I try very hard to adhere to an eight hour schedule, and I do this for a very specific reason that’s not just to protect against burnout. Stretching my working hours to accommodate more responsibilities than I have time for allows understaffing to perpetuate itself, and doesn’t let my team or organization easily identify what our staffing gaps are. Folks like me who are capable of wearing many hats fall into this trap very easily, and the workday limit gives me the tool I need to trade off what the highest priority for me is.

In other words, working extra hours is a symptom of either not being able to say no or not delegating.

Note: earlier in your career, the above statement still holds true. Except instead of saying no, it can sometimes mean you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. If you find yourself working weekends to “keep up” with more senior folks, it’s still worth having a conversation with your manager about it.

That’s not to say that I don’t ever work beyond eight hours. There are times where there’s an impending deadline for work that I can’t delegate and/or whose inputs I don’t have control over. For example, I almost always work 60+ hour weeks during performance review season. In this case, peer feedback and my ability to access certain tools doesn’t unlock until a specific window, and in order to execute performance reviews to my quality standard, there is no tradeoff that’s reasonable to make because they would all result in reduced quality of the performance review I deliver.

However, working 60 hour weeks because my todo list is too long means that I’m overcommitted and it’s time to find some support through delegation and empowerment or it’s a sign that the team and/or org has grown beyond its previous scale and it’s time for me to evolve my role.

Respecting others’ work hours

While I do speak to an 8 hour work day, that doesn’t mean that I box myself in to 9-5. The other side effect of loosely counting hours is that it allows me recovery time when I need it. Say, for instance, my team gets paged at 2am and we work on an incident for 2 hours. You can bet the farm that I’m not going to show up to an 8am meeting the next morning. Or if I need to run errands in the morning, I may work a bit in the evening to keep up.

Use the tools at your disposal

When I do work outside of my team’s primary timezone, I use Gmail and Slack features like “Send Later” and “Remind me about this.” This way, I’m not setting an unintentional expectation for my team that they should be online and ready to respond at all hours of the day, even though I don’t actually hold that expectation of them.