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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 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 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, 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 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 and these websites for taking a break. Combine them with a bit of personal yoga time 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 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
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. In this case, your social life.
Workaholics are notorious for this. They’re constantly checking their email, a problem that’s exacerbated by push notifications and ease of access. They’re always stuck in mobile message conversations, either with their boss, their colleagues, or their clients. Skilled workaholics even write documents and track sales 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 out of their bones. That sounds like me. Maybe it sounds like you too.
As with any kind of addiction, the first step towards recovery is to acknowledge that the problem exists. Are you addicted to your smartphone? 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. 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 is an itch to buy the latest and greatest gadgets; in other words, you’re an early adopter. 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 before it spins out of control.
Chasing After New Projects
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 answer here is much easier said than done: declutter your life.
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. 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.
And if you really want to put your workaholic energy to good use, consider embracing minimalism. You’ll save time and money, plus free up a lot of the stress that arises from a hoarding mindset.
Neglecting Health and Hygiene
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. Not only does it increase your risk for various diseases, but also destroys your posture and afflicts you with computer fatigue.
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.
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. 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.
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, 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 can help. Don’t forget to set refresh your morning routine for maximum effect.
Lastly, you’ll need to exercise. Start with something simple, such as these exercises for your work desk or these quick workout apps. Continue on with these at-home workout routines. And when you start getting serious, start watching these YouTube workout channels.
Never Satisfied With Work
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.
Start off by setting proper goals. 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 on the next day. Then, complete those tasks and no more. Stop. Rest. You’re done.
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.
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