Self Improvement

5 Signs That You’re Working Too Hard (And How to Fix Them)

Joel Lee 07-05-2015

Workaholics are in serious trouble. Not only are they more likely to suffer from heart disease and migraines, but more than half of workaholic marriages end in divorce (over three times the divorce rate of non-workaholic marriages). Are you headed towards a similar fate?


The average number of working hours, at least in the United States, has been on a steady rise since 1970. On the one hand, people simply need to work longer to make ends meet. On the other hand, the need to climb the career totem pole has “trained” people to prioritize work over all else in life.

The preoccupation with work is really at the core of what workaholism is. […] The difference between someone who’s a true workaholic and someone who’s just a hard worker is that the workaholic is on the ski slopes dreaming about being back at work, and the hard worker is in the office dreaming about being on the ski slope.

— Via WebMD

I admit that I’m a workaholic. Perhaps you are too. Here are some of the signs that opened my eyes to this ailment and how I’ve been working to overcome it.

Fear of Being Unproductive

The Problem

The typical worker wants to get away from their work. He arrives at home, throws on a Netflix series, and zones out while relaxing and unwinding. He can hang out with friends and get lost in the moment. He can go shopping without feeling like he’s wasting time.

For the workaholic, these are all rare occurrences. Any time spent away from work — whether that work entails office duties, writing novel chapters, or crafting Etsy products — is time that’s seen as unproductive.

Attempting to relax even makes some people sick. Some 3% of the population suffers from “leisure sickness” when they go on vacation. Symptoms include fatigue, muscle pain, nausea and flu-like symptoms, according to a 2002 study in the Netherlands.

And a phenomenon of “weekend headaches” accounts for roughly one-third of all migraines and one-sixth of tension headaches.

— Via The Wall Street Journal

Every hour not spent working is an hour that could’ve been spent working. The workaholic dreads this. It breeds a fear of unproductivity and the workaholic starts to grow anxious whenever they aren’t working. Even something as enjoyable as leisure time is seen as unproductive and wasteful.



The Solution

The most difficult part of fearing unproductivity is that this fear will follow you around no matter what you do or where you go. You could force yourself into three hours of leisure every day, but if that’s all you do, you’ll still be anxious during those hours.

One thing you can try is to practice mindfulness 3 Apps To Help You Practice Mindfulness in 2014 and Beyond If you feel like the past year went by like a jet plane, you might be doing something wrong. Read More , which is a meditation-like technique that brings your complete attention to the present moment. There are seven key elements to it which include patience, trust, and non-striving.

That being said, it’s still important to schedule free time Avoid the Stress of Over-Scheduling with 10 Smart Google Calendar Tips The secret to de-stress using a calendar is simple: cut out the things that you don't need, make time for the things you love, and keep it all organized. Use these ten tips. Read More and force yourself away from work. Getting used to being unproductive is a vital part of accepting that productivity is not everything.


To practice intentional unproductivity, try using these online relaxation tools The 5 Best Ways To Relax Using Online Tools Read More and these websites for taking a break Take A Break: 10 Websites To Help You Relax For Two Minutes It's incredibly important to take the time to relax occasionally. It doesn't do anyone any good to constantly be ON, to be working, to be stressed by the rigors of everyday life. In the same... Read More . Combine them with a bit of personal yoga time 5 Top Yoga Channels On YouTube That Help You Beat Stress After a stressful day, a few minutes of yoga can mean the difference between anxiety and rest. Load up these YouTube channels and don't be surprised when your stress melts away. Read More and you’ll find that your anxiety is eventually lessened if not eliminated.

But most importantly, you have to tell yourself — and believe — that you’re allowed to relax. Successful entrepreneurs How To Spark Personal Growth: 5 Tricks Of The Entrepreneur Not everyone has to be an entrepreneur, but everyone can learn something from the entrepreneur. By tapping into some of those entrepreneurial traits, you can radically alter your own life in an upward direction. Read More recognize this: if you want to be achieve your goals, you can’t run at 100% capacity 100% of the time. Without rest, you’re going to break down.

