work life balance

Lizards drinking have nothing on me right now!

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I worked out last week I've had six weekends since March this year where I haven't had to do some kind of work for clients. Some weekends I've worked most days all weekend; otherwise it's been a half day on top of the long hours I spend working Monday to Friday. It's not ideal; I'd like to have an orderly life where I could count on having weekends off, but like a lot of small business owners I've fallen into the bad habit of being a slave to the client... and delivering on time no matter how many long hours it takes. This month looks like being another huge one. For Ryde Business Forum I'm running some Small Business September events which theoretically I have to attend as the host, as well as the regular events for the Forum and all the admin, marketing and web work. One of my clients has, I think, four websites for me to build. I know it's at least three and I'm halfway through construction on two of them. I have another two websites to finish for another client. And I've got an exciting project in the planning process with a colleague, for which I'm sworn to secrecy. Somewhere in that lot I'm taking a long weekend in Adelaide with family and friends, and I think I'll need it just to clear my head and give me some new ideas, not to mention taking in the early spring in that beautiful city. But for now... I'm dreaming in code at nights!

“Birthday Leave”? Sounds good to me.

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Last week I got an out-of-office reply to an email which brought a smile to my face. The lucky person was on a day's 'Birthday Leave'. That's a new one, I thought, and wondered if she had to take her 'Birthday Leave' out of her annual leave or whether the corporate she works for offered it as an additional day's leave. I don't know her personally - she was responding to a bulk email I sent out on behalf of a client - so I didn't ask her, but it got me thinking. 'Birthday Leave' is a nice touch, whether it's something you are given as an extra, something you can take voluntarily from your annual leave should you wish, or something you are forced to take from your annual leave. Most of us put the hours and energy in to do our best. If you've risen to middle or senior management, you certainly know about the hours. You may receive a fat salary package but in most corporate cultures you'll be expected to work longer hours than the people you supervise. I've worked for myself for nearly ten years now, but before that I spent 13 years working for a multinational corporation. One of the lovely benefits of this particular company was the monthly Rostered Day Off. One day off a month - and not out of annual leave, either. Certainly we worked a little longer each day (official hours) to build up the 8 hours we needed to take our RDOs, but the RDOs were a godsend. They fell on a Monday but you arrange to take yours on a different day if you needed to. So there - a long weekend once a month. Time to have a mini-break, or do a DIY job, or have a day of pampering at a spa... It will come as no surprise to learn that this company didn't have many issues with people taking 'sickies'. It was a win/win situation for everyone. While we didn't have 'Birthday Leave' it was rather a tradition to head out with your team for a birthday lunch - usually at the local pub, sometimes at a restaurant. My boss usually found the money in the budget to take me and some team mates out to lunch. We didn't stint on the wine, either. This was the 80s and 90s, and the long lunch was still an option to be enjoyed. And oh boy, did we enjoy it! We all knew back at the office we would have a few hours to sober up before heading home (and if in doubt, we arranged for a lift from a friend in advance). Efficiency and output was certainly down on birthday lunch afternoons, but the spirit of goodwill the birthday lunch engendered made you willingly make up for it over the next few days. Did we feel appreciated by our bosses and team mates? You bet! Which brings me to this triumph for wowserism and OH&S in today's Australian: I can understand the need to monitor blood alcohol levels in the mining industry, where people deal with dangerous heavy machinery. But now the insidious hand of big brother is wagging a finger at everyone. I can see it won't be long before drinking alcohol at any corporate event is frowned on by the do-gooders. We'll even be made to feel guilty at after-hours cocktail parties or dinners if they are work-related. (I can attest that numbers at Ryde Business Forum's After Hours events are usually down if the host doesn't offer beer and wine, but only soft drinks.) I'm a bit of a rebel; I loved the wild ride of the 80s and 90s with the boozy lunches, not to mention some of the evening functions. I worked at a car dealership in the 80s and had the fun of attending the annual 'trade nights' when the corporate customers and the staff would be wined and dined to excess, with dancing, live music, cigarette girls offering cigarettes on a tray(!), and heaven knows what hanky-panky in the shrubbery. Sensible people ordered taxis. This was the days before mobile breath testing and it wasn't unusual to see someone reeling to his car with an unsteady stagger, collapse into the driver's seat and drive off. Nobody at the dealership ever came to grief after a trade night; miraculously, they all arrived at their homes safely. It's my birthday this month. So I've decided I'm having a day's 'Birthday Leave' (it might make up for some of the many weekends I've worked this year). I'm going for a long lunch with my husband, and it will include wine.

Switching off

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I read an interesting article by David Frith in the Australian's IT section this week. It's all about switching off occasionally - turning off your mobile phone at weekends, distancing yourself from your social media network when you're not in working hours. I've always been a champion of work/life balance, of having time to yourself where work just doesn't intervene. Like, for instance, weekends. But now I think about it, I can't remember the last weekend in which I didn't do some kind of work. Update someone's website, respond to work emails... if you're like me you know how it is. The last few weeks have been super-hectic for me. I've been working late at nights and working weekends to finish tasks for people. I've been available and 'switched on', and realistically it's taking a bit of a toll. I woke this morning stressed out because I realised, late last night, I'd left my phone switched off all day. I'd been in a meeting the afternoon before and switched it off, because I didn't even want disturbance on 'silent' mode. I'd left it switched off for the drive home as I hate the phone ringing when I'm driving. I won't answer it because I find talking on the phone distracting when I'm confronting Sydney traffic, and if it rings a portion of my mind is wondering who rang and what they want when I should be thinking about the idiot in front of me with a penchant for not using his indicator. So my subconscious took the matter in hand for me, and neglected to remind me to switch the phone back on. As a result I had a reasonably stress-free day yesterday. My interruptions were minimal, and I got a ton of tasks done. I did wonder why several people emailed me asking them to ring me, and didn't find out why until I went to put the phone on charge that night. Oops! My subconscious had the right idea, though. I needed a day to catch up. I'd been making mistakes, not doing updates for people which I said I'd do, rushing jobs and making typos. Not good. Not professional. You might say switching off the phone isn't professional either, but if it gives you the breathing space to do good work, then it's a good thing. I switched the phone on this morning and collected my messages and thankfully I'd addressed most of them in the course of yesterday's work day, so the stress levels dropped quite a lot. Remembering how grumpy and stressed I was over breakfast, worrying about how many people might be chasing me, and how relieved I was at realising it wasn't as bad as I thought when I switched the phone on afterwards, has rung some warning bells. It really is important to take time for yourself. Perhaps not switching the phone off for a working day, but switching off at dinner time and not turning on until the next day - switch off the phone, don't be tempted to access your emails, forget tweeting about business stuff. I've been a bear with a sore head for more than a week as I haven't been having enough 'me' time. There's a novel calling my name, and I'm off to read it now and indulge in some necessary escapism. Don't feel guilty next time you want to do the same.