The bad news, of course, is that we can work just about anytime and anyplace.
One summer, as a mid-teen, I was offered work salvaging building materials. The long-haired Vietnam vet who hired me would buy and tear down old government buildings to sell the lumber, copper, windows, doors and other usable materials.
Two strapping men — about twice my age and size — were already on the job. They could swing sledgehammers, back out nails and stack reclaimed materials at blazing speed.
So at the end of the first day, my new employer — who paid those two men a whopping $3 an hour — told me I was worth about $1.50 an hour to him. My self-esteem crashed.
In hindsight, however, I saw his point. He was not talking about my value as a human being, but my value to his business. The other guys could simply produce more of what he needed in a given hour.
Though I have worked many jobs at an hourly wage, my professional career has been salary based. But, even then, success was often measured by the number of hours “at work.”
The late pastor Brantley Seymour, with whom I worked at the First Baptist Church of Roswell, Ga., in the summer of 1978, taught me much. He had a gifted staff of creative and capable ministers.
“I never tell a professional to get to work,” Brantley told me one day. “Professionals should be self-starters.”
A professional who is lazy, undependable or irresponsible should no longer be an employee, he explained. As a recent college graduate headed to seminary, I took his point to heart.
Over the years, my own supervisory style has become one that focuses on effectiveness, efficiency and productivity over busyness. And my personal approach to work causes me to be more demanding of myself than those to whom I am accountable.
But advanced communications technology is impacting the daily work habits of many in ways not previously known. It creates both wonderful opportunities — as well as new challenges.
Instant communication increases the expectation that a message — regardless of what day or time of day it is sent — deserves an immediate response. And, even when “off” from work, it is hard for many of us to have devices like BlackBerrys out of our reach.
Cell phone and email messages are often a mixture of personal and professional correspondence — making it hard to give attention to one while ignoring the other.
So the lines between work and personal time get blurred — requiring our careful attention to finding the right balance in our daily lives. Even vacations — times that refresh us to be more productive workers — can get cluttered with attention to work no matter how far we roam from home.
Yet being able to work in coffee shops, or airports (as I’m doing at this moment), or late at night in the comfort of a recliner is a great advantage. But it does seem filled with potential for abuse.
Being keenly aware of this dilemma created by growing communication technology and seeking a proper balance in our management of time seem to be the right course of action to me.
But for those who don’t clock in at 9 and out at 5 on weekdays — or can leave work behind on evenings and weekends — there is more consideration to be given to the important question of how we work. Everything from health to priorities becomes part of the equation.