There are never enough hours in the day. There’s always more work to be done. Always another task you need to finish, another item to check off your to-do list.
We are obsessed with doing more. Obsessed with squeezing every last ounce of productivity out of every waking minute. And that obsession, if left unchecked, will kill us.
On the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with looking for ways to optimize your working hours. There’s nothing wrong with trying to develop better time-management skills. Where a productivity obsession becomes unhealthy is when it breaks down your work-life balance.
When you start working long, irregular hours in the interest of getting more done, sacrificing your personal and social life just so you can do more work. When you start feeling guilty for “wasting time” if you take even a single break. When all you can think and talk about is how busy you are, how stressed you feel, and how you don’t have time for any personal pursuits. When you work not because you want to work, but because you feel like you have to.
This is, notes performance coach and Licensed Master Social Worker Melody Wilding, the behavior of an addict.
“Addiction to productivity is a real thing – similar to dependence on a substance or food – that leads to maladaptive behavior,” she said. “Clinically speaking, addiction occurs when someone is engaged in behavior that’s pleasurable, but the continued use or act becomes compulsive to the point of interfering with normal life responsibilities (work, relationships, or health). To make matters worse, an addict may not be aware that his or her behavior is out of control.”
In a way, being addicted to productivity – in other words, being a workaholic – is almost worse than being addicted to gambling or alcohol. Workaholism is socially acceptable. You might even be praised for your hard work, lauded for how much you get done.
It’s not sustainable, as pointed out by talent recruitment agency Hedley Scott.
Inevitably, as you try to cram more and more work into every hour, the rest of your life will start to suffer. The effects of excessive stress on the body have already been well-documented. As noted by healthcare agency Mayo Clinic, they include but are not limited to:
- Overeating and undereating
- Muscle tension and pain
- Lack of motivation
- Lack of focus
- Upset stomach
- Neglecting exercise and sleep
- Chest pain
- Higher blood pressure
- Heart disease
It’s in your best interest to step away from your obsession with work. To reframe how you engage with your career. Wilding recommends the following steps.
- Eliminate negative self-talk. If you wouldn’t say it to someone you love and care about, don’t say it to yourself.
- Learn to say no. Recognize when you don’t have the bandwidth for a particular task, and don’t feel guilty about establishing that.
- Start small. Don’t sit around making big plans for how you’ll revolutionize your workflows. Instead, set a series of small, achievable goals. Eventually, you will make a big change, but it won’t happen overnight.
- Accept that you need downtime. You aren’t going to achieve anything by working yourself into the ground. Don’t feel guilty about needing time off to relax and recharge. Everybody does now and then.
- Stop multitasking. Focus on one task at a time, and try to do it as well as possible.
Now, before we conclude, it’s worth noting that there’s a difference between workaholism and simply loving your job. If you don’t feel any stress from how much you work and end each day feeling fulfilled and satisfied, then work away. You’re doing what you love, and so long as it’s not having an adverse impact on your health, you’ll be just fine.