A new comment from Matt and a post from Doug Belshaw within 13 minutes of each other made me think again about sleep and the work/life balance.

Matt mentioned his sleep routine (done properly) and Doug quoted a piece from The Washington Post that mentioned how Robert Owens proposed that a workers day should be equally divided:

"Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest"

We are intimately familiar with the idea of getting 8 hours sleep (even if we don't manage it) and the concept of the regular work day (epitomised by the 9-5) is firmly established. We do not, however, necessarily subscribe to the notion of 8 hours recreation.

Owens campaigned for workers to labour no more than 8 hours a day yet just as important was the idea that "they had time to pursue their own interests — to enjoy leisure activities, cultivate their own projects, spend time with their families and so forth."

But times and expectations have changed along with how and where we work.

As a rule people used to be employed where they lived, whole towns grew around mines and factories. Commuting was not something the average worker did.

Now we live in commuter belts because we are priced out of the cities, spending hours every day travelling to and from concentrations of employment because that's where the work and the money is. The mines and factories are largely gone while technology has changed the very nature of the work we do. It promises freedom but can actually entrap us.

That same technology means that we are always available, always connected, able to work from anywhere. Globalisation has turned this into a 24/7 world where schedules are aligned and we must be "on call" just in case we are needed. Even at weekends.

The long work day Owens sought to eradicate seeks a return, implicitly via concessions and expectations even if not contractually. For all our progress we risk going backwards and the work/life balance leans heavily in favour of the former.

If the working day becomes inflated it must steal time from our recreation or rest - usually both. The commute becomes either an extension of the work day, "a way to get more work done" as Doug puts it, or we try to reclaim it with books and phones and tablets. Neither is truly productive.

So we make choices, often bad ones, as we try to maximise what we have.

  1. Doug Belshaw says: #
    Thanks for citing my post, Colin! You say: "Now we live in commuter belts because we are priced out of the cities, spending hours every day travelling to and from concentrations of employment because that's where the work and the money is. The mines and factories are largely gone while technology has changed the very nature of the work we do. It promises freedom but can actually entrap us." I agree, but given that anyone younger than me (I'm 37) seems priced out of both cities and commuter belts, I'm surprised that schools aren't pointing to remote work opportunities. Particularly in historically deprived areas like the North East of England, where I live. There's a confluence of forces which seems like it won't be long before the Overton Window lurches to the left (where it belongs, in my opinion). Well, one can hope.
  2. Colin Walker says: #
    One can hope, indeed. Remote working is promising but I think we’re still a long way off it being a viable solution for most.
  3. This is not what I want to read right before starting a new gig that requires travel to Manhattan. I live near Princeton, New Jersey. The commute has been bad over the last few years and will soon worsen. I actually used the challenge of th commute to negotiate a higher rate for my next consulting gig. Some of my friends say “you’ll get used to it”. You can read on the train. You can catch up on podcast and listen to music. Whatever. I’m happy it’s temporary. I will not get 8 hours of recreation. I’ll need to get to bed by 9PM if I want to get 8 hours of sleep. But, I know for sure I’ll get 8 hours of work. For years I’ve looked for jobs that allow working from home as an option. The daily commute was stressful. There are so many cars on New Jersey’s roads. A 15 mile car ride takes 30 minutes. Brakes don’t last long. The NJ Transit train system trains and buses extends commute times. That 15 mile commute to Trenton (where I used to work) would take two hours by bus and train. Most household in my neighborhood have two cars. So do we. I relish the idea of getting rid one of the cars, and the expense of insurance and repairs. But it seems that some companies are reversing their position on telecommuting. While having lunch with some former work colleagues, I was told that their employer had dismantled the telecommuting program. Apparently management thinks the new open offices with foosball tables, and dart boards and basketball hoops, improves team bonding and collaboration. So why have any program that discourages that? In any case, until my new client has parking space for my car, I’ll pack my iPod, headphones, smartphone battery pack, and a breakfast food bar in my messenger bag.

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