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How would you rank your work/life balance? Here’s a handy rubric to get started, but feel free to talk at length about it.

  • Exceptional - You work less than 40 hours/week, often as low as 32. Hours are flexible – some people show up at 10am and some people leave at 4pm. Sometimes its the same person.
  • Excellent - You work exactly 40 hours/week. You walk in the office at 9am and out the door at 5pm like clockwork.
  • Average - You are require to work 9-to-5, but occasionally deadlines force you to work a little extra here and there, but never much more than 45 hours per week.
  • Poor - Frequently, due to either poorly scoped work or unreasonable culture you work more than 50 hours a week. This probably ebbs and flows depending on deadlines.
  • Abhorrent - There’s no balance. You see commits coming in at literally all times of the week, and are frequently pressured into working until 8pm (or later) and weekends. You’ve had to make sacrifices in your personal life (like losing significant others or friends) because work dominates your week, every week.

Currently, I’d rank my work/life balance somewhere between Poor and Abhorrent, which is probably a function of that I work in San Francisco at an early stages startup.

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    It kind of varies, ranging between Excellent and Exceptional. It’s pretty flexible, to be honest. I work at a large corporation and it’s pretty laid back. Part of it is also that I refuse to work overtime. If a job requires frequent overtime, it’s just not the gig for me. I have 3 kids and a wife, I can’t be bothered spending all of my time at work.

    1. 3

      This is also my situation, except now I got 4 kids.

    2. 11

      Average.

      I’m a new manager and I will not be afraid to tell my people to leave when I think they’ve been working too much.

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        This is super important! Please keep doing this!!

      2. 8

        Poor, but not in the exactly same sense as laid out by the OP. Most of my balancing issues stem from the fact that I am poor at time management and don’t really take care of myself well enough to have some energy reserves left for the busier days.

        I am frequently tired, but unwilling to rest at the same time, until I finally crash and get sick (for example).

        I am working on that…

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          There may be a cure for this, but I haven’t found it - I have periods of mania when I work on something, then there is the denumont and I feel burned out for a week or so and I’ve had this all my life. What I’m recently learning to do is to do something different during the burnout, like writing, or learning a new topic and that seems to work.

          1. 2

            I’ve had the same problem and doing something different worked for me too. Although something different usually winds up being a different coding project.

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              I think merely giving yourself a quiet time with some music and swimming once a week might help a lot. I’ll see.

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                +1 to physical exercise!
                +1 to physical exercise!

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            I’m lucky to have Exceptional work life balance. I work at a fairly large company in the SF bay area on a very supportive team. It’s probably worth noting that I’m a staff-level engineer and a tech lead.

            How?

            • We implemented unlimited PTO recently, but as part of that, our company gave us an additional week of vacation off in July for people with children and to offset people that don’t take time off since there’s no pressure of accrued PTO expiring.
            • Management in my org actively tells employees to take more than a week off every quarter and are almost always supportive of employees taking PTO (the only exception is in the case where an entire team is out at once - that isn’t feasible)
            • Except when oncall, work pays for a separate phone for me, and that gets switched off precisely when I leave for the day. My coworkers and management know that I’m unreachable except in cases of emergency. What’s an emergency? Things like the leap second bug a few years ago - I was called in then to help, and that was the last time I was reached out to as an emergency.
            • I have a 1+ hour commute each way, but I can and do work from home as much as I want. This an be as few as one day a week to the whole week. As long as I make myself available for video calls when I’m working, it’s absolutely not a problem.
            • My director and I have both stood at people’s desks and told them to go home if we were worried that they were staying too late or working to long.
            • On days I commute, I usually work from 10:30am to 5:30pm. This is all super flexible, and I have rolled in at 11am and left at 4pm. Again, it’s never a problem since I get my work done and meet my commitments.
            • My management makes a conscious effort to look at optics of their involvement in post-work activities. They make sure that while they’re supportive of people going to meetups or doing technical stuff after work, that it’s never mandatory, that they’re never involved, and people with any role power are not involved.
            • Time is dedicated to allowing employees read and learn while they’re at work. If an IC wants to work towards a personal goal, sometimes they’ll work with the manager to make that personal goal, even if not work-related, an OKR.
            1. 5

              Exceptional. I’m a PhD student.

