Working two work days

October 11 2007

As wonderful as yesterday's Collaboration Summit in Rome was, I found myself at end of day thoroughly exhausted.  I was asleep at 10 PM, struggled to wake at 7:30 AM, and felt light-headed by early afternoon today.  

At that moment, I should have been thoroughly content.  A last-minute meeting cancellation gave me a few precious hours to walk the ancient streets of Rome this morning.  From the Campo di Fiori to the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain, to the culminating wonderful pizza lunch outside on Via Della Vite, three short hours walking Rome gave me everything I love about being in Europe.  So what was the problem?

In nine+ years of international travel for IBM, I've always done the "work hard, play hard" routine.  I'll do three meetings next Monday in Toronto before noon -- but I'll certainly have fun in Toronto the night before.  Next month I'm looking at a flight into Japan that lands at 1 PM -- and starting a meeting somewhere between 4:30 and 5:30 PM the same day.  Still, I'll have the chance to gorge on sushi at Tsukiji the next morning.  Those are the tradeoffs, and they're generally worthwhile.

The new problem, though, is a result of being over-connected.  On Wednesday afternoon, I was finished with my presentations at around 3 PM local time.  From 3 PM to 6 PM, though, I was on a non-stop string of conference calls, Sametime chats, Skype VoIP calls, mobile phone text messages and calls, and answered a few e-mails in that time.  At 6 PM, I rushed back to my room, ordered a mediocre room service dinner, and started conference calls again from 7 PM to 9 PM.  Between 9 PM and 10 PM, I answered some e-mails and had a few Sametime chats, had a brief moment to talk to my wife and chat with a friend online, falling asleep before a 10:30 PM call that I really wanted to be on.

It seems that this hyper-connected world has lead to something of a new on-the-road workday definition -- working a full day in the timezone you're in, then another partial or full work day in the timezone you're from.  Even without the conference calls, it being Q4, a sales executive starts each day with an inbox full of e-mail, some websites to read, and chats that start "I was looking for you...".  I also have three to five calendar invites each day that start with "I couldn't find any free time on your calendar, so I hope this works".

Even now, sitting in a tight-fitting Air Berlin seat, with the breasts of a beautiful model jumping off the pages of the Bild newspaper being read by the woman next to me, I have the laptop out.

I'm not sure how to resolve all this.  It's true that there is nothing new about taking a few conference calls while on the road (though I note that not every IBMer believes in doing this).  And I am, after all, a sales leader for a product that has tens of thousands of customers, many of whom buy or renew their contracts during Q4.  Thus, it's a busy time.  But I've never felt the pressure to be available quite like this before.  

I know there is always a way to say "no, I'm busy", or to find a colleague to cover, or to just wait until I'm available at home.  And I do decline some of the calls and meetings while travelling, especially if I am having dinner with a customer.  Something has changed, though, to where "I'm on the road" no longer is followed by "let's do that next week" or "I'm not available".

Anyway, I need to wrap this up.  We're about to land (40 minutes late) and I'll need to jump on a call the minute I get out of baggage claim.  I'm being taken to a party with a bunch of business partners tonight.  I hope I'll actually get to participate.

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