Addicted to Technology

The Problem

Think back to the last time you had dinner with friends or family. You’re all sitting around the table — whether at home or at a restaurant — and having an engaging conversation. Well, most of you are. One or two folks have their noses in their iPhones instead.

Have you noticed? If you haven’t, that’s probably because you are the one spending too much time on your smartphone. Indeed, it appears that your smartphone is ruining your life How Smartphones Are Ruining Your Life Your smartphone could be ruining your life, or at least have the capacity to do so in the future. Read More . In this case, your social life.


Workaholics are notorious for this. They’re constantly checking their email Why Smartphones Are Awesome: The Case For Checking Email All The Time A few weeks ago, we had a post published where Yaara wrote why she thinks many people use smartphones way too much, and why they may not be all that great. While many of Yaara’s... Read More , a problem that’s exacerbated by push notifications and ease of access. They’re always stuck in mobile message conversations 5 Best Free Messaging Apps for Android Need a free way to send messages to friends and family with your phone for free? Check out these apps. Read More , either with their boss, their colleagues, or their clients. Skilled workaholics even write documents and track sales 5 Productivity Tools for a Salesperson on the Move Many sales professionals have turned to technology to help get more done and help remember everything they need to do. Let's talk about some indispensable tools in their arsenal. Read More while on the go.

But most of all, they have an unhealthy obsession with productivity. I’m not just talking about how to stop being unproductive, but rather how to squeeze every ounce of productivity 12 Productivity Habits To Finally Hack Your Life In The New Year A common resolution for most working people is to be more productive. In this article, we'll explore twelve bad habits that you can change -- one per month -- to drastically improve your workload productivity. Read More out of their bones. That sounds like me. Maybe it sounds like you too.


The Solution

As with any kind of addiction, the first step towards recovery is to acknowledge that the problem exists. Are you addicted to your smartphone Are You Addicted To Your Smartphone? At one time, landlines and payphones were all we had--and we survived just fine, thank you very much. But now, it’s almost laughable if you don’t own an iPhone or Android, and for some of... Read More ? Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Do you check your smartphone within an hour of waking up?
  • Do you check your smartphone within an hour of going to sleep?
  • Do you have to check your smartphone upon receiving a text or email?
  • Do you check and use your smartphone during face-to-face interactions?
  • If you were asked to give up your smartphone for one week, could you do it?

If you are addicted, the next action is to make sure that you break free from being enslaved to your smartphone Don't Let Your Smartphone Take Over Your Life Back at the end of 2012, just in time for New Year’s Resolutions, I wrote an article all about smartphone addiction. We created technology to serve us, yet so many of us - myself included... Read More . With a bit of willpower and support from friends and family, you’ll be able to kick the dependency in no time.

Another potential symptom of technology addiction How to Recognize and Overcome Your Tech Addiction Overcoming tech addiction doesn't mean ending your use of that technology, it just means using technology to improve the quality of your life. This guide shows you how to manage your online cravings. Read More is an itch to buy the latest and greatest gadgets; in other words, you’re an early adopter 5 Reasons Why Being An Early Adopter Is A Bad Idea Are you the type of person who pre-orders the newest tech gadgets as soon as they’re available? Then you’re an early adopter. Is there a downside? Let's find out. Read More . It’s fine if it’s just a hobby, but early adoption can point to an obsession with productivity.

Productivity obsession is a serious issue because no amount is ever enough. It’s a futile chase without an end and you’re likely to burn yourself out in the process. That’s why it’s important to prevent productivity obsession 5 Ways to Keep Productivity From Taking Over Your Life Are we, as a society, significantly more productive? And if we are, are we happier? Productivity is important, but it needs to be put in its place. Read More before it spins out of control.

