The Muselet #12: Regaining control

“So, how was your vacation?”

“It was pretty good. I actually managed to disconnect: not check Slack and work email during my vacation this time!”

“Wow, that’s pretty impressive for a director!”

Err, whut?

This triggered some self-reflection on my work-life balance, especially over the last months and our “new reality” but also related to the expectations people (and perhaps companies) have regarding senior management roles.

There are plenty of work environments where the implicit, or sometimes even explicit assumption is: the higher up you go, the more hours you work. I never felt that my company was such a place and always found the idea rather destructive. If the leaders of a company feel they need to work more hours or even during weekends and vacations, people looking up will notice this, work more hours themselves, resulting in the leaders working more hours, people work more, and then the world implodes.

Yet, I noticed myself slipping into longer and longer days, definitely accelerated by this ambiguous line between work and private time in our current working-from-home reality.

Here’s two examples of how that happened for me, rather naturally:

First, my calendar ever since I came back from vacation basically is a 9-17 filled blue blob (and blue is the color of meetings), with barely any time to even eat lunch. That doesn’t really support “catching up on what I missed during my vacation” during regular working hours, does it? Would anybody really blame me for doing some “actual work” (haha) in the evening, or on my phone at my kids’ bedside?

Second, I sometimes need to use some time during the day for private stuff, so I explain to myself that it's ok to still be on Slack in the evening, check email, write emails, you know “to catch up a bit.”

My last Slack message on Thursday last week was around 10pm. Many times I’ve put a disclaimer on my messages: “I’m sending this now, I’m catching up on some work because <<insert excuse here>>, please ignore until the morning!”

It’s super natural for this to happen, and it’s with all the best intentions in the world. But we do have a choice. Ihave a choice.

Yes, I’m talking to myself.

So I’ve decided to take back control and stop.

Not just for my own sake, but also because of the example and expectation I'm setting.

“That’s pretty impressive, especially for director” she said. Let’s be brutally honestly here: if anybody should be able to get a handle on this sort of thing it should be a director. This is senior leadership — some level of maturity and ability of control is implied.

Sure, even if people in my team disconnect at 5pm and ignore my messages until the morning (as instructed), they will know something may be waiting for them. It’s not a stretch at all that this type of behavior will pull people who currently have a reasonable work-life balance into the dark. Are you strong enough to ignore that push notification?

About a week ago I decided on and announced a new rule for myself: no work email or Slack messages from my end after 6pm during work days, nothing during weekends. I even stated this publicly in my company, also to be held accountable. So far so good.

Since then, I’ve discussed this issue with a few people around me that clearly struggle with the same thing.

“Yeah I hear what you’re saying, I hope things calm down next week and it will be better.”

“It’s just these two weeks that have been crazy.”

We are in denial.

I’m sorry, but: no. Things will not magically get better. I don’t want to spoil things for you, but look at the COVID infection rates around most places, they’re shooting up. Winter is coming. This more than likely means things are about to get a lot worse.

You will likely spend more time at home. There’s a high chance your kids will be “dancing” around your “office” more than they already do. In addition, realistically, is there really any reason to believe the day-to-day work pressure is going to magically improve? 

This is 100% on us: unless we consciously accept reality, and act — things will not get better, only worse.

For me that means I’m switching off at no later than 6pm, and don’t check work-related stuff in weekends either.

What does it mean for you?

Please, please, please, think about it. Not just for your own sake, but the people around you as well.

Have a nice and chill rest of your weekend.