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Hong Kong people work hard. Undoubtedly they do. It is not unknown here for people to start their day by 8am or 9am and for their working day to finish well past 8pm in the evening. That would be a normal day. One that clocks up over 12 hours on the job. And of course you check, and reply, to emails once you’ve gone home in the evening.

There’s nothing wrong with that attitude in this society. Its pretty much an always on 24/7 place. Restaurants don’t close till late. Shops don’t close till later. And fast food is always open. Especially since McDonalds upped the game by switching many of its outlets to operating 24/7.

In recent weeks I find myself moving towards that 24/7 approach to my own work life. I’m not so much worried by that but by the consequential result that I don’t find the rest of my life as interesting. That has me really worried.

Hong Kong isn’t the kind of place where European style work life balance gets a lot of credibility. Even though the idea’s slowly finding its way into the mainstream it’s done so in a very Hong Kong way. Work life balance here has meant that instead of working flat out for 6 or 5.5 days a week (and then partying late into the after hours) that many businesses are now moving towards a 5 day working week. The Hong Kong government was considered at the cutting edge when it started the 5 day working week a couple of years back, but slowly this has pervaded the culture here and is something that will meld with the natural rhythms of Hong Kong.

For my own part, having moved from government back into private practice just over 3 weeks ago I’ve been struggling to get to grips with my own work life balance. Part of that change is moving from the sheltered environment of the judiciary where schedules were responsive to the work load and the particular demands that an individual case placed on the judicial assistant back into the hustle of private practice. But part of it is that judicial assistants have a primarily legal analytical role and don’t have to deal with the cornucopia of administrative detail that accompanies action in the real world. Government is good when you don’t deal with the bureaucracy it creates.

The challenge I’m facing is the classic dilemma.  I don’t know how to switch off. And when I do switch off I find that I’m bored. In a sense work is – whilst not exactly exhilarating – the most significant challenge around which I build my day. I worry actually that I’m going too far and loosing my sense of proportion. Today, a public holiday in Hong Kong for the Chung Yeung festival, was a day in which I spent 3 hours working in the morning, and about an hour this afternoon doing follow up administration. And that excludes all the time that I’ve spent today planning what I’m going to do tomorrow.  I don’t mind working when there’s things to do. What I don’t get is why it has suddenly become my top priority that overrides my interest in other things.

The real difficulty is that I find my life outside of work boring. And I’m replacing that sensation of emptiness with more work, unimportant work and even turning a hobby into work. I’m  aware of this inversion, that I’m letting my work and that sense of its pressing priority upend all the other priorities in my life. And I’ve learned a lot of wise things about priority in the last few weeks – the subject perhaps of another post – that tell me that this is a priority that is not likely to lead to a good outcome in the long run.

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