Friday, May 15, 2015

Chapter 5: Sabbatical, or Something to that Effect

"I’m on the job 24x7. That’s 24 hours a week, 7 months a year."
       Will Farrell as George Bush. Saturday Night Live.
“I only need you to work half days... The other twelve hours you can do whatever you want.”

"And I know, it's my own damn fault,"
       Jimmy Buffet. Margaritaville.
The Autobiography of Ben and Bob
Chapter 5: Sabbatical, or Something to that Effect

Someone asked me recently how many hours a week I work - the implication being that I'm a workaholic. I was embarrassed to answer, so I hemmed and hawed and made up some number that would seem decent by Silicon Valley standards if not ridiculous. "I don't know - Let's see... 60? 70?"

The truth is nowhere near that number. It would be easier to ask how many hours I don’t work. The reality is that I work 24x7 - and I suspect many others are doing the same. I find myself thinking about work every single minute of every single day. So, literally: 24x7 = 168 hours a week.

You may remind me about sleep. Ok, at a (generous) average of six hours a night, I guess we can call it 120 hours a week and be done with it.  The truth, however, is that I suspect I'm mostly working while I sleep as well. I'm sure you've had that experience – waking up at three o'clock in the morning with an instant "Aha!" Moment, a recent gnarly problem finally solved - while you slept.

What about family and friends, you might ask. Hobbies? Sports? Sure. I do all of those things too, so let's subtract another thirty hours week and call it even - 90 hours a week.

I can live with that number. But the reality is that every one of those activities - time with family, watching a movie, biking on a lonely road, running a marathon - all happen in the background as I multi-task efficiently, checking my email and the stock market and the headline news furtively every few minutes on my iPhone or laptop or iPad.

You'd be amazed how much work you can do while biking. Just bring along an iPhone. I like to stop once an hour or so for a quick rest and send myself a quick reminder email on the topics I was thinking about for the past hour. Maybe send out an email to get status on some project.

Reading, one of my favorite activities, has become a painful exercise - almost to the point of impossibility. I find my mind drifting every few sentences, thinking about some problem at work or the last email I just glanced at a minute ago - or that pesky text message waiting for a response. It's impossible to concentrate on the text for more than a couple of paragraphs at a time. Multi-tasking has become the norm without us even being aware of it.

When I wake up at three am with a start these days, I hesitate before I reach for the iPad. A few futile minutes attempting to fall back asleep before giving in and checking email. I've had extended and passionate email exchanges with dozens of other executives and engineers - all also up in the middle of the night checking email. Hmmm.... So it’s not just me.

Airplanes used to be the only safe haven - allowing me to disconnect from the Internet (from "The Matrix") for a few hours. I used to land from an international flight with my inbox cleaned, a dozen documents read and a hundred pieces of email handled. Now, even that safe haven has been taken away. I landed from my most recent international flight exhausted - having just spent the past fourteen hours arguing with a dozen people at work - thanks to the advent of in-flight Internet.

So I asked my boss for three months off. Let's call it a sabbatical, shall we? I need to clear my head. Never mind that our company doesn't currently offer such a benefit. He was gracious enough to grant it - and I’m thankful for the time off.

Years ago, I was privileged enough to enjoy a similar sabbatical while working at Microsoft and I spent the whole three months traveling around the world - from photographic safaris in Africa and treks in Nepal to gondolas in Venice and bottles of Barolo in Tuscany.

This time? Not so much. The truth is I'm too busy.

So here we are three weeks into the sabbatical - and what do I find myself doing? I’m writing a business plan, I’m filing patents, I’m doing research, I’m giving keynotes, I’m blogging. My daughter is getting married next month. I have relatives visiting from out of town. I’m too busy to take time off.

The conclusion? It has nothing to do with the job or the company. Our pace of life has changed and we can't go back to the old days. At the end of the day, "It's my own damn fault". And our new electronic online lives are being too efficient in helping me.

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