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How A Nightly ‘Third Shift’ Can Ruin Your Life

First, the bad news: The average workweek for salaried U.S. employees is now 49 hours, and email volume is increasing by 15 percent every year. If those stats resulted in an eye roll and a “Duh” from you, then there’s a decent chance you routinely leave the office in time to get home for dinner and a bedtime story, only to plug right back in and crank through emails or file TPS reports until you go to bed.

That’s the third shift, and for an increasing number of U.S. workers, it’s the new normal.

Now for the good news: The productivity of the average American has increased almost 400 percent between 1950 and 2000 (Thanks, computers!). That means 11 hours of work in 2000 accomplished the same amount as 40 hours in Harry Truman’s day — and by some estimates productivity has increased another 25 percent since then (Thanks, Internet!).

So your job, Mr. Modern Worker, is to make the third shift work for you, and not the other way around. “If this is an outlet valve that allows employees to create time for a life during regular working hours, than it’s absolutely a good thing,” says Professor Scott Behson, who teaches management at Fairleigh Dickenson University and whose first book, The Working Dad’s Survival Guide: How to Succeed at Work and at Home comes out next month.

The alternative, according to Behson, is chronic overwork, which has been proven to decrease performance, increase stress, and negatively impact everything from your eating habits to your marriage. Still, Behson’s recommendation is to avoid workdays exceeding 7 hours — nearly 3 hours a day less than the average. How are you going to square that circle?

With technology, that’s how.

5 Tools To Help You Manage The Third Shift

  • Sanebox, Starting at $7/month
    Organize your in[sane]box by automatically filing emails according to their importance, which is determined by an algorithm or some such thing. Use it to knock out the important stuff during the day and peruse the clutter at night.
  • Pick, Free (iOS)
    Pick unifies all your calendars to help schedule meetings (or soccer games) by showing when you can spare the time block needed. Fill in “Family Time” every night from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Pick will organize your work life around it.
  • Taco, Free, (Chrome Extension)
    Taco is the mother of all to-do lists that syncs with over 40 other task lists, ticketing services, and emails to index all your day’s tasks in one place. Shuffle and prioritize the workday to push non-time sensitive tasks off until your third shift.
  • Forest, $0.99 (iOS, Android, Windows)
    Forest turns not looking at your phone into a game to help you maximize time with the kids, since those other services carved time for them. Turn on the app, and a virtual tree grows to full fruition every 30 minutes. Stop the app to use your phone, kill the tree, ruin your “forest.”
  • Timewaste Timer, Free (Chrome Extension)
    Deposit $20 into this digital helicopter parent and you will be fined $1 every day that you exceed one hour on Facebook. Fight your Pavlovian impulse with negative reinforcement. Your schedule will thank you.
  • Wioflix?, Free (iOS, Android)
    Wioflix? recommends the best movies on Netflix, per your genre request, according to ratings from IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic. What does this have to do with the third shift? It’s the app you’ll use when you play hooky from it.

If your company views the third shift as additive to a full day’s work, as opposed to a way to improve work-life integration and increase efficiency, then Behson recommends opening a dialog with your boss to set expectations. “To have time for family or whatever else during afternoons or eveningsand allow them to complete work — this is good for employers as well,” he says.

And, if that doesn’t work, just form an underground cabal with like-minded coworkers with kids who all feign 80-hour workweeks while actually skiing all day long — like these guys.