on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

How Much Work Is Enough

Whether we work alone or with thousands of people in an institution, the lesson is consistent.

We believe that working long hours demonstrates what good employees or workers we are. We believe if we stay just a little longer we will get caught up.  We believe that one more hour, or two or three, will allow us to answer all of our emails and phone calls.

I fall into this trap often.

The only problem with the above is, there is never enough.

A few years ago I started carpooling, and then van pooling, to help with my one hour commute to work.  My group leaves from the highway exit at 6 a.m. sharp and we leave Birmingham at 4 p.m. on the dot.  We are accountable to one another.  If I am a couple of minutes late, I have to apologize to eight other people in the van.  As a result, I’m rarely late when I ride the van.

But when I am accountable only to myself or to my family, it is much easier to stretch the limits and boundaries.  Interesting.

Since I started my new job, I’ve ridden the van less and have worked longer hours.

Yes, I understand that we are not robots and there are exceptions.

But the point of setting parameters on work is still worth noting.

How much work is enough for you?  And how do you know it?

How do you know when to say enough, and have a life outside of work?  What is a healthy view of our work and how much time we devote to it?

Will you share with me how you do it in the Comments below?


  1. Bob Blackwell

    Malcolm, it is a constant struggle, especially for those of us raised in the U.S. But one thing I learned a long time ago, for me, at least, is I must have a good 8 hours of sleep each 24 hours… and I must take my sabbath day each 7 days. If I miss either, it catches up with me, and my body lets me know. And the older I get, the more I am realizing that the world will go on without me…as well as my family, my church, and anything else that I think can’t do without me. It is humbling, and freeing.
    Thanks for your blogs…keep up the good WORK!

  2. Malcolm

    Bob, your encouragement means a lot to me.

    Getting enough sleep and taking a weekly Sabbath are two simple and superb guidelines. I really think that part of the working longer hours is to realize the world really will go on without us, no matter how important we think we are. Maybe if we hold that belief close to our hearts we will be able to stand up and walk out of the office knowing the place will not fall apart when we are not present.

    Thanks for the reminder,

  3. Sherri Shepherd

    The question I ask myself, when pressured to do more is a simple one; “Who is going to die?”

    When the answer is “no one!”, I am free to walk away. Also, about 18 months ago, I began doing most of my work from a home office. Wow! does that help! No more commute!

    I can work when I am creative and energized and not when I am not. Of course, business hours are business hours and expectations must be met. However, I now feel much more in control, and that means lower stress and higher productivity and creativity. Seems like a win-win-win situation. (Because I am also home more for my family.)

  4. Malcolm

    Sherri, I love to keep things simple and your question cuts to the priority setting. Good for you and thanks for sharing your simple but clear decision making tool.

    I also love your work from home office. I did that for awhile in my last job (1 day per week) and found I loved it. I was also more productive. I wish I could do that now, but for some reason it doesn’t work as they expect me to be in the hospital. But I am really glad it works for you!

    Take care,

  5. Joy Carter

    I work at American Cast Iron Pipe Co. in the Communications Department. One of our department goals this year relates to work-life balance. As part of that goal, the department has worked, through various activities, to support greater achievement of individuals’ work-life balance. I enjoy working. I work with great people and for a great company. What was missing for me was a fair share of “me” time. So, this year I committed to playing as hard as work. It doesn’t mean I work less necessarily, but I play more. I took up kayaking a couple years ago and have spent more time on the river this year. Not surprising, every area of my life is more fulfilled because of it.

    Malcolm, so enjoy reading your blog posts. Very meaningful. Thank you.


  6. Malcolm

    Joy, you bring up a great point regarding the balance of work and play in our lives. You have inspired me, thank you for sharing your story. I want my place of work to be supportive of work and play and the balance of the two.

    I’m interested in how your department supports work-life balance. I’d love to hear an example or two.

    Thanks again for sharing!

  7. Kelly Durham

    Hi Malcolm–I used to get very frustrated with the ‘how much’ question because I always felt work was encroaching into ‘my’ time. I finally realized that it is all ‘my’ time and that work deserves an allocation, but no more so than family, church, community, etc. I also became more flexible about how I allocate time. Instead of blocking 8-5 for work and 5-11 pm for family, I no longer hesitate to ‘do’ a family thing during the traditional work day, realizing that I will also have work opportunities during traditional family time. I’m fortunate to be in a situation with some flexibility. Keep up the good work.

  8. Malcolm

    Hey Kelly, thanks for your encouragement. I like your flexibility of allocating work and family time. My hunch is that it takes flexibility from both sides also to recognize that this is a good thing for everyone.

    I’m especially glad that you make time for your family. Since I know you and your family, I can see how it pays off in you being present for your girls.

    Take care my brother,

  9. Joy Carter

    Malcolm, at the beginning of the year, members of the department were asked to rate how fulfilled they are in each of the following areas: work, spiritual, family, friends and self. To support team members in their efforts to achieve their best work-life balance, the work-life balance team has done things such as posting volunteer opportunities, planning social gatherings for the group, organizing a movie/book swap, having weekly devotionals, and having weekly “walk and talk”s, which are short walks at lunch to talk about whatever’s on your mind. Just a few simple things that don’t detract from work but help us all enjoy work and life and little more. And the end of the year, we’ll ask individuals to reassess their work-life balance.

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