Friends I haven’t seen in a long time usually ask what it’s like being in the Navy. Amid stories about Okinawa and an aircraft carrier, how my wife and daughter handle military life comes up. You know how tough families have it. At times my daughter didn’t see me for a week. I was out of the house before she woke up and didn't get home until after she went to bed. Of course, you don’t have to be in the military to be absorbed by work.

How to Stop Working Too Much?

Despite Surveys, Americans Work Too Much

A recent article in fastcompany.com carried the sub-headline, “A New National Study Finds Americans Work Reasonable Hours and Get Enough Sleep, Even if We Often Think Otherwise.” Based on the 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey, the article said, “The average full-time work week comes out at just a bit shy of 42 hours.”

Call me skeptical. But the data gathered is based on people’s recollections of how they spent the previous day. Do you remember the precise amount of time you spent sleeping, grooming, preparing meals and snacks, eating and drinking, driving to work, and working at your main job yesterday? Me either. The Internet and cell phones make us more productive. But they allow work to intrude into other activities. I suspect this didn't get factored in. The survey probably underreports work time by at least 10% to 20%.

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Set Boundaries to Help You Stop Working

Juggling navy duties, civilian work, and a 2-1/2 hour daily commute the past year, I’ve learned a few simple rules to reduce my working time:

  1. When told to take on another project or task, decline it. If that’s impractical, agree to “see that it gets handled” rather than “do it myself.”
  2. Delegate or rid yourself of all tasks except those only you can do. It may not be as hard as you think. Often coworkers would love to tackle something on your to-do list because it’s more interesting than their regular duties. Other tasks can sit uncompleted and no one will notice.
  3. Take care of loose ends before leaving work or on the drive home. Normal home cell phone mode should be off (or muted if you have to respond to emergencies), especially during meals.
  4. When you get home, leave your work in the car, mentally that is. No sense tempting fate by leaving your computer where it might get stolen.
  5. If you have to work at home, have a set place and time for doing so. You can complete your tasks more quickly without interruptions.

While the 40-hour workweek is much maligned, I think it makes a lot of sense. With only 168 hours in a week, at least 49 of which should be spent sleeping, working 40 hours takes up a third of your waking hours. Wouldn’t it be nice to confine them to 9 to 5? But there’s no use pining for what once was.

Hopefully, you’re not intent on having your tombstone read, “Worked Massive Numbers of Hours.” (If you are, please contact me immediately!) By learning to restrict your work you’ll find much more worthy words to place on it, and most likely have many more years before they have to be placed.

How many hours a week do you work? 

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© , Kevin S. Bemel, All Rights Reserved

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