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Burning The Midnight Oil

Posted August 21, 2014 by Carolyn Stroud in On the Ladder
It’s 8pm and for the fourth day in a row, you’re the last person in the office. The janitorial staff politely clean around you while you’re still struggling to get the last of the slides together before tomorrow’s presentation. Your desk is littered with Post-It notes, empty coffee mugs and scribbled to-do lists. You haven’t seen the gym, a home-cooked meal or any sort of routine in weeks and you’re ready to throw in the towel because there is no discernable light at the end of the tunnel. But before you quit, pull out your hair, or make some other rash decision because you’re undoubtedly running on too little sleep and too much caffeine, ask yourself a few simple questions about what led you here in the first place.

  • Is this what you signed up for? Were you promised a nine-to-five schedule when you interviewed or did you go into the job with eyes wide open? There are some industries where long days are standard operating procedure. Take consultants and lawyers for example. Everyone regularly “works hard to play hard”, meaning twelve hour days during the workweek are normal and on Fridays everyone cuts out early for happy hour. If you have to spend more time in remote offices than your own cubicle, in theory you’re compensated for this kind of irregular schedule. Hopefully, you knew that you’d be working long days before you signed on the dotted line. It becomes a problem when the amount of hours worked, especially for exempt employees, more than outweighs how your company values you.
  • Is this temporary? Are you working on a unique project with a tight deadline? There will always be times when we need to put in the extra time to meet extraordinary business needs. Certain projects, and even certain times year, require extra effort. Whether it’s working from home in order to accommodate our personal lives or putting off certain activities in order to meet a goal, hard work and dedication is usually recognized and are always admirable traits. Knowing that there is an ending point to all of the craziness is usually a huge relief and sometimes just enough to push us through the finish line.
  • Could you be working smarter (instead of longer or harder)? Did you spend the majority of your day gabbing away around the water cooler only to find yourself sorely behind when the afternoon rolled around? Most of us have a tendency to procrastinate in one form or another, but it’s especially detrimental if it occurs on a regular basis or during critical business and productivity times. Working smarter is a completely underrated attribute and is never more valuable than when deadlines are tight. Create small deadlines, create lists, or manage your time in other ways in order to use your time effectively. Distractions will always exist, but efficiency is incredibly important when the stakes are high.
  • Can you delegate or ask for additional resources? Does your immediate boss know that you’re putting in ridiculous hours? Do you have the authority to hire a consultant to come in and lighten the burden? Is there someone in the department with extra resources to whom some of your work can be delegated? Are you too controlling about your work product when there are already plenty of staff willing and able to help complete your project? One of the keys to success, as a manager at any level, is the ability to delegate and collaborate. Using resources wisely (read: time, others’ knowledge) is a trait that will make everyone more successful. Getting other people on board with a project and bringing in outside help when necessary will mean fewer late nights and undoubtedly a better outcome.

Good, bad or otherwise, nothing lasts forever. If you can’t take care of yourself and your sanity while taking care of business, then it’s time to change things up.

But, if you can take a step back and get clarity on the context of your situation, the extra effort will pay dividends.

About the Author

Carolyn Stroud

Carolyn Stroud works in finance at a commercial real estate firm in Chicago. Her previous experience includes mortgage banking, leasing, running a start-up and captaining an adult co-ed kickball team. Originally from Detroit, she has an undergraduate degree from Kalamazoo College and an MBA from Pepperdine University. Carolyn is a voracious reader and passionate about growing outside her comfort zone. She recently completed her second marathon and is always up for a challenge.