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                Abhorrent. I’m a PhD student.

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                  When I was a mere undergrad writing my honors thesis, my work-life balance was without the slightest doubt abhorrent. Every waking moment, and many sleeping ones, were devoted to it. One imagines a doctoral dissertation to be even more extreme, though I suppose the increased scale and scope limits the maximum possible intensity.

                  Of course, the upside to a thesis (as opposed to a job) is that it has an end date, and once I slept off the hangover from getting incredibly smashed after the submission deadline, I got to enjoy a month and a half of effective vacation before graduation.

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                    My point in stating my “exceptional” is that it is possible. I did work a few Saturdays on my thesis, but in comparison to the years it took, they were to rare to drop to “average”. It is possible to get a PhD working 9 to 5. If you are a PhD student under a culture of intense pressure, let me tell you that it does not have to be that way.

              2. 5

                Excellent — if i work much overtime then i just end up making a mess. But the 8 hours i do put in, they drain me. So it doesn’t feel like excellent work life balance.

                1. 4

                  Exceptional

                  However, I don’t count this as 40 hr/week. Rather I’m flexible. I work when I feel productive, take time off (for the US average, a lot of time off. 6 weeks/year is written down somewhere though I think I usually take 4 and it’s flexible) and adjust most things to balance work and family requirements. So sometimes I will work nights because I want to get something off the desk. Sometimes I’ll take 3 weeks off. This is largely due to a supportive environment at both home and work.

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                    Something between Exceptional and Poor. Yeah, really. Usually it’s like in the first or second paragraph, but when shit hits the fan on important customer’s premises the team can do crazy OT. Very rarely though, once every 6 months or so, for a week or two.

                    1. 4

                      Exceptional

                      I work for a Swedish company and this is an important thing in Swedish culture, I’d say.

                      If they see activity (commits, emails) at odd hours, they will ask if I’m feeling stress/pressure, and do something about it if so.

                      I feel like there’s a culture of people first. Even though we have hundreds of millions of customers, and face fierce competition, I haven’t experienced “crunch time,” or “death marches” or anything like that (other than self-imposed, when I was new and really wanted to prove myself on important projects.)

                      I’ve been through some stuff while working there, and they’ve been incredibly supportive, always encouraging me to take as much time off as I need (with pay.) Among other things, I came out as trans there, I spent a lot of time in psychiatric hospitals (until I did my own research and genetic testing to find I have a BH₄ deficiency,) I’ve changed roles from desktop to mobile to embedded, I’ve moved to a different continent to work on other things in a smaller office. They’ve supported me in all of this and taken care of everything they possibly could to make me thrive. All my managers have been great; my previous one was exceptional (and a very talented engineer who always knew exactly what I was doing, why, and rewarded it with a 20% retroactive raise, when it’s unglamorous work that’s not very visible.)

                      I’m about to start a new chapter with them, since another opportunity fell through (and I realised what a great company I’m at,) so I’m coming up on 7 years with them.

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                        I work remotely for a startup in experimental phase, and up to now I would rate it as exceptional. Before that it was for an engineering firm which I would rate as excellent.

                        But the pay isnt that great

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                          Both Exceptional (work from home) and Abhorrent (stopped doing my own projects) because this scale is silly.

                          1. 3

                            Abhorrent with 2 kids and working for a massive international organisation who has gone months without paying me several times. Refuses to pay for their own infrastructure and makes me factor it into into my pay. Asks I continue working for them while contracts get sorted then sets the contract start AFTER the period I’ve worked ending up with free labour for them. Refuses to provide funds for additional staff on a project that spans desktop, mobile and web with terabyte scale data and then complains when regressions happen. And has me by the balls because I’m too close to my visa ending to be able to apply for a job with anyone else so I’ve to keep working for them otherwise I won’t have the money to pay for my application and will have to leave the country and my 2 kids and wife to go back to Canada. When it’s good the job is good, but they kind of lack the realisation that every time my contract ends (and they’re always different amounts of time) they severely financially abuse the person that underpins a massive cornerstone of their infrastructure. My days start at 8am and run to anywhere from 9-1am. In some cases I’ve worked 24 hours for days and never been compensated for the time.

