Did you know that 28.5% of your week is your weekend? Hard to believe, isn’t it? If you look at the total hours we work in a week, it comes to just 24% of the whole week! Of course, you spend another 33% sleeping. But do you really feel like your full time job is something that you spend less than quarter of your time on? Or less than a third of the hours you are awake? Yeah, I didn’t think so!

Do you work for more than 40 hours a week?

Until I started working, weekends used to mean time away from work. I did spend some time studying occasionally, but I didn’t do it very frequently. What happened to my weekends since then? Where did I lose them? It is the same with evenings. Where did they disappear to?

The culprit? My smartphone!

It is great that I can do a lot of things on my phone. However, as it became more and more capable of doing stuff, it also ate into my weekends and evenings. I am not going to rant about how much time Facebook or other social media apps take. I choose not to get sucked into that, and I don’t have most of those apps installed on my phone.

However, the one app that is used most frequently is my email app. I have at least 4 email ids that I check frequently. My office email, my personal one, my blog email and the one I use for PTO volunteer jobs. And guess which of them is the hardest to ignore whether I am just wasting time or having dinner with my family? My office email.

After all the commitments we have, the time we spend together as a family is very limited. Ideally, we would treat that time as sacrosanct, and respect each other. To be honest, we don’t. It is like we bring two more guests to hang out with us all the time. My office email and BusyDad’s office email. And when GBoy gets bored, he gets a book to read. Very frequently, I check my email to see that there is indeed nothing new. Even if my phone hasn’t buzzed.

Is this how we want to spend the rest of our 2000 days? I am glad that we are on the path to early retirement. I don’t want to live the next 30 years this way. We are making changes, and can see considerable progress already. However, the work still creeps into our time, and we find ourselves working far more than the prescribed 40 hours.

What about between checking emails?

When I go to sleep, I tell myself that I was going to wake up early so that I could read a bit before BusyDad and GBoy are up. When I wake up, I feel that it is my duty to finish up some work because how could I not spend some of my most productive hours working? I have been cutting down on that. My blog is proof!

BusyDad does the same thing. He comes back from work and turns the laptop on even before he has got a chance to change. And he would be still working when I go to bed.

Or we talk about work!

That is true. I know a lot more about BusyDad’s colleagues than they would want me to. If his team needed a new employee, they could hire me and I would be able to contribute from day 1. No ramp-up time needed! I am sure BusyDad knows more far too much about my work as well.

These days, I am more mindful of this. However, when I tell him to stop talking about work, he gives me a blank look. What else is he supposed to talk about when all he has done the whole day is work? If you have read about our discussion on retiring early, you know this already — He cannot imagine retiring early because he doesn’t know what to do with his time.

Is it just the weekends and evenings?

And if you think that weekends and evenings are the only time that the smartphone does this to us, you are wrong. Last summer, we went on a long drive. We drove from Boston to San Francisco and the whole trip took slightly over two weeks. BusyDad wanted to take his laptop, but I didn’t let him. I told him that we shouldn’t be working on vacations. On the day I was back in office, I expected to spend at least half a day to just look through my emails and respond to them. I came back, and got to work. Guess what, I didn’t need that 4 hours to go through my emails! I was already on top of everything.

I had spent some time every single day of our vacation catching up with my work email. My personal email was a different story, and took me the whole of (whatever time I could spare of) the next weekend to sort out. GBoy nearly lost his travel soccer team membership because his mom didn’t reply to an email.

This was no ordinary vacation. We had been dreaming about it for at least two years, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime-vacation for us. We spent about $8,000 on that one trip. My office and everyone who knew me had heard about this trip for months.

No one really expected me to be checking my email. And there was no emergency. Why did I spend those precious moments doing something as mundane as checking office email? I supposedly can think for myself, and knew that there was no work emergency. We have enough money that I don’t have to worry about what anyone thought of me at work. And they wouldn’t judge me for not checking email when I am on vacation. Is it just habit?

