I wake up at 5:30 a.m. and my first thought is “where am I?” The frenetic pace of my days follows. It’s rare that I turn off my phone after midnight and don’t turn back on early the next morning. I read daily. I show up at work, sometimes too early for coffee, with five projects and three more problems that need to be addressed. The first full day is rained out, and it’s hard to enjoy a moment of drowsiness when you’re pacing the hallway at 3 a.m. These weeks end with meetings and deadline-driven projects until the final deadline, when I start dreaming about the next vacation.
When I worked in Europe with an international team of writers, I would leap at an opportunity to run an errand on a Saturday. I’d combine research with racing to do a good job and then call it a weekend. But when I moved to the U.S. more than a decade ago, I did a complete 180. Instead of hopping on a plane and arriving on Monday morning at 4:15, I started the week at my desk and didn’t leave until 11 p.m. In office life, I said “Thank you” for the weekends that belonged to someone else. My definition of relaxation was fast-forwarding to bed instead of uninterrupted sleep.
It’s not that I’m lacking in motivation. I come from the “I’m going to sell everything tomorrow” school of thought. My biggest moments on deadline are galvanizing. But I’m not sure I have enough energy for those great moments. I may be stressed out. I may be bored. But for every stressful few hours here and there, I could keep those good things happening, because I’m not doing a disservice to my team or my clients by selling too short.
In my admittedly very anecdotal research, I found that working all night wasn’t too detrimental to my productivity. It’s that when I leave late, for whatever reason, then I don’t stay late — and when I do stay late, I tend to work really hard, even though I know that many days I’m going to come in at 8 a.m. That doesn’t excite me, but then again, if I work harder and come in earlier more often, I have an edge on my people.
So I developed one of the best strategies I know for when I have to leave: No training at all until after the performance review. I buy an early-morning train ticket to the station, and as soon as I arrive, I see where my team is taking up space. Then I know where to start my “wait board” task: Heading out on time because I leave at the moment the schedule allows.
However, after the train arrives, I take the stairs. I find that this gives me the space I need to talk to someone during my commute. I start right away. With no noise to distract me, I get something accomplished. I go home and unplug, since I’m there most nights. Then, after a few days, I say to myself, “Well, now I have the feeling of the old job.” It’s the best of all worlds.