In March, I undertook an experiment of sorts in which I cut my work hours by 17% to see how it would affect my productivity and well-being.
Instead of working from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and reading a work-related book during lunch, I worked from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and took a half-hour lunch break.
It was incredibly difficult — so difficult that I returned to my normal work hours immediately after the experiment — but not for the reason you might think.
While I was able to get all my work done in a shorter day, I felt really guilty about working less than all my colleagues.
There were some days when I waited until 5:30 to leave, simply because it took half an hour to convince myself that it was ok to walk out the door while the rest of the staff was still hard at work.
My fear was that those who didn’t know about my experiment (and maybe even those who did) would perceive me as a slacker — not as a paragon of efficiency who was able to complete all her work in shorter hours.
Perhaps if I’d had a “good” reason for leaving early or taking a lunch break, I’d have felt less guilty. Like if I’d had young kids to pick up from school.
Instead, I spent my lunch breaks and evenings off having some quality “me” time. I drank tea. I read Marie Claire and Vogue. I sat in the park and dog-watched. And absolutely none of that seemed as important or as essential as work.
Of course, the solution here might not be about trying to convince other people that personal time is important and efficiency is great. It might be more about persuading myself that, if I’ve got permission from my manager, it’s ok to leave when I finish my work.
After all, no one made me feel guilty — I did that myself.
I imagine that if I’d continued working a shorter day, eventually I would have gotten over the guilt and shame. Right now though? I’m back to my old schedule, and honestly, it’s a relief.
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