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It's Dinnertime, Why Are You Still At Work?

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I was ready to write off today because earlier I felt under the weather. Now, after lolling about in a daze and reading to my toddler, I’m feeling a bit better. The best part about lolling about was instead of focusing on news related to television delivered via WiMax, I was able to read the 18 pages in this week’s Economist devoted to how mobile communications are affecting our lives. It addresses just about anything you can think about, from architecture for nomadic workers to the unintended conversations you may have had with a stranger, who unbeknownst to you, was speaking on a Bluetooth headset. I suggest you read it.

For me, the most relevant article focused on constant connectivity and how that affects people’s personal and work life balance. The general consensus was that different people handle it different ways (although I like that Jonathan Schwartz, the CEO of Sun, insists on two hours of “rolling around time” with his sons in the evening before getting back to work.)

My worry is that with constant communication and a social norm tending toward multitasking with work, play and our family lives, that a whole chunk of the population gets discounted or disenfranchised.

People like me, who leave at a certain time on most days and who don’t check their email/blogs/Facebook accounts except for once or twice on the weekends seem to be in short supply. And while people often talk the talk about family time being important, I’m amazed at the pitches I get for breaking news sent to me at 9 or 10 at night for news that will go out in a few hours or early the next morning.

I question why they would think I’m working and what they are doing working at that time. If it weren’t time sensitive news, I would consider it a function of their lives and schedules, but somehow thinking I might respond anywhere near that time is crazy. So this “all-work-anytime” culture is a problem in my opinion, because it expects a rapid response at any time of the day or night, and also breaks down an accepted time and place when business can be conducted. I doubt that is sustainable, and already is driving a lot of stress.

The moral? Turn off your CrackBerry, step away from the computer and take some time to read the articles, and think about what an always-on nomadic culture will mean for you. Then decide how you choose to participate in it. I’m choosing to turn off my computer now.

15 Responses to “It's Dinnertime, Why Are You Still At Work?”

  1. Pete Steege

    I’m with you Stacy. It’s all about balance. Everyone achieves it in their own way. For me it means getting off the grid every night. Personally, I can’t really multi-task. I don’t totally believe others can either.
    The result for me is more thoughtful, creative, intense work when I am on the grid. I might miss a scoop or be a touch less responsive than possible at times, but I’m giving much more to my wife, kids and community than I’m sacrificing.

  2. I’ve been working from home for almost a month now and I love it — my father read the NY Times article and is worried about me.

    One thing that makes this possible: I’m living with gf but have no children.

    Being able to set priorities is important. Focusing on the task at hand requires not doing other things. I told Melissa that she’s good at multitasking and doing things, but that I’m better at not doing things.

    Of cousre, all of this gets thrown out the window in a startup situation. ISP-Planet’s not a startup — it was founded by Ted Stevenson in 1999 for I have a clear goal: one article every business day of the year, plus two to three blog posts per week, plus a conference or two. Having that clear goal allows me to do things — and to not do things.

    Setting achievable goals allows your business to deliver.

    Of course, unattainable goals can be inspiring, but they need to be idealistic goals, not the sort of unattainable goals you’d set when, say, you wanted to cut the sales team’s bonuses.

    The Valleywag salary issue is an interesting example — does it mean you get what you work for, or does it mean that if you work too hard, your per-pageview salary gets cut?

    It’s all new, and it’s a privilege to be part of it.

  3. Stacey Higginbotham

    Mark, I love my job too, but also my family. And unlike Ben, I’ve never been good at focusing on a variety of things at once and keeping a schedule that flexible while still getting the quality of time I need for each part of my life. I like having large chunks of time to think about work and equally focused chunks of time where I’m focused on my husband and daughter. I know flexibility works for some people, but it leaves me feeling frazzled.

  4. Ironic that this post should come a couple of weeks after New York Times mentioned Om Malik in its post about the ill-effects of blogging and constant Web activity. (

    I have been reading about various others as well, such as Dave Winer and Doc Searls, who also had health setbacks in recent times. And more and more people are now talking about focussing on the quality of life rather than the pace of life, about work-life balance, and a need to get out there in the outdoors more often.

    A friend recently underwent surgery to treat severe RSI, induced by long hours on his office workstation. For months he endured extreme pain before resorting to surgery.

    I guess, Stacey’s right, a ‘disconnected’ (for lack of a better phrase) life from time to time would do good to our health.

    Om, I don’t know you but I have heard a lot about you. Please take care! All the best.

  5. I would definitely prefer it if more tech folks – and folks in general – took more time to be good citizens, good significant others, good sons and fathers and mothers and daughters, rather than just looking out for themselves.

    I interviewed at a hot startup in Cupertino last year. One lady was telling me about her 7-day schedule, how she’d rush home (80 miles one way, south), shove food in her kid’s mouth, pile him off to bed by 8pm, then get back to work. Saturday was more of the same, but Sundays were the ‘absolute best’ because she could actually work on other, non-core company projects in relative peace. The other potential coworker was similar in her anti-responsibility, cocaine-taking work/lifestyle.

    But not to be outdone, I talked to a guy just the other day about a job down here in relaxed (?) Austin, and he told me that Monday evenings would be late ones (‘not past midnight’) for the next (first for me) three to four months because of…whatever lame excuses any company ever uses to exploit its workers.

    “Thanks man – you sound like a real nice guy, and you guys sound like you’re doing a lot of great work, but…” – but someone needs to have some time left over to pay attention to what’s important. grrr.

    So, yeah – turn off the crackberries.

  6. Hmmm I’m not sure Stacey

    If you check out my blog you’ll see posts written at 5am or 10pm, during the week or on weekends. What you don’t see is the meeting the kids everyday after school and going home with them, the 9-10am pools sessions every day etc etc.

    I work at multiple locations on a strange kind of time scale but I balance that within my various demands and responsibilities. I guess there are three issues here – one is flexibility (in my mind a good thing) the other is the umbilical connection to an rss reader (sometimes problematic)while the third is the panic that a breaking meme will get away if it’s not commented on immediately (probably a bad thing)

    don’t you think?