Labor Day Challenge: Wrestle Your Work Back Into Its Box


boxLabor day seems like the most ironic holiday on Earth — a day off to celebrate work. To celebrate the nine-hour day, specifically, though these days, in the U.S. at least, it’s seen as the last long weekend of summer. I know that when Labor Day comes around, I’m always happy for the break, but it seems that many aren’t so ecstatic.

Apparently, some of us won’t be making the most of the holiday because of the economic downturn. And of course, whether we’re at home or away, a large portion of us will remain connected, checking email, catching up on reading or research, or getting ahead on deadlines. Like we do every year, even though we know we’re supposed to be enjoying a well-earned rest.

If you’d like to do something different with your Labor Day, why not consider stepping back from your work, your web connection, and your professional zeal, and spend at least part of the day objectively reviewing the place work has in your life right now?

Keeping Work In Its Box

So, you’re prepared to spend a perfectly nice late-summers’ public holiday at work. Sure, we can all make excuses that justify this kind of thing to ourselves. But really: is working this one day that important?

I’ve always liked the idea of “keeping my work in its box” — I’m careful that it doesn’t take over my life, because, while I enjoy my work, I also enjoy things that aren’t work. Since humans seem to be more likely to spend time doing things we think we should be doing, rather than those we simply enjoy doing, my keep-it-in-its-box philosophy is usually more necessarily applied to my work than it is to my non-work life. But I know that not everyone shares this philosophy.

Most of the people I know who are willing to sacrifice downtime for uptime define themselves, to a large degree, by their work. They are their business, or their profession, or their role within their organization. Left without their RSS feeds, emails and task lists, they’re at a loss to identify with the person they actually are. Unless they’re responding to the latest email or tweeting about their new product launch, they feel they don’t exist.

Are you this person? Think about who you are outside of work — in your personal life, and in your private life. How do you see yourself? And what do you want? These are big — if basic — questions, and they’re important. They may help you identify if there’s an imbalance in the amount of time or energy you devote to your work.

What Else is There?

If you feel you need to wrestle your work back into its box, there’s no shortage of advice on the topic. The intriguing fad that is decluttering (a.k.a. simplifying your life) is just one approach — but what if you don’t feel exactly overwhelmed by commitments, demands or things outside of work?

Indeed, it seems that many people look beyond work and wonder what else is out there. Your friends are busy, you’re not good at sports, and you can’t afford a fancy art-school drawing class. So what is there?

To answer this question, stop thinking about cookie-cutter options and start thinking about the life experiences you’d like to have more of. Perhaps you’d like to be around people more, given that remote work can be such a solo pursuit. Perhaps you’d like to have more time with your family, to travel more, to do something that takes you away from your computer, or to do some activity each day that really gets your blood flowing.

Thinking about your interests in the abstract like this, rather than as a series of concrete options, can open up possibilities you may not have entertained otherwise. Doing something that gets your blood flowing could entail anything from going for a swim to becoming involved in competition debating. The same applies to getting away from your computer: would cooking classes interest you? Spanish lessons? A pet Airedale? Meditation? Woodworking? A decent novel?

Getting Started

Once you have a goal, you might want to think about how you’ll achieve it. This doesn’t have to be a big deal: you may need to block out time in your schedule to pursue a new interest; perhaps you’ll spend your Labor Day afternoon calling friends and family and arranging to meet up over a meal; it may be as straightforward as committing yourself to finishing work by 6pm each night, so you can get to the local pool for 20 laps before it closes.

Whatever the case, you need to have a basic plan that’ll help you pursue these interests, and put you on track to enjoy more of the experiences that you want to have.

What does work mean for you? Do you define yourself by it, or can you “keep it in its box”, and prioritize life beyond it?


Chris Anderson

I think it’s pretty important to give yourself breaks and do other things in life. In a way, working online is addicting in a way. It’s easy to forget to give yourself some time away from it. When you enjoy your work, it’s hard to pull away from it. But sometimes it needs done.

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