New Grads: Avoid Overworking in Advance –

Last week, Robert C. Pozen discussed how to stop working all those hours on the Harvard Business Review blog, and he makes a great point. Why should you work so many hours? Working long hours is draining on your energy, life, and morale, and it’s just a bad practice to work more than you really need to. Yet so many of us continue to be slaves to work.

As a new grad, it’s ideal to stop long hours before they even happen. Consider choosing a place to work that offers a more laid-back lifestyle. Companies that offer flex-time, telecommuting, and even Friday afternoons off can offer a refreshing change of pace from typical corporate life. At the very least, be careful not to choose a work environment that requires you to be present for 50+ hours or take lots of work home.

While corporate workers are at risk for long hours, entrepreneurs tend to be the worst offenders when it comes to overworking. Although it’s tempting to work, work, work yourself to death to see your dream come to life, it’s important to remember that work is not everything, and at some point, you’ve got to hang it up and relax. For those that work at home, it may be difficult to separate work and personal life, but it’s important to make that distinction.

So what can you do to cut off long hours before they even start? Here are a few small tips that go a long way:

  • Focus on productivity, not hours. If you’ve spent countless hours perfecting a document or presentation, surely you’re proud of it, but how important is that one document, really? Would a B+ effort have sufficed instead of an A+ that took so long? Be careful to spend most of your time on the things that really matter, and not concentrate so much on tasks that are less important. Give greater weight to results instead of hours spent.
  • Keep a clear line between work and home. This is especially important for entrepreneurs, particularly those that work at home, but anyone with a smartphone is likely to admit that they’ve worked during playtime hours. Shut it down. Have clear hours and even physical boundaries that separate work and home life. Consider creating a separate home office, or at least a specific place for your laptop to sit. Avoid taking your smartphone to bed, and resist the urge to check your email during family dinner.
  • Just say no. As a new employee, it’s a great idea to embrace opportunities that you’re presented with, but that doesn’t mean that each and every single one of them is a great idea. Don’t be afraid to turn down meetings and projects that don’t make sense for your goals and job role. Being picky and choosy allows you to find the time to take on the opportunities that can really make a difference, instead of draining your time.

As a new grad, you’re in a great position to create good work habits from the very beginning. Carefully manage your time so that you can avoid the mess of long work hours, especially at the start of your career.