                            1. 2

                              Usually Excellent but sometimes Average. But this is not true for a large number of people I work with. I work at a very large and successful brand name company and I’m 2.5 years out of college.

                              Most days call into standup from my car at 10:15. Standup is my cue to start driving to work. I get to one of my work’s parking lot at 10:45 and take 15 minutes to walk the half-mile to my building/office. I work from 11 to noon where I then get lunch until 1. I work until 4 when I get a bit tired and start studying Japanese and Mandarin at the lunch table. I study until 6 where I then either go to my language class or the gym or a sports game. I get home at around 9, chill out, and go to bed.

                              Some days I work at home a bit at night or the weekends whenever I feel like I can get some productive work going on something interesting or when the load on our infrastructure is a bit lower and I can take over more of our device fleets.

                              Once every three or six months there’s some massive fire where I actually work from home at 9 to 11, go to work, get lunch for an hour, and work until about 6, and do my regular after work debauchery. Then I work a bit from home at night like check my tests, fix some stuff, submit for more tests, go to bed to check them the next day.

                              I’ve been very successful in my career working this due to a combination of being the most senior person on my team at 2.5 years, being an extremely efficient engineer because I only allocate a few hours to work a day, and having very clean development. I also hate doing work so I push back on anything I find dumb or a waste of time or doing things that will lead to more work later. I notice a lot of other people even more senior than me fail to communicate issues like this and usually fail to push back on things that make no sense. Many people I work with end up either doing 9-5 but many also do 8-6 or 8-7. I try to get them to stop overworking but they always retort that there’s so much work left. I hate that mentality because there’s always more work to do. I’ve historically had very lenient managers and my newest manager seems to accept the fact with a disgruntled look on his face. But hey, he loves that he doesn’t actually have to manage me and I’m a free spirit who provides strong feedback.

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                                Depending on what sort of work we are counting, I am either Exceptional or Abhorrent. I bill about 20 hours a month of software consulting, which amounts to about 30 wall-clock hours a month. Said work pays very well, and earns me enough for about half of my living expenses and bills, which, objectively, is incredible. However, in order to earn the other half, I work about 35 additional hours per week, in non software industries. These jobs often require working until 10pm - 2am or are physically exhausting. Objectively, if not for the first source of income, the latter would be tragic.

                                (for the sake of being objective, I’ll admit that I choose to live in a place with a sky high cost of living, and that I have ornery ethical standards about the clients I will take.)

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                                  Can’t you scale up to 40 hours a month of consulting?

                                  1. 1

                                    I can only dream. Finding clients with enough hours has proven tricky. About twice a year they will offer that much work, but it is the exception, not the rule.

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                                      Do you work in a really specific niche? It’s hard to imagine a line of work where it’s straightforward to find 20 hours a work but difficult to find 40!

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                                        I work in a rather broad set of fields, but my personal goal for the last few years has been to work as much as possible for open source or non profit folks. perhaps unsurprisingly, they often have strictly limited budget per unit time.

                                2. 2

                                  Exceptional, but only for work/life balance. Balancing things outside of work in my life is still an ongoing problem, although I’m getting better at it. (Trying to spend time sensibly on things like kitting out the house, fixing cars/machinery, seeing friends & also not going too long without spending time with the other half/kids. Tricky.)

                                  Even with one week in four on-call for $work, we rarely get callouts so it’s more of a “remember to take laptop and not vanish offline for too long” for that week than anything. (We treat callouts as exceptions & try our hardest to engineer around having things alert. If it can limp on till someone turns up at work the next morning—that’s better than waking someone up.)

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                                    Excellent. I work at a tiny startup and I do 6:30AM-2:30PM like clockwork. On occasion the spirit will move me and I’ll work more than that if I’m chomping at the bit on an interesting problem.

