Lessons of a CEO #5 :Screen Time.
By Alex, Last updated: 2023-01-18 (originally published on 2016-10-24)
My first in-transit-blog post. I’m writing it at 37,000 ft and I’m about 7 inches from my laptop. It’s Saturday evening and I’m sitting in row 28 of a busy Air Asia flight returning from a KL business trip. The lady in front is getting some economy shut eye. This has the effect of pushing the food tray so close to my stomach that to type I am forced to threaten the occupants of 28F and 28D with my tightly-wound elbows at every stroke of the keyboard. Timely then for a post on how much time is the right amount of time to spend on work? When should we stop? When are we working too much? And when does it all cease to be any more productive?
I know I work too much. My grandfather, 99 this year, a spectacular doctor but workaholic who comes from a generation when hard work wasn’t discussed (it just was). Took less than a minute of listening to my excited tales of startupdom to ask the only question that mattered to him. Was I helping my family enough with the things that matter to them? Absolutely yes was my answer. Probably not, was the truth.
As wake up calls come in all forms, it reminded me to always listen to people older than myself. They are without exception wiser than I. I wanted to know, how much am I working; and whilst I haven’t kept a work diary to be particularly scientific about this – to give a quick assessment of my working week, I’ve had a look at my calendar for last month, which was by most perspectives relatively ordinary.
My diary had 164 hours of scheduled meetings, which is give or take, about 37 hours a week. So that’s the starting point. I’m normally either in the office or ‘at work’ in some capacity from 8.30-7ish so an extra 13 or so hours that are me doing my job. A relatively healthy for this day and age – 50 hours a week.
But then comes the extras.
Travel – I usually fly a few times a month and I try to do that outside of office hours wherever possible. I’m going to add on 5 hours per week for that. It’s probably much more but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Networking – I don’t network as hard as the very hardcore at Zegal (who often go out 4 times a week – good grief, their stamina is incredible – kudos to you Karen and the team) but I usually will do two functions of some sort a week, so that’s another 5 hours per week.
Calls – The “Can we talk” calls. An average of one a night. That’s what I’m here for (isn’t it? – I think so, see my post on loving your team). These calls are usually about “Survive” issues either with my founding team (mainly our CTO who is frequently worried about life, the universe and the state of the US electorate), investors, or board calls will add one hour per evening. So let’s put down another 5 for that.
Weekend work – Work that can only be done at the weekends when it’s all a bit quieter. Writing my blog. Reading up on trends. Learning and improving. Not really work you might say but it’s not leisure so let’s add another 5 hours anyway!
Jees Louise – are we at 70 already? Well best keep going because the next one is the biggie.
Monitoring – what on earth could that be?! This my friends is the impact of screens on our free time. Almost incalculable in its impact on your working week. This is most likely the least productive work you do and is absolutely the most destructive of your leisure and family time. I’m calling it monitoring because it covers a multitude of work-now-routinely-invades-family time sins, made possible by the advent of our always-on world.
For me personally, this ranges from checking sales dashboards, client happiness levels; and projects, through to sending emails and whatsapps out of hours that become conversations at midnight. A culture has developed in our world, that there absolutely is no time now considered too late to send a hangout/whatsapp/line/wechat/imessage/Skype Chat/SMS/any other message that we know will beep on someone’s phone, and if I wake at 4am, well no harm in replying some more right? It is after all daylight somewhere.
How much time does this amazing infiltration of technology add on to our business day at Zegal? I don’t want to admit. I recently read a study that the average smartphone user picks up her phone 2,617 times a day. How far is yours from you right now? In your hand? Plugged into your laptop, charging because you’ve nearly run out of battery at 11am? In another room? Shame on you – run and get it now, it has probably beeped. Could be important.
Was it? No. Oh well at least you have it now.
Because we know this and because we monitor our phones and devices continuously, it has blurred our perception of when we can make demands on our colleagues, finish off discussions that should wait for the office, or sell to customers. Today we so often do business in the same mediums and with the same tools that we organise our personal lives and our personal relationships that it is increasingly impossible to separate the one from the other. But we must, because this isn’t going away. Ten years ago Facebook was a place we posted drunk photos of ourselves. Today you are painfully aware it is your future boss’ first stop on a journey of information you have readily provided. Five years ago we worried about the flashing blackberry, but a blackberry could always be lost at the weekend. Today it is our phones and our laptops and our decisions that control when we start and if we stop our working week. Only we can decide if enough is ever enough.