The 8–8–8 Rule

Asmita Karanje

Balancing work, sleep and leisure

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This year when my husband and I traveled to New Zealand, on our way from Christchurch to Grey mouth in the south Island, we took this scenic Alpine train journey that took us through some stunning landscapes with live commentary on the struggles of the miners who worked there. How they had to fight for their right to 8-hour work life. And all that they desired was a simple triple 8 rule — 8-hours sleep, 8-hours work, and 8-hours leisure.

The situations back then were very different — forget HR policies; it was the era when we had just come out from the miseries of slave labor. Fortunately, things are different now, we don’t work for donkey hours, there are paid time-off from work, and policies favoring maternity and health and safety. So we have definitely come a long way. But as she rightly pointed out “we still desire this triple 8 rule”, I thought to myself, she’s so damn right. Although working conditions have improved over the last few decades, we still aren’t entirely there. In a lot of industries (especially financial services and banking), we work overtime much beyond the 8 hours for weeks and months and years.

So what happens when you spend extra time at work?

Or get stuck in endless traffic? Or forget this one essential ingredient of the recipe you are cooking for dinner? It all adds up, and we essentially borrow that time from the leisure bucket often because you can’t do without sleep and you shouldn’t either. Although Elon Musk survives on 6 hours sleep every day, it is beyond me how he does that, as I can’t do without those 7–8 hours of peaceful sleep. Otherwise, I shall be tired, lose my focus, be cranky like a small kid, so it is possible, but not sustainable for most us. In short, no compromise on that sleep bucket. But that leaves us with the leisure bucket — and it is my favourite bucket. This is the me-time. You want to write those articles, plan for the next few weeks, binge watch with your partner, basically live life and you do not wish to shorten this bucket.

So that leaves us only with the ‘work’ bucket — and this is the most crucial bucket as time spent in this bucket shapes your career, pays for the other two buckets and defines you as a person. Also, this is the bucket that adds value to the world. But more often than not, this 8-hour bucket isn’t really 8 hours. In a lot of companies in India, the norm is 9 hours. And with most urban cities being logged jam in traffic during peak hours add 1–2 hours (some may spend way more, but let’s assume this is a reasonable average) then that’s 11–12 hours of your day that’s gone. We borrow this additional 4 hours from the ‘leisure’ or ‘sleep’ bucket.

And it isn’t just the borrowed time we are talking about, but even the mental bandwidth, the energy to focus on other things and also the desire has considerably reduced. It also leads to a decreased productivity of the other two buckets. And productivity isn’t always associated to work, it can mean you aren’t able to write as much as you’d like or you aren’t resting enough or productive enough to give your mum a call when she needs you.This is as important as churning out that project report or performing a root canal or posting a YouTube video.

So what next, you may ask — you can’t compromise on the leisure and sleep buckets, and the work bucket extends typically on most days. How do you then juggle all the three balls without slipping even one?

What do you do to balance all three buckets?

There are several ways to balance all three. Let’s start with the easy ones.

Not planning your leisure time is the biggest mistake

For the leisure bucket, even if it’s for relaxation and unwinding from work, it doesn’t have to be unplanned. If you plan on what you wish to achieve at a high level — a book a week, healthy dinner routines, write that novel or learn hip hop, you would be much more focused during the weekdays on those specific activities. It would help in calming that wandering mind and get stuff done.

Handling the sleep bucket is easy but also tricky for some insomniacs.

If your other two buckets — work and leisure have gone well, honestly you shouldn’t have trouble in this category. However, if you do, probably you are biting more than you can chew and you need to work on the ‘work bucket’ (assuming your leisure bucket is not your leading cause of worry). To relax there a few strategies that I will share with you.

  • Download the ‘Peak’ app — they call it a mobile gym for your brain.Typically you’ll spend 15–20 minutes playing small 3–4 min games that help you relax and destress. It’s free to install and play basic games.
  • Try the ‘Calm’ App — they have bedtime stories, meditation and breathing exercises that will help you calm down and relax those anxious minds. However, this is a ‘Paid’ app, and if you don’t wish to pay that much USD 50 a year, search for ASMR videos on YouTube.
  • ASMR stands for Autonomous sensory meridian response, and it’s like someone whispering in your ears, and there are a plethora of whisperers you can listen to at night.
  • Listen to a book on audible. Now I know this is terrible if you love to read books, but if you are reading this at night on your bed, it helps you travel in your fantasy world really quickly and before you know you would have slept.

Getting the most out of the ‘work’ bucket

Now let’s talk about the most challenging bucket where most of us would find difficulty in balancing. One strategy that’s used by big corporates like Microsoft was to create a four-day work week, and even a lot of smaller private companies have started with this experiment on a small scale. Studies have shown that their productivity has in reality, shot up. So companies should follow suit. A lot of companies do offer flexible work schedules, but unless it becomes a norm (something that is normalized and accepted by the majority), it won’t become part of the work culture.

While culture is top-driven, but the mindset shift begins at an individual level. Be more accommodative of the colleague who leaves early or comes later than everyone — you never know how their day started and what challenges are they going through. With lesser time to deliver the same output, the productivity has to shoot up. It would mean faster decision making, fewer unproductive meetings and happier employee morale.

Also scheduling your meetings for the next week, planning all the work on the task list and assigning priority nos to them helps me in knowing which ones are life-critical and which tasks I can afford to push to later

This is listed as the no. 1 trend in the LinkedIn list of 20 Big Ideas that will change your world in 2020.

“Our lives are broken, and we’re beginning to recognize it.”

- Charlotte Lockhart, CEO — Advocacy of The 4-Day Week

Earlier this year, there was news that Sanna Marin (the Prime Minister of Finland) is planning to introduce a four-day work-week with six-hour workdays. However, this was later dispelled as a myth by the Finnish Government. But that it got widely publicized on all media platforms only validates the need to begin the conversation around shortened working hours in Corporate circles to Parliament floors alike.

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Thinker, self-experimenter, and a newbie writer. I write about personal growth, socio-political issues, and career advice.

Dallas, TX
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