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Shades of Gray

Case summary: Jane Harvard has a big date planned with her boyfriend. However, despite her best intentions to leave work by 5:00 pm, at 5:30 pm she is staring at a large stack of material for an early meeting the next day. Although not leading the meeting, she is expected to participate and should prepare her comments in advance. She knows from past experience it will take her most of the evening to do a satisfactory job. The supervisor who will write her review at the end of this project will be in attendance, as will numerous colleagues that she wants to impress.

Assignment question: What should Jane do?
Key issue: We can berate Jane for poor planning and ineffective use of her time, but I’ve found myself in her situation many times. So, setting those issues aside, Jane is facing a typical work-life balance question: When you must choose between work and a personal commitment, what do you do?

Initial conclusion: If her career advancement, paycheck, and job security are dependent on performance, then Jane should probably call John and hope he’ll understand if she cancels their date.

I am assuming in my conclusion that Jane is in the working world. What if instead her work is case prep work, her meeting is an HBS class, and the supervisor and colleagues are her professor and section-mates? Does this change the conclusion?

Last week, I faced a situation similar to Jane’s, and I took the familiar work-enforced route of canceling my personal plans. Then, as I started digging into my cases, I realized that I made my decision on autopilot.

There was a small chance I’d suffer a cold call, but it was a slim risk to take. So I packed everything HBS away for the evening. David and I went out to a movie and dinner, and we had a fabulous time. Although I wouldn’t do it often, skipping “work” for the evening was entirely worth it.

I am NOT recommending that anyone show up to class ill prepared on a regular basis. That would be terribly detrimental to your experience and would annoy your section. I feel like this is a unique time in my life not only for everything HBS officially has to offer, but also because I can test my default assumptions in ways that would otherwise be too risky in the working world. I think now I’ll finish writing and join David on the couch.

November 4, 2002
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