July 27, 2007

Are you having a toxic day or just being OA?

Something Like Life
July 27, 2007

I FIRST heard the term “toxic” a couple of years back to describe one’s extremely busy day, when one had absolutely no time to attend to anything else except work. (This, of course, from someone who had 1,000 and one “genius” ideas, not one of which has taken off from the drawing board.)

Do you find yourself running around like a headless chicken from one job assignment to the next, or rushing from one meeting to another, in a valiant attempt at earning more income, commissions or fat bonuses?

When I look at most 40- or 50-year-olds these days, many of them in executive and managerial positions, they appear far too obsessed with their work. They juggle all their tasks—this, despite having a number of staff or assistants at their beck and call—that they hardly have time for friends outside of work. Call them up and they’re either in another meeting or driving to another company event, their usual opportunity to network with colleagues and potential clients. Text them and they won’t respond ’til the next day, and probably call only when they finally remember they need something from you. Even e-mailing these workaholics will get a response days later unless you are offering them a work opportunity, in which case they will not only e-mail back but actually call!

You try to understand their situation because they’re trying to support a family, right? After all, no matter what the President says in her Sona, we live in economically challenging (or is it challenged?) times, when even the appreciating dollar has no effect whatsoever on lowering the prices of good and services in the country. (How can it when we still have a 12-percent VAT to pay on top of the purchase price?)

So many of these executives take on more tasks to secure a brighter future for their kids. But the truth is, all that work may actually be keeping them from their families. A number of studies show the growing number of teenage pregnancies and of kids going into drugs. Not just marijuana. But actually lethal stuff like “ice” or cocaine. Where are these kids’ parents? They’re out working, shaking hands over golf or a company party, or in yet another meeting.

I know one guy who doesn’t even respond to e-mails from his kids until a week after. (The kids told me they e-mail because they can’t even catch dad on his cell.) But are these executives really working for their children’s benefit or for their own self-aggrandizement? I know all the fluttery puffed-up feelings one gets for being constantly recognized as a “workaholic.” “Busy” or having a “toxic” day has become the new badge of honor for the working man or woman of the millennium.

Even if loaded with tons of work, there are ways to deal with these intelligently without forgetting there is a life outside the four corners of your office. Eugene, a veep in an accounting firm, goes to the company office in the morning where he holds meetings or signs papers until lunchtime. At about 2 pm he takes off for his managerial consultancy where he has his own set of meetings with partners and clients. By 6 to 6:30 pm, he is out of the office and on the way home to hopefully catch dinner with his family.

Once in a while, he does go to dinner meetings or cocktails, “but only when it really can’t be avoided.” Not all the cocktail events you’re invited to are important anyway. Sometimes you just see the same faces, many of whom are just a phone call away during regular hours, he explains.

“It’s all about time management,” Eugene stresses, when I ask him how he manages to keep both his official and unofficial work from clashing into each other. It’s easier said than done, of course. In this high-tech world we live in, it’s sometimes difficult not to take on too many tasks. It takes discipline to prioritize which phone call, text message, or e-mail to answer, he says. “But you have to set the limits for your colleagues. My business partners know they can talk to me only after lunch. My mornings are totally for the office. And hindi pwede na every minute na lang, sasagot ka ng text or phone call. That’s what secretaries and assistants are for!”

Don’t be afraid to set limits for your bosses also. They should know that your office life ends at 6 pm and you would rather be home with the family by 7 pm, instead of out entertaining clients. If your boss doesn’t understand that your priority is with your family, then maybe it’s not the right company for you. No one has to be made to choose between his work and his family.

Sometimes I think people who keep themselves overly busy all the time are trying to avoid issues in other parts of their life. They don’t want any quiet time to reflect on their relationships with their spouses, their children, or their parents/siblings. Perhaps they feel that without all that work, they just don’t exist, and therefore are not validated. Work becomes an escape for them to avoid critical issues they should address in their lives.

I remember an older friend complaining to me a few years ago that she and her husband no longer had sex as regularly as they used to because both of them were extremely tired working to the bone to fund their kids’s future college education. And even when they did have that one stab at doing the nasty, it also felt like work. When I asked why she didn’t talk to her husband about it, she bitched, “We don’t even have time for sex na nga, how can we talk pa?” But I asked her if the lack of sex was really due to their being overworked or were they overworking to avoid the sex? Perhaps there was a deeper reason aside from the kids’ college fund that set them off on frenetic workdays. I sensed her brain silently clicking away as she pondered this, but she merely shrugged her shoulders in reply.

So when are all these things that we do in the name of our family actually work? Are you really having a toxic day or just being OA?

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the lifestyle section of the BusinessMirror. Photo from BusinessMirror)

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