Usually when I talk to people about their workload, they say they just can’t leave early, and find various excuses:
- “my work is not done”
- “I have too much on my plate and need to finish it today”
- “there’s an important deadline tomorrow”
- “I was in meetings all day and now I have to catch up”
- “if I don’t do this now the project/launch/presentation will be a total failure”
- ” if I leave before my boss I will be discredited”
The most amazing case I heard was when a friend told me about the 2 months she spent putting files in order for a payroll outsourcing company. Order in these documents was a requirement for them to be able to function, and yet the place was a complete mess. She took it upon herself to clean it up, and spent 16 or even 20-hours per day (That’s right! 20 hours per day!!) to track documents and place them back in order. At the end, she handed over the keys to a perfectly neat documents drawer to the employee who took her place, and left, because she was a temporary hired staff.
Isn’t it amazing how much heart we end up putting in our work? And for what? To be exhausted, drained and even burned out at the end? The recognition we so dearly crave for, the “statue in front of the office” built for the one who leaves last, do they matter so much?
What matters sometimes is not the successful delivery of a project but being able to laugh about it with your colleagues, and let it go for one more day.
In the end, what are you left with?
Countless projects, sales contracts or presentations? Or people who remember you as being human?
A nice-sounding job title? Or a good health state, good sleep and good mood?
I also work late sometimes. I put my heart into my work and sometimes imagine that if I get this presentation/this project/this particular work done well, it will matter for my career. I imagine that people care about my results and project that image to myself as a person. In a way, that if my results are good, I will be liked.
But it’s not like that.
I try to put things in perspective, and here are a few things I keep in mind.
1. I am not my work.
I am not my presentations, my emails, or my projects. Sure, I put a personal touch on them. But who I really am is beyond that. It’s in the chats I have with colleagues over the day. It’s when I ask someone about their career or their development and we end up having a meaningful conversation. It’s when I tell a joke and people de-stress and smile.
There’s a word in Romanian for it. “Incrancenat“. Like “driven”, but negatively.
Take a few steps back.
It’s only a job.
2. The company will benefit more if I am rested and able to judge well.
It’s demonstrated (perhaps not scientifically yet) that we tend to focus 90% on the “doing” and 10% only on the “thinking” part of our jobs. We’re knowledge workers, we work with our brains, but how come we use them so little?
When we overwork ourselves we lose our tendency to think straight and judge well.
And clear judgment comes when we’re able to take a few steps back, disconnect and see everything in a complete picture. We ask ourselves a few questions -
why am I here?
what did I do so far?
where do I want to get to?
what do I need to do?
– and ta-da! the answers are clearly in front of us.
If only we’d be able to disconnect, consciously, more often, place the “urgent and important” in the background and wonder why this has become so “urgent”.
3. I am not irreplaceable.
Many managers tend to work overtime because they’re either unable to delegate, or they feel that without their work, the whole place would go to pieces.
I heard many times how people take their laptops with them on vacation, because “if I’m not in that conference call, they won’t be able to move forward without me.” If I’m not here, the project will fail.
But you know, it’s not your work that makes you irreplaceable. It’s not responding to emails during vacation. That only prompts people to send more emails, knowing you’re available.
An manager I worked for used to say “When I came into this team, I worked late hours. Now I leave on time. When I will be able to stay at home and watch cartoons all day, my work here will be done. You will be able to function perfectly without me.”
Your purpose is not to make yourself irreplaceable by doing everything yourself. You make yourself irreplaceable by inspiring, building and creating people, teams and ideas.
By doing these, not only will your work matter more, but you will enjoy it more and it will be more fulfilling.
Now, next time you want to work late, think about these three things and make a conscious decision.