Robert Berman works 60 to 70 hours a week. When the 59-year-old communications consultant from Toronto is on one of his frequent business trips, he often “fails to acknowledge that it’s Friday” and works through the weekends for weeks at a time. He’s missed birthdays with his kids and anniversaries with his wife of 38 years. He even missed his daughter’s high school graduation.
“According to most people I know, I was born a workaholic,” Berman says. “I enjoy doing what I do. I prefer to do business 24 hours a day if I can.”
Workaholics are common. These people are often compelled, and even excited, to be at work more than social situations, whether they enjoy what they do or not. United States workers put in an average of 1,804 hours of work in 2006. That's a lot less than some countries — Korea topped the list with 2,305 hours — but it's still almost 300 more hours than the average Frenchman works.
Yet, those long hours don’t have to wreak havoc on your life, and there are ways to make your time more enjoyable (and more efficient), both in the office and out.
It all begins before you get to the office with a full night’s rest. “Be sure you are getting enough sleep. You can trade sleep for more work hours, but chances are you won’t work as well if you aren’t 100 percent,” says Gwenith G. Fisher, Ph.D., an assistant research scientist at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. “Recent research shows that a short nap can be a great way to re-energize during the day without making it too difficult to sleep at night.”
Power naps, typically 20 to 30 minutes, during the work day, can keep you at the top of your game, but are often frowned upon by the corporate machine. It’s best to shut the office door when catching a snooze, but if you're cubicle-bound, take a 20-minute nap at a place like MetroNaps in New York City, which provides futuristic-looking EnergyPods for a small fee.
Keeping a regular exercise regimen can keep you from losing your cool at the office. Exercise not only keeps your body in shape, but it relieves tension in your muscles and relaxes your mind. Alan Meltzer, CEO of Bethesda, Md.-based insurance agency The Meltzer Group, regularly starts work at 5:30 a.m. and usually doesn’t make it out of the office until after 7 p.m. every night, but his time at the gym keeps him sane.
“I work out every morning at 4 a.m.,” says Meltzer. “I usually read on the elliptical. Or I just started learning Hebrew, and I practice saying the words and learning the tenses.”
Meltzer has been learning Hebrew for the past two years as a way to pass the time and keep his thoughts from straying to work on his downtime. “Some people devote more time to work to fill gaps of time. Find a hobby and spend more time doing something that interests you,” says Fisher of the Institute for Social Research.
Hobbies give people a reason to leave the office and to stop thinking about work; they can be anything from fishing to golf to crossword puzzles, even pets or another language. “I got a dog, which gave me a really good and fun reason to leave the office on time at 6:00 every day and then go take a nice walk, rather than staying later at the office or bringing too much work home,” adds Fisher.
Psychologists say the most important way to achieve a work-life balance is to leave your work at the office. “The boundary between work and home can be really blurry, especially with technology, which can be both a help and a hindrance,” says Fisher. “Try setting boundaries by turning off [PDAs and cellphones].”
Stop scheduling business appointments or trips on your daughter’s birthday or your wedding anniversary. That’s just inconsiderate. Try instead to set aside regularly scheduled time with your family each week. Only schedule work meetings for regular business hours — no 6 a.m. breakfast meetings or business over after-work cocktails.
The best way to cut back your time at the office is by prioritizing. Making a list of all of your daily tasks and keeping that list to a set number of things allows you to move from one activity to the other without getting distracted.
“Review and revise regularly,” says Fisher. “Keep a notepad next to your bed in case you wake up and think of something — being able to write it down right then may help you fall asleep more quickly so you don’t stay up fretting that you won’t remember in the morning.”
If you spend too much time responding to e-mails, turn them off. Set aside a certain period of the day to answer them unless your profession requires you to respond immediately.
Surviving a 70-hour workweek is brutal, but with a little schedule tweaking and occasionally turning off your BlackBerry, you just might make it to the weekend.