Career Opportunities

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A weekly ComputorEdge Column and Podcast by Douglas E. Welch

Work and Home

June 9, 2000

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A growing topic among all companies and workers is the balance between your work and home life. As many of you already know, working in a high-tech career can often mean working long hours, including weekends. The stress and strain of an Internet startup can often lead people to abandon their lives entirely in favor of their work. What they may not realize though is just how much they are sacrificing while reaching for the "brass ring" of a million dollar pay out.

Best work vs. rest work

I had an interesting point driven home this week when my wife ended up working extremely late for 3 nights in a row. Sometimes we like to think that by pulling and all-nighter we are somehow proving our dedication and loyalty to our project or our job. In fact, working excessive hours often reduces the quality of your work so drastically that you end up re-doing nearly everything you thought you accomplished.

Late at night, or early in the morning your faculty for productive work steadily decreases. Your fatigue can cause you to veer in two different directions. You can either begin to feel that everything you are producing is either golden or trash. You can quickly lose any sort of perspective about the work you are doing. In the end you will often find that you forgo any sort of quality merely to get the project done.

Worse still, not only have you done sub-standard work on that late night, your work performance will be hampered for days to come as you recover from your all-night effort. Seen in this light, it should be clear that driving yourself to the edge of your stamina can actually cause more trouble in the long run.

No matter the deadline or the pressure you need to take time for yourself in order to do your best work. I have often found that walking away from a project for a short time can yield much higher returns than sitting there banging your head against your monitor. This is especially true when troubleshooting a particularly nasty problem. Often, it is only when I take a walk or engage in some other work that the solution comes to me. Your mind needs to mull over the input you have provided it in order to turn out truly creative solutions.

I am convinced of the universality of this approach since it also applies to my writing. While I write on strict deadline I find that a column must be turned over many times in my mind before I am ready to commit it to paper. I call this my rest work. I do something enjoyable while my mind continues to work in the background. Of course, some people can turn this mulling into procrastination if they are not careful. One way I can tell the difference is by noticing how worried I am about an approaching deadline. No worry means that that article is writing itself in my head and will only have to be typed into the computer when it is due. Much worry means that I am procrastinating and I haven't really decided what I am going to write about. Perhaps you can use this guideline to manage your own work in the future.


Too often you neglect an important part of your life just when you need it most. Your family is a very important part of supporting your work life. Taking time to watch a Little League game, a soccer match or just spending time with your family can help to recharge you for the tough work ahead. If you are chronically leaving in the morning before your spouse or children are awake and coming home after they are in bed you can begin to feel horribly isolated. You can begin to think that you are fighting a battle with no one to watch your back. Your family is there for you, but only if you are there for your family.

I hear from many people, though, that they don't reduce their time at work because they are afraid of losing their jobs. If this is true, if your company would fire you because you want to spend time with your family, then this company doesn't deserve you. Any company that states this either directly or through their company culture is guaranteeing high employ turnover and an eventual decline. Even machines require downtime and regular maintenance. If companies can't provide this to their employees then they are assured of sub-standard work. Find yourself a company that understands the difference between work and home before your home life disappears.

An important goal of any high-tech career is to do the best work possible. Overwork and ignoring your family/friend support structure is a sure path to burnout. I firmly believe that you are more likely to lose your job by driving yourself into the ground than taking the time you need to balance your work and home life.

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