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How I Work “Off the Clock”

How I Work “Off the Clock”

I’ve never really experienced a 9-5 job. Right out of college, I went straight into Headbands of Hope full-time. I did some internships that were structured hours, but it didn’t really agree with me.

A lot of people think the “hero” is the first person in the office and the last person to leave. But in my opinion, the real hero was the person who got to call it a day early because he or she found an effective and efficient way to do their job. The person who spends the whole afternoon crafting one press release and goes to the coffee maker every other email is just stretching out their day.

As an employer, I want someone who gets it done. I’d rather have someone work efficiently than be a perfectionist. I want someone who gets from point A to point B without me holding their hand.

One of the love/hate factors of being an entrepreneur is creating your own schedule.

You decide when you go to work.

You decide your lunch and coffee breaks.

You create your vacation time-off.

And you decide if you want to work on weekends.

Next week is the City of Oaks Marathon. The week after that I speak in Delaware. The week after that I speak in Colorado. The week after that I go to the Seattle Children’s Hospital. The list goes on.

The thing is…this isn’t unusual for me. This is my job. This is the path I chose.

Quite frankly, I’d rather spend my Saturday at an event making sales, or at a hospital giving out headbands, or in front of a sea of college students motivating them to take action.

Sure, a day on my couch watching football in my reindeer pajamas and fuzzy socks sounds heavenly. I won’t deny that. But I have to choose the right time for those moments. Maybe it’s a Wednesday night when I finished all my work that day. It doesn’t have to be when everyone else is relaxing. Remember, it’s your schedule.

I’ve learned that being a workaholic doesn’t lead to success. It leads to lack of sleep, stupid mistakes and burnout.
Instead, be efficient with your work. If you’re done with your tasks for the day, close your computer and go for a run. Don’t just work just to work.

Originally, I thought I had to work until 5 everyday because that’s when everyone else gets off work. But then I decided, I’ll be done when I’m done. Sometimes it’s at 3 pm, sometimes it’s at 10 pm.

Do what you need to do, then “unplug.”

But unplug is a silly word. Can we really unplug in this day and age? Yes, but for me, it involves hibernating in a cave somewhere with no cell phone service.

Sure, you can go on vacation or on a cruise where you can’t use your phone. But that can’t happen everyday.
Now here is where it gets tricky for me. As CEO of my own company, it’s always my responsibility 24/7. Therefore, I feel inclined to always be “on the clock.”

But lying in bed at 11:00 pm with the lights out and answering emails isn’t exactly the best habit in the world.
I learned that I need to pick and choose my battles with being “off the clock.” If someone emails me when I’m at dinner about planning a fundraiser that can wait until tomorrow. If I get an email that our website has crashed or has a glitch, that’s a good enough reason for me to power up my computer before I call it a night.

This “unplugging” thing is still an issue I struggle with. I don’t think I’ll ever be perfect at it, but I can always try to be better.

But here’s the catch: I don’t think my work life and my “play” life have to be two separate things.

There’s a quote I love by Richard Branson: “I don’t think of work as work and play as play. It’s all just living.”
Headbands of Hope isn’t just my job. It’s who I am and it’s infused in all areas of my life. I hope when people meet me they associate me with my company. I’ve built an empire that I’m proud of and that I believe in. I get to wake up every day and change lives. I don’t need that to be separate from who I am “off the clock.”

As an entrepreneur or even if you work a 9-5 job, love what you do so much that you don’t have to separate work to one side of your brain and life luxuries to another. Find what’s important to you, and then have the courage to cater your career around that answer.

I’m not saying everyone should start a nonprofit or some kind of cause-related work. Just find a career path that you feel has purpose.

If you can do this, on and off the clock won’t seem like two different countries.
Jess Ekstrom is the 22-year-old founder of Headbands of Hope and Headwear of Hope.