                                    1. 2

                                      I find the “like clockwork” hours phrasing to be interesting. That in my mind that is not good work life balance. Part of good balance for me is flexible hours so I can attend to my other de as needed during “traditional” work hours.

                                      I don’t see commits coming it at any hour as a sign of poor work life balance. It depends on other factors. Maybe working Saturday is better for balance for some employees.

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                                        As someone who reused that phrase in a positive sense, I like the regiment of having a consistent schedule. If I frequently changed my working hours, then my feathers would become extremely ruffled and that would not be a good balance for me. Some of my co-workers do a more flexible schedule, and hey, it works for them and that’s cool. But it ain’t for me.

                                        With that said, I do of course need to re-arrange my schedule occasionally. Whether it’s working from home because I need to be here to manage typical home maintenance stuff or changing my hours a bit because I need to take my cat to the vet, then that’s all OK. But I largely see it as atypical. But yeah, it’s good that those sorts of things are totally fine with where I work.

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                                          Definitely depends on the person. “Clockwork” is an important thing for me. I schedule my time very tightly and am frustrated by unplanned variations. I avoid pickup meetings like the plague, I generally work 9-5 with only pre-planned exceptions (releases and so on). If I do have to work past normal hours for emergency/unplanned reasons, I generally make sure to come in late/leave early the next day. I have sold my employer 40h/week with periodic, small exceptions, I don’t intend to give any more away for free.

                                          There are other folks at $work though who happily work odd hours, there was one guy doing the 4/10 week (4, 10h days with 3 days of weekend) for a while. I considered it, but ultimately preferred the orderly, more common schedule. Diff’rent Strokes, and so on.

                                        2. 2

                                          Abhorrent - I worked 7 am to 12 midnight all this week. I worked on software and non-software projects.

                                          1. 2

                                            I was at Poor till a couple of week ago and started getting burnt out so i am trying to progress to Average.

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                                              My work / life balance is poor in the opposite direction…. I’m currently out of work.

                                              Anyone need a Sys Admin with some BSD skills in the Chicago / Northwest Indiana area?

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                                                I work too much but that’s because of my side projects like the book and OSS stuff. This is nothing my employer asks or expects of me.

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                                                  Excellent?

                                                  Working the 37.5 hours as specified by Norwegian labour law, with occasional overtime.

                                                  Earlier in the career had to work up to 60 hours/week at pretty exhausting stints. Wouldn’t recommend.

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                                                    [Update: So, I posted this before reading the scale, by this scale it’s Average. However I question whether the arbitrary limits are actually realistic.]

                                                    Quite good actually. I work for Amazon, and what I’ve found is that you are the master of your work/life balance for the most part. The company expects a lot out of me, but also gives me tremendous flexibility in exchange.

                                                    The biggest challenge is defeating your own internal chorus that tells you working 24/7 is a great idea :) For me, being married helps a bunch with that.

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                                                      The biggest challenge is defeating your own internal chorus that tells you working 24/7 is a great idea

                                                      Don’t take it the wrong way, but I never could understand people who feel this way while working for someone else.

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                                                        So, yeah, I can understand that, and I admire your attitude.

                                                        I’m working for someone else, but for me that’s a desirable state of affairs because being brutally honest with myself I have some social rough edges that would make it difficult for me to run a consultancy with any degree of success. I’m not a troglodyte or a troll or anything, in fact I get along with pretty much anybody, but learning to say no has been something I’ve needed to grow into and asserting my authority over others is something I’ve only recently become comfortable with.

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                                                          You misunderstood me - I also work for someone else. I just can’t imagine feeling that I should work more than my contract requires me to. Sure, I work as best as I can, but always for the time agreed in contract :)

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                                                            That’s the big difference between contract work and full time. I’m full time, so the company gets an all you can eat buffet of my time in exchange for some notion of a more permanent arrangement.