Chasing After New Projects

The Problem

My fear of being unproductive manifests in many ways, but the most telling manifestation is the need to always be planning, researching, and working on something in my mind. As a freelancer and entrepreneur, this means a constant search for new projects to keep me occupied.

During my worst period of workaholism, I was juggling my MakeUseOf responsibilities, writing a novel, coding a video game, and dedicating a few hours every day to learning how to create digital art. Even then I felt like I wanted to take on more projects and chase other ideas.

Full disclosure: all of those projects (except for my position at MakeUseOf) were complete failures. There just wasn’t enough time in the day to handle them all and the subsequent lack of sleep destroyed my work efficiency.

But here’s what I realized: I was not a special case. Workaholics all over the world continue to take on more than they can handle and still keep looking for more.


The Solution

The answer here is much easier said than done: declutter your life Clearing Out Clutter Is Good For You — But Why? Decluttering is a great way to start the year feeling fresh, and it gives you a big sense of accomplishment — but there's more to it than that. This simple habit can improve your life. Read More .

As it turns out, multitasking is detrimental 3 Ways To Stop Multitasking & Stay Focused To Be More Efficient & Productive [Windows] At MakeUseOf we have written countless articles on how to multitask. As it turns out, however, multitasking messes with your brain. Research shows that people who multitask a lot are "more susceptible to interference from... Read More to efficiency and productivity. It divides your attention such that you half-ass many things and never whole-ass anything. Cognitive clutter also causes feelings of stress, guilt, and anxiety. Your brain only has so much processing power.

But the real crime is that clutter steals your time. You end up working hard on so many things with lots of potential while neglecting all of the things that are already good in your life. You’re never going to get that time back and the damage is often long-lasting, even permanent.

The enemy of decluttering is indecisiveness. Want to free up time? You need to decide which projects you’re going to axe and which projects you’re going to pursue. It’s not always easy to do, but fortunately there are apps that help with decision making Indecisive? Make The Right Choices With These Apps Have you heard of the paradox of choice? If you're like me and suffer from analysis paralysis, these apps will change your life. Read More .

And if you really want to put your workaholic energy to good use, consider embracing minimalism How To Be An Effective Minimalist In Your Daily Life More and more people are choosing to embrace minimalism. In certain situations this can wreak frustrating havoc on your everyday life. With some minimal planning it doesn't have to come to that. Read More . You’ll save time and money, plus free up a lot of the stress that arises from a hoarding mindset.

Neglecting Health and Hygiene

The Problem

It’s one thing to neglect your health through laziness and the need to fuel instant gratification. It’s another thing to be so caught up in work that you stop moving, stop eating, and stop sleeping. Not to mention the flood of caffeine that most of us endure every morning.

For one thing, if you work at home or in an office setting, sitting will kill you 4 Serious Health Issues From Sitting Too Long (And How to Avoid Them) Sitting too long at your desk or on your couch is a modern epidemic. Here are four deadly risks to a sedentary lifestyle. Read More . Not only does it increase your risk for various diseases, but also destroys your posture 5 Reasons Working With Computers Is Bad For You & How to Stay Healthy Working on the computer may sound like the most relaxed job in the world, but it's quite the contrary. It's very tough on your body, which is not used to this modern type of work.... Read More and afflicts you with computer fatigue Log Into Life: Top 9 Tips To Fight Computer Fatigue & Protect Your Health Did you know that your sedentary lifestyle could be killing you from the inside out? Ryan has already presented a case on potential health risks from sitting too long, and for those of us who... Read More .

What about diet? Workaholics are more likely to eat lunch at their desk so they don’t have to stop working and they snarf down said food in less than 20 minutes. Worse, an OfficeTeam survey found that 29% of American workers skip lunch altogether.

And having such a work-focused mind can lead to restless nights or full-blown insomnia.


