Woe Is Me! “How Do I Make Time For Myself With a Hectic Work Schedule?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I work at a US-based tech startup that’s in the midst of a major product rollout. This means there’s an incessant flow of communication, and a constant pull on attention — at all hours of the day. As a result, my work day often spans over 12 hours. To add to that, I’m facing issues with productivity since what’s asked of me changes by the hour. This has made scheduling my life — especially things I want to do outside of work — increasingly difficult. How can I make time for personal fulfillment when my days are so unstructured? How do I find routine and respite?”
— Approaching burnout
RN: I hate to sound like a world-wise Gen X-er (I’m not) but I’ll say it: think of this phase as paying your dues. The good news is that it’s temporary: once this period is over, you can settle into a routine that works for you and maybe even think about leaving the start-up life and settling in a more stable, peaceful work environment. Amid all the conversations about the great resignation, there’s something to be said for gritting your teeth through the tough time and then coming up with a plan for stability with careful consideration. I’m all for rage-quitting but I also recognize that the short-term relief that would give you, may end up creating longer term issues. Instead, build the credibility and capital you need now to collect your dues later — and given that it’s just a product roll-out induced rush, it may be a matter of a few months, at most. All this said, it’s also important to not surrender completely: boundaries are important, so draw them firmly.
AS: For the shorter things, maybe try finding pockets of free time inside the 12-hour schedule. And definitely try to speak to your seniors about this erratic schedule. Either ask for a raise during the term when they’re making you work 12 hours every day, or start looking for jobs elsewhere. And once you’re sure enough, walk out. If your workplace cannot respect your time, then they probably do not deserve you.
AS: I’m hoping your hectic workdays are because of the product rollout and aren’t the usual scenario. Either way, maybe you can begin by setting some boundaries at work. If you cannot take on any more than what’s already on your plate, communicate that. You can set up a meeting and inform your team that the vast number of tasks being thrown at you are not allowing you to work effectively. Maybe you could collaboratively come up with some kind of plan to structure your workdays better, where they send you a list of the most pressing deliverables at the beginning of the day — still, you will likely have to make space for some amount of uncertainty, especially during the rollout. But this might not only help you, but also others who might be struggling with the same issue.
Finding time for yourself on weekdays might be hard, but you could try to identify the least-stressful time of day — maybe, before your work begins — which you can set aside for yourself. Make sure you give yourself a break on weekends, though. That’s the largest chunk of time you can dedicate to doing all the things you have been meaning to — or, even, to just rest. Otherwise, you will burn out way too quickly.
DR: Ah, the bitter old reality of the start-up life! I’m going to be straight with you: do you want to build a career in the start-up space that might pay you really well, or do you think you’d be happier being part of a culture that respects boundaries, but not pay as well? That’s a choice you have to make. While you do this, don’t just consider what you want, but also, what your body will allow you to do. Accordingly, you can decide whether to quit this job or keep up the hustle.
It probably feels unfair that you have to compromise on money simply to be treated as a human, and not a machine. But, unfortunately, you can’t change the rotten corporate culture in a day.