                                                    2. 1

                                                      Exceptional: I work for a North Carolina state agency and it’s probably one of the best perks. I’m a contractor, so I get paid hourly, so if I work less than 40 I do get paid less, but it’s not really an issue for me. Downside is that some of the tech is a bit on the old side, but it’s hard to beat in terms of WLB.

                                                      1. 1

                                                        Mine is excellent to exceptional. I put in regular hours, shifted early in the day so I’m often home by 5pm. We have no-meeting Wednesday so I’m often working from home then.

                                                        We have a rule that one person from each team per (two-week) sprint gets to take a day at home to study, in return for presenting what they learned. We also have special interest groups that allow for work related side projects on work time.

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                                                          Excellent

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                                                            Excellent.

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                                                              Excellent. I work in academia and have a 39.5 hour contract. I do work more, but that’s because I often have fun/interesting problems that I like to work on. But there would be no complaints if I worked from 9 to 5. There is an occasional trip to a conference (typically once or twice a year). Also, in Europe one typically has plenty of holidays, I think I have 6 weeks per year, which I sometimes use.

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                                                                I’d rank mine somewhere between Excellent and Exceptional. I work 40 hours a week but I’ve got freedom to decide where and at what times the work happens. If my phone rings at 7pm it’s totally fine if I decline and call back at 10am the following day. I’m responsible for organising my own schedule.

                                                                To give a bit of context, I live in Germany and work at a software consultancy providing high-level consulting, development, and training services. It’s a medium-sized company, soon to be 20 years old. I’ve just joined; I’m there for slightly over a year now.

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                                                                  Exceptional.

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                                                                    Excellent. I never work more than 8 hours a day. Never been asked to or pressured to. If I give notice a few days before, I can leave early (obviously not every week but more than in other places).

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                                                                      A small bit below Exceptional, i.e. hours are flexible but I’m working ≥ 40 h/week. I am not forced to work more than 40 hours a week—in fact the working hours are based on mutual trust—but sometimes I voluntarily do overtime if there is a particularily interesting problem to solve.

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                                                                        Some weeks, I’m Excellent, or even Exceptional. I’m remote, so that helps; I can easily modify my effort throughout the day, take breaks, etc

                                                                        Some weeks, I’m Abhorrent – releases tend to be like this, lots of work to be done in a short time. Our infrastructure is old and busted, so changing it requires quite a lot of arcane understanding and not a small amount of willpower.

                                                                        Importantly, my job affords me a lot of ability to make the things that cause improvements to eliminate the need for Abhorrently balanced weeks. I’m respected and well-liked by my peers, and I have a reputation of near omniscience with respect to the parts of the infrastructure I am primarily responsible for maintaining.

                                                                        An important part of work/life balance is not just the time spent at work, but the type of time spent. If you work 32h/week, but it’s a shitty 32h – that’s worse than working 50 or 60h weeks at a place that respects you, rewards that extra time well, and ensures you don’t feel exploited. I’ve put in my share of after hours work at my job. I don’t love it, but my boss advocates on my behalf for better raises and promotions because of that time, I get bonuses for that time, I get comp days, etc. So because of that I don’t mind so much needing to work 8-midnight every few Fridays to do a release, or an upgrade, or whatever.

                                                                        That time also has established the aforementioned reputation, and has directly led to my ability to advocate for specific changes that are hard to justify. It’s difficult to explain to a non-technical person why using some tool over another is “better” (I spent a lot of time early on having long conversations about the virtues of automation, or using linux instead of windows, etc). But it’s a lot easier to get them to agree despite not understanding when I have that reputation of omniscience; and when they see that I’ve “put in the work.” It’s also a lot easier to make arguments as to what my job “should” be, rather that having to live with what my job “is”. In a recent 1:1 with my boss I talked about his need for someone to handle more of the day-to-day administrative load within the team; I noted that I’ve spent longer working on the product than anyone else on the team, and have a reputation for deep knowledge, and that this is a dangerous position to be in; but it’s also one that won’t change unless I change roles to more of a mentoring/administrative role. Essentially I was able to rely on the effort I put in during those Abhorrent weeks to leverage myself into a title bump and a pay raise.