The Solution

Whether or not you declutter your life (as mentioned in the previous section), you need to dedicate time every day to keeping up your health. What’s the point of working hard if you end up dying early, unable to fully enjoy whatever success comes your way?

First things first, consider learning how to cook Intimidated by Cooking? 6 Simple Tips to Conquer Your Kitchen Fears Eating out is awesome, but it doesn’t compare to the experience of cooking a meal from scratch. But it’s far too common for people to hold a phobia of the kitchen. Read More . It will be a pain in the neck at first, I know, but once you learn the basics you’ll be able to cook up healthy meals in record time. Cook in bulk so you can enjoy dinner and have some left to take to work. Start with these cheap, simple recipes 4 Websites For Affordable Recipes That Won't Break the Bank Want to save a few hundred dollars every month? Stop eating out and start cooking! By cooking for yourself, you eat healthier and save money, it could even become a fun and relaxing hobby. Read More .

At work, don’t skip lunch. Eat. Time your time. Don’t think about work throughout your entire lunch break.

Next, you need to fix your sleep schedule Sleep Better & Improve Your Health By Changing How You Use Your Computer Computer work must not be hard on your body. Simple changes that only cost you minutes each day can have a great impact. Here are some tools to help you out. Read More , which is easier than you might think. Install F.lux (on Windows, Linux, iOS) and Twilight (on Android) to help curb sleep-disturbing screen light at night. White noise apps 3 White Noise Apps To Help You Sleep, Concentrate & Relax If you're trying to sleep or work and an incessant background noise won't let up, these apps will help. Read More can help. Don’t forget to set refresh your morning routine 5 Ways to Refresh Your Morning Routine and Be Happier The first hour of the day dictates how the remaining 23 will go. Take control of your day by taking control of your morning and become a happier you. Read More for maximum effect.

Lastly, you’ll need to exercise. Start with something simple, such as these exercises for your work desk 8 Easy Exercises To Help You Stay Fit At Your Desk Staying fit at your desk is actually possible. Here are some exercises anyone can do. Some don't even require getting up, others take no longer than 10 minutes out of your daily routine. Read More or these quick workout apps Stay Fit: The 5 Best Quick Workout Apps For Android Need to find the time to exercise? These apps can help you with only a few minutes of your day. Read More . Continue on with these at-home workout routines How To Workout Without Going To The Gym It's hard enough setting aside time for actual exercise, but throw in your commute and it can add up to a lot of wasted time. Try these effective workouts without ever leaving your home. Read More . And when you start getting serious, start watching these YouTube workout channels 7 Best YouTube Workout Channels To Exercise at Home Home gyms and personal trainers help the moneyed get up straight from their beds and hit the gym. We lesser mortals have to call on our powers of self-motivation and discipline to trudge the few... Read More .

Never Satisfied With Work

The Problem

One reason why workaholics work so hard is because they’re never happy with what they produce. They’re persistent in their pursuit of perfection, which is an admirable trait in isolation. When it starts impacting your life, it loses its admirability.

This is true for me. No matter what I produce, whether it’s my first or thousandth attempt, it’s never good enough. This drives me to keep going, keep practicing, keep working in hopes that maybe one day I will make something I can finally be proud of.

Of course, it’s certainly possible to have high self-standards and not be a workaholic. How do we get to that point? Either you learn to keep those high standards in check or you break down and stop trying altogether. The former is a better path.


The Solution

Start off by setting proper goals 5 Critical Mistakes To Avoid When Setting Goals Goal setting is a great way to cut down on procrastination and boost productivity. If you don’t have goals, you don’t have direction. Without direction, it’s easy for you to feel lost and confused. Fortunately,... Read More . What do you want to achieve long-term? In order to get there, what are the intermediate short-term steps? Every night, plan what you need to get done How To Be More Productive When Working From Home Is working from home (or to use the term – telecommuting) more productive than working from an office? The debate was re-ignited after Marissa Mayer's clarion call to all Yahoo employees. Just like all blah-blahs,... Read More on the next day. Then, complete those tasks and no more. Stop. Rest. You’re done.

