Saturday, June 26, 2010

Can I achieve a balanced life and work 60 hrs/week?

During my Ph.D., like most people, I've worked a lot of long hours. At first, maybe I worked long hours because I felt pressure from my advisor. Later, I worked long hours because I wanted to get things done. In any case, I worked long hours. And I did not succeed at achieving the kind of balance I'd like in my life.

For a long time, I worked, played hard, and took reasonably good care of myself and my personal priorities. All, of course, at the expense of my sleep. As time passed and I got older, sleep became a bigger and bigger priority; 4-6 hours a night wasn't cutting it. Pretty soon, things started dropping out of my life so that I could get more sleep and continue to work those long hours. Soon, I was barely "playing" at all, I was never exercising, I was making quick, unhealthy food choices, and I was neglecting other personal priorities (family obligations, friends, hobbies). I started to physically and emotionally feel weak, fragile, tired, and eventually, depressed. The depression began to affect my work, and I realized I needed to back off, recover, and take better care of myself. Recently, I've done that, but definitely at the expense of those work hours.

As I look to the future and think about what kind of job to look for next, I think about those long hours, and I wonder, can I work those kind of hours and achieve balance? If I feel pressure to work 60 hours a week, that means 12 hours a day Monday thru Friday, or 10 hours a day Monday thru Saturday. I've always thought I preferred the 12 hours a day Monday thru Friday, so that Saturday can be a fun day, and Sunday can be a day to get stuff done (laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping).

So, if I work 12 hours a day, sleep 8 hours, eat 2 hours, spend 1 hour on personal hygiene, exercise 1 hour, and commute 1 hour, that adds up to 25 hours. Crap, I'm already over 24 hours. And that's without even adding a single moment for family and friends, hobbies, winding down before bed. And it's lumping all the daily chores into the eating and personal hygiene category. And still, I couldn't do it, not even theoretically. And I really don't want to cut any of that out. I could sleep 7 hours, or I could eat every meal but dinner at my desk (including breakfast). But you know what? I don't want to. I don't want to sleep less; I don't want to wolf down my breakfast and lunch at my desk. And I don't want to cut out every moment of possible time to spend on family, friends, hobbies, or winding down. So, working 12 hours a day is not something I want to do.

What about trying the 10 hours 6 days a week? Then I could actually fit my whole list into my day, with 1 hour to spare for family, friends, hobbies, or winding down. And I'd have 1 day left in my week to do everything else - anything fun, all cleaning, laundry, shopping, any family, friend, or hobby time that wouldn't fit into that spare hour I had during my week. You know what? That's shitty.

So do I want to work 60 hours a week? No. No matter how awesomely I am in love with my work, I don't want to do it at the expense of my health. And I've learned that my health depends on having that list of activities in my life. I need sleep; I need time to eat healthily; I need time to exercise; I need time for personal hygiene; and I need personal time for family, friends, fun, and chores. Does that make me a bad person? Does that make me uncommitted to my work? No. No, it doesn't.

It does make me question the supervisors demanding 60 hours a week. I honestly think they're demanding their employees live an unhealthy, unbalanced, unsustainable lifestyle. But hey, if people will do it, why not?

And it makes me wonder, how the heck do parents even begin to do everything I'm doing, plus take care of their kids? Obvious answer: they get no sleep. Sigh. My desire for kids is getting more and more hypothetical.

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