You type out the last few lines of code, and then sit back in satisfaction, admiring your work of art – a voluminous website that took you three months to complete. You spent countless hours designing and coding into the wee hours of the morning. You lost sleep, ate little, and toiled better than any workaholic that had ever come before you.
You know that your reward for your ambitious effort will be a very happy client. Unfortunately, you also know that your time attending online video conferences and chatting with colleagues, and the countless hours you spent writing that code, has taken its toll. Your spouse is furious with you for never going to bed at the same time. Your kids are disappointed in you because you missed their sporting events. It dawns on you that your success has come with a steep price. You are officially a workaholic.
This is true for anyone that devotes a large portion of their time to the Internet. It may be bloggers trying to grow their website, technology workers working remotely, or just folks that get overly addicted to online games. The Internet can steal away many hours out of your day in the blink of an eye, and when you wake up you could discover that much of what you once loved is no longer there.
Placing Safeguards in Place Insures a Balanced Life
If you’re like me and find that left to your own devices, you would spend 23 out of every 24 hours on the Internet, then you may need to make use of a few safeguards to protect yourself from yourself.
In the corporate world, self-sacrifice for the good of the company is celebrated, but it also leads to poor health and destroyed relationships. To introduce more balance in your life, the following tools and tricks can really help.
1. Use a Timer
One of the best solutions that I’ve found for staying aware of the amount of time I’m spending on the computer is actually one of the simplest solutions. I open up a new tab in Chrome and head over to Timer-Tab. This page offers two timer tools – a stopwatch timer and an alarm clock.
The timer will start at whatever limit you set and count down to zero. The alarm clock is….well, an alarm clock. Set the time that you want to stop working and the alarm will let you know when your work time is up. It sounds ridiculously simple, but the truth is that most workaholics don’t want to spend as much time as they do on the computer – they just lose track of time due to the intense focus they put into their work. This tool can help break that focus and make you realize that it’s time to switch gears and go spend some quality time with the family.
2. Add your family to your to-do list
As pathetic as it sounds, sometimes a person that is so intensely focused on accomplishing tasks just needs to incorporate additional tasks from areas of life other than work. It’s surprising how many people never really consider doing this – but if you work so hard to accomplish the work tasks on your everyday to-do list, then why don’t you assign yourself other tasks like “Give wife flowers”, or “Play basketball with the kids” on that same list, and attack those tasks with the same fervor?
I use ToDoist for this kind of thing, because it lets you organize tasks into projects, so you can create a project called something like “More Family Time”, and make sure it’s filled with things you can do to foster family relationships. Better yet, make recurring tasks and never worry about it again.
3. Make browser start on a motivational video
Beyond family connections, another part of maintaining balance in your life is maintaining your mental health. This means taking time every day to just stop and breathe – to contemplate on the bigger picture and think about the things that really matter. It’s far too easy to keep focusing on those daily tasks and lose sight of the bigger picture and your larger dreams.
One way I like to make myself take a mental pause every day is by making my browser start page a motivational video playlist on YouTube. In Chrome, you can just go into Settings, and under “On Startup”, click on the “Set Pages” next to “Open a specific page or set of pages.”
Type in the YouTube playlist for your favorite motivational videos. Now, each morning when you launch your computer to check email, the first thing you’ll see when you open the browser is a motivational video that will hopefully get you to slow down and think about the bigger picture before you get down to business.
I have to say – some of the motivational videos you find on YouTube are totally inspiring. I feel invigorated after watching many of them. Whatever works for you is what you should place as your startup page. This might be motivational quotes, or just your favorite motivational website.
4. Place kids pictures on desktop
Another great way that I’ve found to remind myself of what’s important in life is to place a picture of my little girls right on the desktop of my PC. Lots of people put up pictures of kids or their spouse on the walls of their office or cubicle, but if you’re like me and focused nearly 90% of the day on that computer screen, then the computer screen is where you should place this reminder of why you’re working so hard.
I guarantee that seeing those faces smiling at you all day will serve as a constant reminder to what really matters. You’ll be far more inspired to get your work done faster so that you can shut down your computer, get home, and spend time with those precious kids or that amazing spouse.
5. Open up the calendar
Not sure whether or not you have a problem with being a workaholic? One clue is to take a look at your calendar. How much blank space is there in the daily calendar? Have you focused so much on accomplishing work tasks that you’ve filled up all of the hours in the day and left nothing at all for the family or for your health?
Here’s the thing. Life can only go on like that for so long. You will burn out, not because the work is too hard, but because the failure of the relationships with your family and your friends will add even more stress to your life. You’ll have to work that much longer to get the same amount of work done, and that snowball effect ends in a complete breakdown.
So, I challenge you to take a different path by looking at your calendar and deciding on which chunks of time you can open up for something other than work. For example, in my case I devoted Wednesday night as family night with the wife and kids, and Friday night is pizza and movie night. Then there’s Saturday afternoon for going on a hiking or shopping trip with the family.
Not only does this dedicated family time help you to recharge your batteries, but it also gives you something different to look forward to – something outside of work. And that can really serve as a powerful motivator to avoid getting distracted, and to get all of your work done on time so that you can really enjoy the time off. If you really want to get all crazy about balancing your life – why not open up a few slots in there to schedule in a workout or two? The long-term impact to your productivity when you are working may surprise you.
6. Import Facebook Birthdays
Another problem with being a workaholic and working so hard to remember all of those piling-up work tasks, is that the other things that don’t seem to matter so much – like birthdays – often get completely forgotten. One of the best things you can do to put the kibosh on that is to import all of the birthdays from your Facebook Calendar into your Google Calendar (or whatever calendar you use).
With all of your family and friend’s birthdays in your calendar, you’ll never forget another birthday again. There are few better ways to prove to people that you’re not a self-centered workaholic than when you are one of the few people that actually remember their birthday on time.
7. Force Shutdown with timer
As a last resort, if you find that you simply can not pull yourself away from work to take a break or spend time with your family, you can always go with the nuclear option. Make your computer automatically turn off at a set time every night. Give it a timer if you want so that you have time to save your work, but killing your computer will hopefully give you the kick in the pants to get off that chair and stop working for a while.
Setting it up is easy enough – just go into scheduled tasks and create a basic task. In Windows 7, there’s an easy wizard for this. Just type in the time you want the computer to turn off, and have it recur every day.
The shutdown command is considered a “program”, so click on “Start a program”.
On the next step, you can use “shutdown” as the program name, and use the arguments -s -f -t 60 as arguments for a forced sleep mode that waits 60 seconds before starting.
If your goal of shutting down the computer is to take a break, then you may want to re-start the computer after your break period is up. You can automatically restart the computer by creating another task (in advanced mode), and select “Run whether user is logged on or not”.
Make the scheduled restart time about an hour or so after you set the shutdown task (or however long you want your break to be). Repeat the task daily as well.
The restart program is “cmd.exe /c “exit”, which forces the computer to restart simply to launch a command window and then immediately close it. Apparently the computer needs an excuse to wake up.
Under the “Conditions” tab, select “Wake the computer to run this task” – this is the key that brings the computer out of sleep mode.
It would be unfortunate if you need to take the last approach and force your computer to shut down, but you know what, you do what you have to do to fight your natural urge to keep right on working. That’s the demon that workaholics must face – the desire to work on long after most people give up. It’s both a gift and a curse. But following the tips in this article, you can keep it more of a gift than a curse for your life.
What tips can you offer other online workaholics to introduce a better work-life balance? How do you force yourself to get off the Internet and enjoy life a little more? Share your own advice and tips in the comments section below.
Image Credit: Businessman Workaholic Via Shutterstock