The old saying goes that the richest man in the world has the same number of hours in the day as the poorest. To me, richness isn’t about the things you own, it’s about the relationships you build and the quality of the time you spend with those you value. We should live each hour of our day to the fullest, no matter how much money we have in the bank.
It’s strange to me that as we get materially richer, we get time poorer. In today’s modern world, to make a lot of money means you have to work tirelessly, day in and day out. The people with the most money are those who run their own businesses and are consumed by their jobs every waking moment of their day. Though they may make more money, what are they really gaining?
The relentless march of technology enables this kind of lifestyle. With smartphones, tablets and laptops, we aren’t bound to our offices and given the freedom to work anywhere. I think this is part of the reason that work-life balance is practically non-existent for ambitious knowledge workers who want to get ahead and make more dough.
A few years ago, the French decided that they would make everyone only work 35 hours a week in the office. I was living in the UK at the time and had to submit reports to our HR department and state how many hours a week I worked. After some reflection, I realized it was a rather existential question. After all, I didn’t clock in and out from a factory, or even go to an office. So, how many hours was I really working? What was even considered work?
Let me give you some examples. Is writing a report in the evening considered work? What about doing your expenses? Okay, how about travel time? Do you only drive or fly on company business between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.? Of course not. If you’re on the plane and watching a movie, is that work? When you are out of town at a conference, you get the evening “off”, but you’re hundreds or thousands of miles from home and wouldn’t be there by your own choice. What about when you think about work in the shower or dream about your job? How can you possibly clock your hours for any of these scenarios?
The whole idea of “working hours” for a modern knowledge worker should be questioned.
Is the notion of 9-to-5 a thing of the past? Technology truly enables us to work anywhere, anytime and video communications makes that process even easier. Sure, this might enable workaholics to go borderline insane, but it also provides an exorbitant amount of flexibility for us average folks. Perhaps you can truly have a work-life balance if you work when you need to and cultivate the other aspects of your life during your time off. Rather than sitting in an office all day, you could work when you are at your best (even if that is at midnight or 4 a.m.). If your child has a school presentation or a sports game, you could go in the middle of the day without feeling guilt for leaving the office. Imagine a world like that. I think in that world, we’d all be a little bit richer.