Balancing Work Time and “Free” Time

In designing your life, your work has to occupy some amount of your time.  You need to generate income somehow in order to buy what you want to buy and do what you need to do.  Working enables you to generate income, so it is required to dedicate time for it.  Though it is critically important to work and have time for work, that does not mean it is the only thing that should occupy your time.  There is a time and place for everything in life, even work. 

Oftentimes people, especially new employees, have the perception they must always be available to work.  Even if they are on vacation or out to dinner with friends.  They will check their emails on their phone will walking to Saturday morning brunch, or work on a presentation late at night.  This may be essential to a job task during certain times of the year (ie. tax season for accountants), but it should not be a pattern.  The only way you can avoid it from becoming a regular part of your life is to take control of your time and say “no.”

You work for 40-50 hours a week, sleep for 56, and have the remaining 62-72 hours at your discretion.  By letting work creep into that 62-72 hour of “free” time you are disrupting the balance you ought to have.  

One argument may be: “I’m just checking an email on my phone real quick.”  But is it truly “real quick?”  Before you actually open up your email, you are likely thinking about the driving force behind why you’re checking your email for 15 minutes.  Then you check the email, which is probably another 5 minutes.  Then after you’re done, you’re thinking about the responses you may get or what may happen next: another 10 minutes.  That’s a total of 30 minutes!  That is not real quick.  

Even small actions have large time ramifications that will significantly impact your life and work balance.  

How do you maintain balance and enable yourself to say “no?”  It isn’t that complicated, truly.  Dedicate time to work and time for other events.  Do not let them cross (within reason).  When you have work to do, handle your work.  When you are not working, don’t work.   

It may seem a bit scary to say “no” or “it will need to wait” to your boss as a new employee.  But it is critically important to set the precedent with them early that there is a dedicated time for work and a time not to work.  It does not need to come across as standoffish, either.  You can simply tell your boss at the early part of your job: “I want to let you know of some other commitments I have outside of work that will occupy my time.”  That is a truthful, polite way to tell them what you will have in the future.  When those moments pop up, you can come back to this early conversation and remind your boss of the commitments you have and the agreement the two of you struck.

Ultimately, it is your decision how much time you wish to spend working outside of traditional work hours.  If you wish to dedicate more time to work, go for it.  Just know the consequences of doing so in terms of your time.  As a new employee, don’t forget that you are empowered to take charge of your time.  You do not have to let others dictate all of your time.  How will you balance your work time and “free” time?

Thought Starters

  • What can you do today to dedicate times to your work so you can avoid working in your free time?
  • How can you discuss challenges you’re having with working hours with your boss?