I lost part of my dream vacation to office emails.

And guess what is the one thing that is prominent on our travel checklist! Our portable battery to charge our phones — That is the first item packed, and we verify that we have indeed packed it. We then charge it (or check if it is still charged) every night when we get back to our hotel room, because we cannot imagine our phone running out of power. And our main purpose for the phone is office email. And google maps.

Charging my charger and checking office mail on vacation — This is not my calling. I want to believe that I have a better purpose in my life.

I am not alone!

Many of my colleagues spend a huge part of their weekends working. We have these “standup meetings” where we discuss the work we did the previous day. The Monday meetings are longer because they inform the rest of us what they accomplished on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Even when I work on a weekend, it is usually catching up with email and making sure that my colleagues in other countries are not waiting for some information from me. My colleagues accomplish actual tasks some weekends. And all I want to do is tell them — “Didn’t you read your offer letter when you took this job? It said 40 hours!”

It would have been okay if they were at least being paid for these extra hours. However, like me, they are also “exempt employees“. We are not eligible for overtime pay.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, on an average, full time workers work 8.56 hours and 5.48 hours per day on weekdays and weekends, respectively. That adds up to 53.76 hours. We work 34.4% more time than we are required to. What it means is that if some of us are sticking to our 40 hours, there are quite a few that work much more than that. Are you one of them?

Gallup polls indicate that 18% of those who are employed full time, work over 60 hours every week. Those numbers also suggest that 25% of salaried individuals work over 60 hours a week, and another 25% work over 50 hours a week. That is about half the salaried people working 25 to 50% more than they have to.

Always connected?

I have a nagging suspicion that those statistics don’t even include hours spent checking office email on your phone. If someone asked me how many hours I worked, I definitely wouldn’t include them. Even if I did, I would probably underestimate it. What is a minute or two, after all? It adds up — I do it about 5–10 times every hour, for at least 4–6 hours a day. That’s a lot!

To quote this report, “professionals, managers, and executives who carry smartphones for work report interacting with work a whopping 13.5 hours every workday”. If they sleep for 8 hours (I hope they do!), that leaves one with 2.5 hours a day to eat, exercise, take care of yourself, spend on your hobby, and in short, live. I am sure commute to work (over 76 minutes longest and over 30 minutes shortest average commute times) is the main reason we even have those 2.5 hours without being connected to work.

Is 2.5 hours a day enough time to live your life?

With the robots doing a lot of the work, I would have thought that we would have more free hours. What would we have done without them? Cut down on sleep?

What the world tells us

Right now, I am listening to Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, and love the book. This made me think of Lean In, which I have not yet completed. It is on my list, and I will definitely get back to it one of these days. Please bear with me as I mention a couple of quotes from that book.

I am not claiming, nor have I ever claimed, that I work a forty-hour week. Facebook is available around the world 24/7, and for the most part, so am I. The days when I think of unplugging for a weekend or vacation are long gone.

I still struggle with the trade-offs between work and home on a daily basis. Every woman I know does, and I know that I’m far luckier than most.

This is the world right now, whether or not I want it to be. I want to be able to work the number of hours I chose to, and not be available 24/7. I also do not want to be making trade-offs between work and home on a daily basis. But that is what is expected of me, by virtue of employer expectations and peer pressure.

I understand that not everyone wants a life beyond work. If your hobby is what you do for a living, or at least you enjoy it as much, you will work longer than required. If that is what you are doing, good for you! However, it would be great to remember that not everyone thinks of work that way. And to expect that of another human being is just short of cruelty.

Take back your weekend!

Do you want to take back your weekend? Or do you prefer to continue working 60+ hour weeks?

For the past few months, I have been working on taking back my weekends (and evenings and vacation time). Please sign up here for regular updates and to download my seven tips on taking back your weekend.


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Thursday, Mar 23, 2023