How To Make Overtime Work For You

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Brad Fitzgerald of Apt Design.

In the past year my freelance design business has been doing very well and I found myself doing something most people do at some point in their lives – working overtime. It was actually a new experience for me as I’ve worked hard and been fortunate enough to be able to grow my business well while working within set daily time limits.

Having this experience for the first time gave me a set of fresh eyes on the situation and I paid attention to ways I could make sure that my life and my work still stayed in balance. I’m passionate about people keeping a healthy work/life balance and thought I’d share ways I found to make overtime work for you.

1. Have a Reason. My first consideration when thinking about overtime is “I’m going to be giving up a lot of time and energy that I could be using on something else. What am I going to get out of it?”

Obviously the primary reason for working overtime is to make more money. But there may be other reasons like finishing a big project, getting a lot done early so you can take a vacation, or putting in a few extra hours to try and get a promotion.

In the end your reasons should be strong enough that you are not discontented to be working overtime. While working you should be able to look at your reason and say, “This is worth what I’m giving up.”

2. Make sure everyone is ok with it. First things first: check in with your boss. This might seem weird, but not all bosses may want you working overtime. They may not have the budget to pay for your extra hours or overtime might not fit the company culture they are hoping to create.

Next, check in with yourself. Do you really want to work overtime? If not, look for ways to decrease your workload. Can you delegate some tasks or projects? Are there activities that aren’t urgent and could be put off? You might even try working at a different time or in a different location to be more efficient in the same number of hours.

Lastly, check in with your spouse and family. You being gone oftentimes means more work or stress for them. Handling the kids, fixing supper, and any number of daily chores are now going to need to be handled without you. Pay attention to and discuss how your being gone will affect your relationship with your partner and their emotional well-being. Of course, they may be perfectly fine with you being gone for a limited amount of time, which brings me to my next point:

3. Have an end date before you start. Working overtime can easily become a trap if you don’t know when working these long hours will come to an end. If you are so busy that you’re working overtime like a madman and don’t know when you’ll ever get a break then you are on the road to burnout and serious work/life imbalance.

If you don’t have a date or deliverable after which you’ll be done working overtime then working long hours can easily become a habit. And then a way of life. And then just life.

Instead work towards a system where you can better plan your overtime periods. Knowing that your overtime schedule will be temporary takes a huge amount of stress off of you and your family. Make sure you communicate that end date to both your family and your clients or boss. They should all know what your expectations are from the beginning.

4. Make it fun. Hey , you’re going to be working hard, but not during normal business hours right? So this isn’t business as usual. Try to make sure working overtime is even better than working normal time.

Here are a few tips:

  • Dress more comfortably
  • Order in some delicious food
  • Crank your favorite tunes
  • Buy some new music
  • Grab your favorite beverage
  • Change the lighting in your office
  • Go to a coffee shop or park to work

5. Take breaks. While its important to keep your nose to the grindstone and get work done (that is presumably why you’re working overtime in the first place), make sure you take a break every now and then.

Taking breaks shows your family that even though you’re extra busy, they are still a priority. If you are working overtime for weeks, make sure you take at least one night off per week to be with family.  Ask your spouse to help you by planning a special evening with the family so that you can give your full attention to being with them.

6. Reward yourself. I think one of the greatest parts of working overtime is knowing that you’re making extra money and knowing how you’ll spend that money. That can be part of your reason for working overtime that I mentioned at the beginning of this article.

Now that you have reached the completion of your overtime period, celebrate! Buy that camera you’ve been wanting, take your wife out for a nice dinner, go on a weekend getaway with the family. Making sure to include your family in your reward helps offset the time they didn’t get with you (although I want to make a clear distinction that you should not be trying to buy them off).

Having to work long hours is something that most of us will probably face at some point. The key is taking control of this overtime and making your job work for your life, not the other way around. Doing it right can help you improve your business or career avoid while not becoming jaded and frazzled.

If you have ways you’ve make overtime work for you, please share them with the community in the comments!

Brad Fitzgerald is owner of Apt Design, a graphic and web design company based in Wenatchee, WA. He and his wife both work part time and spend the other half of the day with their new daughter, Sunny. When not working or relaxing with family he enjoys running, reading and writing. He is passionate about helping others achieve work/life balance. You can view life through his iPhone’s eye or follow him on Twitter.

12 Responses to “How To Make Overtime Work For You”

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  1. I really love this post. There are times that I’ve worked overtime on a special project or launch, and our whole family has worked together during those times to make it happen. It’s not always easy, and we all make sacrifices, but I think it’s an important part of building a business, and I’m happy to see a post about making it work rather than why you shouldn’t do it (although I think it’s telling that it was written by a man and not a mother!).

  2. As someone who has been faced with overtime a fair bit over the years due to the nature of my work, I really appreciate your post. It is possible to make overtime work for you and not become destructive as you’ve shown.

    I’d suggest one change to your list… In point #2 when making sure everyone is okay with you working overtime, I’d reverse the order to family, you and then your boss. :-)

    Thanks for the post.

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