Work life creeping into personal life? Try a battery-only weekend

I want to start this post by professing my love for the Internet, my computer, and my job. I love the digital age and this blog, and shiver with fear at the thought of living without Internet access.

That being said, I spend a significant amount of time on my computer beyond normal work hours doing non-critical work things. It’s a safe estimate that on a weekday I’ll spend one to two hours behind my laptop in the evenings. On a weekend day, bump that number up to three or four hours. Seeing as I officially work somewhere between nine and twelve hours a weekday, I’m surprised I want anything to do with a computer or work in my free time–let alone HOURS more.

On July 3, I decided that I was going to take a break from my laptop and from work for the three-day holiday weekend. Unfortunately, I had a few small tasks I needed to do over the weekend, so I knew I couldn’t go cold turkey. I decided instead to unplug my computer at the end of the workday on Thursday and not plug my computer back in until showing up for work Monday morning.

I would survive for the holiday only using my laptop’s battery power and nothing else.

I was able to finish the majority of my work on Friday morning and was confident that I would be able to get through the weekend fine. I opened up my laptop a few times throughout the rest of the day, but I didn’t think anything of it since the numbers were in the 70s, then the 60s, then the 50s. Saturday morning, however, when I checked my work e-mail, I noticed I only had 35 percent power left.

I was a little stunned that my Saturday morning number was 35 percent. My first thought was that I must have a lame battery. A good battery wouldn’t be on 35 percent in just a day! Except, when I stopped to calculate my usage on Friday, I realized I had easily spent three hours on my laptop. My battery was working fine, it was user consumption that was to blame.

On Sunday, I opened my laptop and saw 8 percent. About half an hour into checking my e-mail and other little site tasks, I got a message on my screen announcing that my computer was operating on reserve power. I immediately closed my laptop and decided to save the last bits of remaining energy in case of a work emergency.

The only problem is that it takes energy to power-up a laptop after its lid has been closed. I discovered this truth after lunch, when I thought I could eek out a few seconds of power just to see if the website was doing okay. But, all I got was a blank screen.

My computer officially died with 20 hours to go before work started on Monday.

I don’t like the idea that I used all of my computer’s battery power before the three-day weekend had come to a close. What I took from it is that I’m having difficulty drawing the line between work and free time. I think about work constantly and would like to be able to turn those thoughts off and relax at least once in a while.

So, for the duration of the month, I’m going to have battery-powered laptop weekends. Work matters a great deal to me, but so does taking advantage of my free time. I hope that this process helps me to better prioritize my time away from work and relax and rejuvenate to make my official work time more productive. Clutter comes in all forms, and, right now, it’s in the form of working through my weekends. If you’re in a similar position, consider joining me in the battery-powered challenge.

42 Comments for “Work life creeping into personal life? Try a battery-only weekend”

  1. posted by Chris Bell on

    I think this is a great idea. I just spent 2 self-imposed days offline and it was great, but i did miss twitter and email. If I implemented your suggestion, I would be able to have the best of BOTH worlds :)

  2. posted by Marie on

    Is it bad for your laptop to keep working on it until the battery dies? I do the same thing all the time, but then I worry that I’m hurting my poor computer. About a year ago I had my old comp crash and it was super traumatic, so now I’m trying to treat this one as well as I can.

  3. posted by Shay on

    I don’t really understand being that attached to work. If you really don’t want to work on work over a weekend or in the evenings… don’t bring your computer home. Or if you have to in case of emergency, bring it home, but leave it in its bag. Put it in the hall closet or wherever you normally store a briefcase when not in use, and it’ll be there for you on Monday.
    I am ALL for a sane work/life combination!

  4. posted by Anne on

    “Clutter comes in all forms, and, right now, it’s in the form of working through my weekends.”

    ouch! great article!
    I don’t work on puter, but hobby-digi scrapping, and find it taking more and more time….I have cluttered to the point it is taking precious time from my kids..
    Hubby and I agree setting limits is a good thing…we have done it for the kids and given ourselfs justification…

  5. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Shay — I work at home, so I’m always at work. It might be easier if I could leave the laptop at an office.

  6. posted by Amy Addison on

    I use this trick on days when I’m procrastinating about getting on with my writing (my job). I unplug the computer and tell myself I only have to work until the battery runs out. With the ticking clock, I get a LOT done, but still have plenty of time for the rest of my life. One of the bene’s of working at home is being able to spend lots of time with my kids and this makes sure I get my work done so we can all play.

    I never thought of using to CONTROL the amount of time I spent on the computer, but it’s definitely an idea I’m tucking into my “find balance in my life” repertoire.

    Thanks!

  7. posted by Deb on

    As a teacher, I have the same trouble keeping work from interfering with time away from work. It is standard procedure to have 4-6 hours of homework on school nights and many more hours on the weekends. Part of my problem has been the papers/articles I have been keeping as resources, plus copies of handouts and transparencies for the overhead projector.

