work hard, play hard mindset. I grew up in an area where everyone and everything is part of a big city rat-race and now that I’ve lived in several different places, I really dislike that environment. In fact, when I do venture back home, it tends to be reluctantly and gets me pulled into that downward spiral so quickly, I can see it happening to myself and yet I am powerless to stop it.

If I think about the hours I work, if I’m truly honest, I average about 5-6 hours doing real work. And by real work, I mean hardcore writing on proposals, papers, grading, or class prep. I do spend much more than that working. I’m usually on campus 8 to 5, but regularly answer emails things of that sort either in the morning or night outside of those times. And that’ s one of the important things that I think the article confirmed for me. It states that knowledge workers have about 6 good hours in them, which is where I find myself normally. If I head to the lab and work on things there, it’s more mechanical than hardcore brain power so I don’t feel like I’ve taxed myself as much, but I do feel like I’ve accomplished more. I typically spend about 1 to 1.5 hours per day writing and reading emails. But that tends to be throughout the day, like a constant pull, keeping me from working. Then I either have classes or meetings which inevitably take up 2 hours per day. Plus ad-hoc discussions with students are easily another hour. So if I add all of that up, it’s easily over 8 hours but probably less than the “6 good hours” of hardcore brain power.

For proposal and conference deadlines, journal paper revisions, and other time-critical instances, I feel like I can generate an enormous amount of effort but only for a short period. This typically involves getting up very early and working several hours before actually going into work or working on the weekend. But even those times only last me   a few weeks. After that, I’m too zombified, too worried about getting divorced, and too ashamed of missing NanoGEARS grow up to push on.

I know there are definitely people out there that can probably keep up that sustained pace where the rest of us mere mortals drop dead. But if you sat back and seriously analyzed your work habits, do you really think you’re more productive working 50-60 hours (or more)? Or do you tend to hit your limit sooner than that?

[photo credit: Amanda Buck]