For this, I recommend a simple task app like Todoist How Much More Productive Is ToDoist Premium? Here Are 6 Good Reasons To Upgrade I kept using ToDoist for free for a while. But kept coming up against things I wanted to do and couldn't. Email reminders. Adding notes to task. Things that would really add a whole lot... Read More or a task manager like Google Tasks Five Killer Ways to Use Google Tasks If you're like me, you spend more time managing your tasks than you do actually performing them. It’s all about multiple lists, offline access and getting your tasks on-the-go. Since we last took a look... Read More .

The important thing here is that you focus on the effort rather than the results. Results are qualitative: sometimes you do well, sometimes you put out crap. Effort, on the other hand, is binary: you either get it done or you don’t. Once you get it done, celebrate.

Obviously you should still try to produce quality results, but the subtle difference is where you hang your pride. Is it on the input (effort) or the output (results)?

What Is Your Diagnosis?

So, are you a workaholic? If you are and you try the above solutions and you still can’t shake it off, we recommend pursuing a more serious form of therapy like Workaholics Anonymous. For the sake of your long-term health, please fight workaholism.

Even if you aren’t a workaholic through and through, you may suffer from related issues like motivational burnout Is Burnout Making You Hate Your Work? 5 Ways To Find Your Flow Again Read More and productivity-driven stress 4 Ways To Take The Stress Out Of Productivity With a few well-targeted changes, you can boost your productivity by leaps and bounds. Apply these simple methods to your life and the result is what you would expect -- better work with lesser effort. Read More . Please nip them in the bud while you still can!

Where do you stand? What have you done to curb your insatiable desire to work? Do you have any advice for other workaholics? Share with us in the comments below!

Image Credits: Desk Worker Asleep Via Shutterstock, Vacation Worker Via Shutterstock, Phone With Friends Via Shutterstock, Female Multitasker Via Shutterstock, Working During Lunch Via Shutterstock, Workaholic Asleep on Couch Via Shutterstock

Related topics: Addiction, Burnout, Habits, Health, Time Management.

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  1. Anonymous
    June 7, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    My life got instantly better when I turned email notification off on my phone. Why do I need to hear that chime while I'm driving or out jogging? Life got more better when I changed my Mail client to fetch new messages every half hour instead of pushing them.

    • Joel Lee
      June 26, 2015 at 4:14 am

      Notifications are the devil! I agree, turning them off is a HUGE change. Glad to hear that your life has improved, Thomas. :)

  2. Ron Howell
    May 11, 2015 at 11:46 pm

    Yes, even before reading the comments of dragonmouth and Joel Lee above, while reading this article, I saw on this same page, links to 2 stories, "Why smartphones are ruining your life" and then the very next article is " Why smartphones are awesome" LOL

  3. dragonmouth
    May 7, 2015 at 11:42 pm

    The irony is that MUO keeps publishing articles on how to be more productive and how to multitask more efficiently.

    • Joel Lee
      May 8, 2015 at 7:30 pm

      Haha, true! It all comes down to moderation, I think. Productivity is a good thing, but too much of a good thing can be bad. In this case, I'm more taking a stand against productivity obsession rather than productivity itself.

  4. Vyom
    May 7, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    Nice article. Much needed for today's workaholics.
    I would just want to say one thing to them, get a life. :P Easier said than done. Sometimes your passion drives you crazy. But understands the risks that comes with it.

    And perfectly put the line, "As it turns out, multitasking is detrimental to efficiency and productivity. It divides your attention such that you half-ass many things and never whole-ass anything". *Slow clap*

    • Joel Lee
      May 8, 2015 at 7:31 pm

      Thanks Vyom! Glad you liked the article. Please share with your workaholic friends and let me know what they think. I hope it helps!

      P.S. I can't take credit for that Ron Swanson quote. :)