Thursday, September 05, 2002


Businessweek's New Idea No. 19 is called "Rethinking the Rat Race" written by Diane Brady. The idea is to give the workers more flexible time at work, to focus more on the results and not on hours spent on the office. Given that new technology has given everyone the opportunity to be productive even if he is at home with the family, the idea of allowing the worker to balance his time with work and life will result in more productivity. In addition to this, the idea is also to give workers more vacation time to allow them to refresh more often and not be overburdened by work.

I think this is the best idea in this Businessweek series. I am particularly concerned that I may have become too workaholic to enjoy life. My typical day usually starts at 5:30 am to check email, do routine paper work and pleadings. I do this at home with our home computer. I have breakfast with the kids and my wife at 8:00 am and I'm off to work at 9:00 am. If there are hearings I have to attend, everything gets pushed back so I can be in court at 8:30 am.

The entire morning is then spent either on hearings or meetings. Lunch gives me time to grab a magazine or surf the web while eating, assuming that there are no lunch meetings with clients. Then, I'm back on my desk at 2:00 pm for what I call the "Assault from All Sides". This is because I have to juggle with phone calls from the land line and the cellular phone, follow up from bosses and co-lawyers barging in through the front door, email popping in through the LAN, and text messages being received by my GSM cellular phone.

Everything subsides at around 5:00 pm when I take a break for snack. At 5:30 pm onwards, the real hard paperwork and research is done. If I'm fast, it's all over at 8:30 pm during which I go home to have dinner with my wife who often has already eaten by that time. If, however, work is still not finished by 8:30 pm, the time extends all the way to the wee hours of the morning. I only break off for an hour so I can go home and finish the work in our home computer.

In the last three years, the longest break I took was seven (7) working days on Paternity Leave to take care of my newly born second son Hans. Although we are allowed 15 calendar days of leave with pay every year, I haven't used it at all. I don’t know why. I guess I'm enjoying myself too much.

You think I have a problem? Take a look at the other lawyers of the Firm. Some of my co-lawyers work all the way to 11:00 pm or midnight on a daily basis and are back at 8:00 am the following day. Most have not taken longer leaves than I have. In my seven years in the Firm, I was able to take short breaks to date, court my wife-to-be, get married, and have kids. Some guys here have not found time to do that. As a result they've gone past their forties and they're still single and unattached. This is not to say that they are unhappy or are less of a human being than anyone. This is just to say that this is the kind life the lawyers in our Firm live.

But looking at how I've been all these years, I know I've missed a lot of things with my family because of work. My favorite grandmother died two weeks ago. My deepest regret is that I didn't find time to visit her in the faraway province of Calatagan Batangas in all the three years that she wished to see me with my kids when she was still alive. When she was buried last weekend, I brought my kids along to witness the interment. But I guess she's no longer around to appreciate that.

It is true, nobody in his deathbed ever wished to have spent more time in the office. Life is short. We can't spend it all working. We can't spend it all having fun either. That's an awful deal. But it doesn’t get better than that.

The old work paradigm is to spend most of our quality hours at work. Who was it who said that life is like a game of cigars. If you smoke the most number of cigars, you win and your prize is a box of cigars. Isn't that much like the work ethic that we have lived? Work hard in the game of life. If you win, you get more work.That doesn't sound like a fair game, does it?

Now in the information age, the "in" thing is to spend more quality time with our families. Who cares if you've won the biggest case in the world, if you can’t even play with your kids (worse if you can't even have time to have a kid?) What is there to be happy about at the end of a long day when all you come home to is still your work? Work hard. That's ok. But live life. That's the only way to play this game. I am a non-smoker but if you have to compare life with a game of cigars, I think the object of the game is not to smoke the most number of cigars. And the prize is the game itself.

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