                                                                        My point is this. While it’s good to ask what your worktime/lifetime balance is, it’s also important to remember the quality of the environment, because no job has a constant work/life balance function. The real question to ask is how many “quality-adjusted hours” do you work per week, because 60h of high quality hours is, in my estimation, far far better than 30h of crunchy, oppressive, poorly rewarded hours. Additionally, quality-adjusting time isn’t just a ‘immediate effort for immediate reward’ function, it needs to take into account both the immediate reward (you worked late and your boss bought you pizza) and the long term reward (you worked late and your boss made a note on your yearly review and argued to get you a better raise/bonus for it). Very often companies can be really good on the immediate, but fail miserably on the long term. In my opinion, the long-term reward is much more important.

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                                                                          On that chart, I’d say somewhere between Excellent and Exceptional plus occasional bits of Average, with the clarification that the difference between them as written seems more like personal preference than changes/improvements in working conditions. We have unlimited PTO, can work remote whenever you feel like it, and nobody is very concerned exactly when you come or go as long as you make all of your meetings (remote is fine) and get your work done on time, or at least have a good explanation for why you don’t have it done on time.

                                                                          We do occasionally have emergencies or deployment issues where you might be asked to work late night or weekends, but people are pretty understanding if you do have plans for then. I’m not sure if that knocks down things from Excellent/Exceptional, but it’s a little hard to imagine a development workplace where there is literally never anything that goes wrong or needs to happen at an off-hours time. I mean genuinely - if you work in a development shop where this seriously never happens, I’d like to know how they do it.

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                                                                            Excellent/Average, I work at a relatively small company (~ 30-35 employees) but with a lot of products which makes it a bit stressful. But I can still make ~ 40 hours / week and plan in what I will work on during the day so there is a lot of freedom. What annoys me more is that I sometimes can’t let go of my job during my free time.

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                                                                              Exceptional.

                                                                              I am maximally productive below 40 hours a week. I don’t know if that is just me, though.

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                                                                                Poor until I quit

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                                                                                  Excellent with pockets of Poor and Exceptional

                                                                                  Excellent is pretty standard, but sometimes we come up against deadlines and I push myself pretty hard. Once the deadline has passed, I swing into the Exceptional category and then taper back to Excellent. Thankfully, we have a management chain who appreciates the work we put in and as a result when we’re up against deadlines most of us are more than happy to put in the extra time.

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                                                                                    Excellent, and I’m in the direct path of some important projects at the company I work at. I put in 40 hours a week, but the exact times I arrive and leave are pretty flexible and I am not held to account for every moment I’m on the clock. My boss lets me work and I oblige by making steady progress.

                                                                                    When I was in school, my school-life balance was Poor to Abhorrent, so I’m the least stressed I’ve ever been right now, and I’m getting paid for it.

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                                                                                      Excellent to Average. Reason being that I work and am paid for 40 hours, almost like clockwork. But on Mondays and Thursdays my lunch breaks are longer, so I have to make that time up later, so I keep a sheet keeping track of that. So some days I work after 6 to make that time up. Haven’t worked on a weekend yet.

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                                                                                        Currently fluctuating between Excellent and Average, but mostly Excellent. That said, I still don’t manage to do the things I want in my spare time.

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                                                                                          Exceptional according to your classification, but this is quite standard in these parts of the world. So it is not really exceptional from my point of view. We are expected to work 37.5 hours a week and we have core hours from 9 am to 3 am. Working remote is frequently possible as well.

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                                                                                            Excellent.

                                                                                            But anybody who knows Cisco knew this already.

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                                                                                              What you’d call Excellent, which is what I’d call “normal” (in the UK though, so somewhat different). I work exactly 40 hours/week (though that’s without lunch, so 42-45 hours if you count that way), with a little bit of flexibility (I can show up at 10 or leave at 5; I can do both on the same day if I make up for it the next).

                                                                                              The thing is I see people doing the whole range in the same position. I think a lot of people create a poor balance for themselves by not leaving on time. Partly it’s just a matter of having the confidence.