    I have actually spent the entire summer dealing with the clutter of essential resources and have reduced my stash by 24 binders-full! My limits have been, not battery life, but binder space. I had several binders dedicated to the astronomy unit, for instance (drat that NASA generosity!). I resolved to reduce three binders worth of material fit into one. If I needed to add something more, I had to decide what to pitch.

    The self-imposed limits are helpful. Now to practice that with the homework time. No matter how much time I spend, there is always more that could be done. I am not a perfectionist, although my husband, also a teacher, is. Maybe we could just put our red pens on a timer…

  8. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Deb — I had the nightly grading problem when I was an English teacher. I finally decided that I couldn’t leave school until I finished my grading for the day instead of taking it home with me. This meant I often worked until 7:00 p.m., but I was off work when I left. I also found that I worked faster when I was in a quiet school building and getting home was my reward.

  9. posted by Deb on

    Hi Erin,

    I have tried this as well. My husband and I carpool but work a block apart and we are sometimes in our respective classrooms until 9 PM. Lab preps, notebooks, making copies, cleanup. My department chair arrives at 5:30 in the morning and does the same thing when she is fresh. Just answering the e-mails takes hours some days.

    This year, I have resolutions to somehow do something differently. After 21 years of this, I have yet to figure out what that can look like!

  10. posted by Colin on

    I find that I’m only working at home if there’s a deadline driven need for it, so the laptop stays in. However, if I’ve been wasting too much time on surfing for my own amusement, I switch over to your battery-only approach. Once the battery is dead, it’s time to move on to something else… like sleep.

  11. posted by Shalin on

    I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now. I usually don’t do work after work, but in the case I do, I find this is the best way take care of it.

    Great post! :)

    I think the dynamic here is the whole issue of “what is a normal career life these days anyhow?”. For some, their work is also very personal to them and finds their way into the “non-core working hours”…it’s kinda like core free-time has work-time on warm-standby… hmmm…

    I like my job (engineering) and the skills I put to use there, but I think I’d like to use my free time in *fun* things that will also support my work – like creative pursuits. If I get some inspiration on an idea for the job, I’ll jot it down somewhere and keep it in mind when I get back to the office.

    Thoughts?

    Best,
    Shalin

  12. posted by Eric on

    I have often thought about placing the charger somewhere inconvenient. This way I can charge or use the computer and I think it would help me be more cognizant of my time away from my family.

  13. posted by Toblerone @ Simple Mom on

    Ooh, an excellent – and scary – idea. I’ll have to try this.

    (Typing this as I am officially on vacation…)

  14. posted by Yarrrr! on

    One of the things I liked best about being a contract worker was that I got paid for each hour that I worked. Each of us has only so many hours each day to allocate between personal and work lives. Each hour we work outside of work is an hour we work for free. Much more important, though, it is an hour which can’t be used to spend with the ones we love or pursuing a cherished activity.

    If you’re going to spend “personal” time working, for pete’s sake document it and either get a raise to pay for it or take comp time. Take to heart that old saying that nobody on their deathbed ever wished they’d spent more time working.

  15. posted by Meghan on

    I stop thinking about work about 5 minutes before I leave the office, and don’t start thinking about it until I’ve been back at work for about 15 minutes. In fact, I have to write myself a note to remind myself what to start working on in the morning.

    I rarely go on the computer in the evenings. On the weekends I might just check my email a couple of times or update the iPod.

    I work a regular workweek, and I feel like I work way too much already. I don’t get workaholics. In fact, I’d rather not work at all!

  16. posted by Brian on

    Neat idea! If you’re using a Mac, though (and maybe PC notebooks–I haven’t used one), keep in mind that the computer still draws power while sleeping. If you want to conserve your battery, shut the computer down when you’re done. I routinely lose 10-15% of the charge overnight if I put my computer to sleep and don’t plug it in. It’s still doing some work while “sleeping” (like keeping the contents of memory stored and operating the systems that detect the input that will wake it up).

  17. posted by michelle on

    i’m struggling with this too. i’m a business owner with a need to be fairly available, and also, i just gave up tv, so surfing on the laptop is a tempting substitution. i’ve tried your solution too, including leaving the power cord at work. but i’m also considering an iphone because it would keep me in touch, while being able to keep the laptop stowed away. tho admittedly, while solving the laptop problem, i might create another.

    are there any iphone/blackberry users with insight – has your mobile device decreased your regular computer time? thanks!

  18. posted by Jenn on

    This is a really interesting idea that I may have to try. I spend so much time piddling on the Web that it would do me good to set a time limit!

  19. posted by Matt on

    Nice post. I’ve found this idea helpful in the past. This highlights one potential pitfall of the uncluttered life, namely “what will you do with your extra time (or space, or money)?” I’ve worked hard to develop efficient systems for my work and personal business, but still occasionally find myself glued to my chair and mindlessly websurfing during my free time, simply because I’ve been lazy about setting goals for my personal time.
    This is a topic discussed in “The Four Hour Work Week” and it’s worth the time if you haven’t read it yet.

