When a demanding job is part of your daily life, it's easy to get desensitised to the absurd hours and workload over time. It simply becomes the new normal, since most people at your workplace will be having a similar experience. However, a demanding job is often a slippery slope, and it can easily grow to take over your life.
I was reflecting this morning on what has helped me not only keep my sanity but also make the experience generally enjoyable, and there are quite a few things I've learned to practice over the years:
1. Own the management of your time
This is something school doesn't really prepare us for. Sure, you've managed doing your coursework and projects, but in most situations you are told what you will be taught and when – and then you manage the rest.
In a professional environment, it's important to realise that your time is just that – your time. Does your job own your calendar / diary, or do you proactively plan time periods to dedicate to specific parts of your job? Often, it comes down to who does it first. If you're proactive and show initiative in planning your work (and do so realistically), then typically it's not just a burden off your manager, but also puts you in control.
2. Flag commitments early
There's a story here about an employee who goes to her boss one afternoon.
Employee: "I quit!"
Boss: "But why?"
Employee: "This company doesn't care about me or my life."
Boss: "I'm sorry that you feel this way. Can you help me understand what happened?"
Employee: "I missed my father's birthday last night due to our team being overburdened and understaffed. It's not just this one thing either, it's been like this for months – I've had to give up my personal life."
Boss: "Did someone in your team tell you explicitly you could not attend these things?"
Employee: "No, but there was so much work it was obvious I couldn't leave."
Boss: "Did your manager know you were missing an important personal commitment?"
Employee: "No, but it was in the evening so I didn't expect to be working that late anyway."
Boss: "Did you flag to your team in advance so they could try to protect your commitment?"
What is obvious from this exchange is that communication is key – if you don't let your manager / team know you've got an upcoming commitment that's important to you, then they won't know they have to protect it or even that they're intruding.
Not all hours of your personal time are equal – some are more important than others. The first step is flagging your commitments in advance (and they can be anything – social time, evening sports, family events). A good manager will make sure you're able to protect these commitments without affecting the work they are responsible for delivering.
To be continued... In the meantime, I hope you go to work tomorrow with these 2 things in mind