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Would you work overtime for this?

August 28, 2011 - People Management, Professional Development

overtimeAs a salaried employee, overtime is an interesting topic, and one I muse upon frequently as I consider my own work-life balance.  Overtime isn’t completely avoidable.  But the hardest part is making the distinction between a priority worthy of overtime, and unreasonable expectations that shouldn’t be encouraged.

One of my favorite blog posts on work-life balance was written by Gill Corkindale for Harvard Business Review in January 2011.  In it, she discusses six keys to detaching oneself from work, and one of them is “Remind yourself that you are much more than your job.”  Corkindale encourages her readers to “take time to reflect on what you want to achieve in life and think about your definition of personal success.”

That piece of advice from Corkindale is the filter I use to determine when I will choose to put in overtime, and when I will let things wait until 8am the next morning.  One’s career is frequently an important factor in a definition of personal success, but consistently working 14-hour days does not automatically equal career success.  When faced with the potential need for overtime, I ask myself these specific questions about the work:

Is this truly one of my priorities for the year?

One of my favorite sayings is, “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”  While that of course can’t be followed 100% (sometimes my boss’s emergencies will sneak in there, because we have mutual trust and support each other when the going gets tough), a quick analysis of the overtime situation against your priorities for the year is necessary.  Is the work requiring extra effort one of the home runs you’re striving for this year?  If not, be careful of setting an expectation that you’ll spend the extra hours to help someone else accomplish theirs.

What will happen if I don’t spend the extra hours on this tonight?

spending time with friendsIn the heat of the moment in the office, it may seem like an absolute necessity to keep going.  You’re in the zone, following a train of thought that has momentum you don’t want to let go.  Fifteen minutes turns into an hour and time is continuing to fly.  But what would happen if you took some notes, shut down your computer for the night, and resumed the work in the morning?  Are you rushing to a close deadline, or could you wrap things up in the two hours you have between meetings tomorrow?  Being able to “switch off” from work is important for your own health and sanity (as well as that of your friends and family), so while it may be difficult to make that decision in the middle of a working streak, be realistic about the requirements you’re imposing upon yourself.

Is the work strategic for my professional development?

First of all, if you haven’t yet written your professional development plan (PDP), please do so.  This will help you put into words what your vision is for your own future.  Not your boss’s vision for you, not your company’s vision for you… your vision, your plan, and your steps to get there.

Once you have a PDP, making overtime decisions will be easier.  Is the extra time being spent on your professional development, taking you closer to where you want to be in five years?  Or is it actually taking time away from work that would be more aligned to your goals?  Step one: Make a plan.  Step two: Ensure that everything you do is getting you closer to where you want to be.

Please leave a comment: What helps you balance life and work?

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