  20. posted by laura on

    I’ve had “no internet” weekends forced upon me by our less than stellar cable internet provider. They are the only provider in our area and they lack customer service skills. We live in an old neighborhood, so all of the power lines run above ground. Our house happens to be on the opposite side of street from the lines, our cable line has been ripped from the house by passing trucks about 6 or 7 times in the past month and a half. It always seems to happen before a weekend. Ug.

  21. posted by L on

    A weekly Sabbath day is a great opportunity for everyone, even the non-religious. A weekend day with no working, computer use – even no television, no telephone, and no driving – can restore the body and mind incredibly.

  22. posted by Monica Ricci on

    As a person who has a hard time unplugging from work, I appreciate this post so much! My battery lasts me about 2 hours, and what a great idea to limit myself to battery time only, on the weekends. Excellent idea! :)
    ~Monica

  23. posted by Giddified on

    It’s funny you should write this post. It’s something that I’ve been doing for a few months now, and it’s really helped me be productive in other ways on the weekends. Instead of spending endless hours bouncing from site to site (fun as that may be), I now spend more time doing other things like hanging out with people, cleaning my apartment and reading new things. The best part is you’re not forbidden from going online or using your computer; it just forces you to decide if using your computer is really a priority.

  24. posted by Jack on

    Good in theory, but not for everyone – I get all my writing and about half of my socializing done on the computer outside of work! While I’ll go sans-tech on occasion for meditative purposes, following this plan would suck most of the fun out of my free time.

  25. posted by molly on

    This is a wonderful idea! If only my laptop’s battery life were longer than about 20 minutes I would definitely try it.

  26. posted by Marianne on

    It’s good to be aware (and care) about how much work time squeezes in on family time. I like drawing a line too. It makes my family time easier to enjoy, because I refuse to think about work, knowing I can care about it in an hour or so when my kids are napping.
    Great technique!

  27. posted by Rhetor on

    For the teachers out there, I teach college level writing and I do use a timer to grade papers. Otherwise, I’d spend 45 minutes a paper and make myself and students crazy about it. If I’m reading drafts, it’s 5-10 minutes and the top three things to improve. If I’m reading portfolios, it’s 15-20 minutes, total (organizing, reading, comments, entering grades, etc).

    It forces me to be much more blunt in my comments and students seem to appreciate it quite a bit. Because I teach grant writing, it also mimics the speed with which funders might read grants, so it makes my comments more relevant to the reading/funding process.

  28. posted by Sony on

    Michelle, I’ve found that having a BlackBerry cuts my internet time. I can still get and respond to important emails on it, but it’s enough of a pain to use that I don’t do anything extra on it. I have internet access as part of my phone package, and I have used that occasionally as well, and it has been great when I needed it, but again it is just slow enough that it’s annoying to just randomly surf on it, so I don’t.

  29. posted by Joel on

    Am I missing something? It seems like this is more of a issue of time management. Your laptop has nothing to do with it. Just develop an ideal schedule, allowing time for certain activities, and adhere to it. If your job involves work on the internet, then set deadlines. And be honest with yourself…are you really working during the time you allocated for work, or are you posting comments on the latest Unclutterer blog entry?

  30. posted by Faldwin on

    In 2007 I gave up internet that wasn’t strictly for school work for lent. It was great. Ironically this year for lent I dedicated to blogging at least every other day. Go figure.

  31. posted by Jim on

    get a 12 cell battery.

  32. posted by Paul on

    “Is it bad for your laptop to keep working on it until the battery dies?”

    This is a wonderful idea if you a) can’t manage your time properly and b) want to kill your battery’s capacity.

    thumbs

  33. posted by CrimsonCrow on

    Marie asks: Is it bad for your laptop to keep working on it until the battery dies?

    Paul says: This is a wonderful idea if you…want to kill your battery’s capacity.

    Quoted from Apple Support: “you should perform this procedure when you first use your computer and then every few months thereafter.”

    I don’t know about Windows machines…

    Check here “Calibrating your computer’s battery for best performance” http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1490

  34. posted by Lissa on

    Like many others have said, this sounds more like a solution for Time Management issues than one for drawing a firmer line between work and play.

    Personally, I use my blackberry to assist me in that regard; I have my work and 2 separate personal accounts registered, so can capture all email at a glance, dealing with the quick/small stuff easily and earmarking the more elaborate issues for typical work time. I also use the Tasks application religiously to track my master to-do list, and the web browser for specific activities (like skimming blog feeds and making note of the items good enough to warrant a full look from my desk).

    Since the tasks I limit myself to can be handled in short bursts (while waiting in line at the market, sitting in traffic, waiting for the kettle to boil, etc), I feel very much in “balance.”

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  41. posted by Usman on

    Would love to do that…but not really possible :(

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