Work to live; don’t live to work.
– Steve Povlish
Don’t get me wrong; I value a job well done as much as the next person. In fact, I feel unfulfilled at the end of the day if I don’t do something meaningful at work. I don’t have to get everything done, but as long as I accomplish something of value, I have the satisfaction of knowing I’ve earned my pay.
Work is tricky, though. It has a way of intruding on the rest of your life, of inflating its importance to the exclusion of all else. I’ve seen people who give in to the temptation, and it’s not pretty. I’ve known fellow web professionals who worked nights, weekends, holidays, and vacations. I’ve known others who slept under their desks. Tragically, the “Give 110%” mentality more often results in 50 or 60 hours a week, rather than the 44 you’d get by actually doing the math.
This phenomenon is often called “workaholism,” and I can think of no better name for it. Much like alcohol, work can become an indulgence that causes us to neglect relationships, responsibilities, and even our health, things that should rightfully be more important to us. We justify our addiction, saying things like, “Sure, I had to cancel a date with my wife, but the merger went smoothly,” or, “I may not have had time to exercise today, but at least I got the reports out on time,” even when, deep inside, we know how wrong it is.
Obviously, work is a necessity, but it can become an addiction if you’re not careful. If you’re at risk of developing an unhealthy addiction to work, here are a few tips to help you keep it in its place.
- Focus on value. Your effectiveness as a professional has less to do with the number of hours you put in and more to do with how much value you create for your employer. In the end, if you’re generating more than you’re costing, you’re a good investment. Focus on that, feel good about your contribution, and stand firm when lines need to be drawn.
- Prioritize your life. Nobody dreams of being a successful professional and nothing else. We all have roles that are just as important to us, if not more so. Do you want to be a good parent? A good spouse? An active member of your community? Think hard about the other roles that are important to you, then figure out what you need to do to excel at them and prioritize those actions.
- Leave work at work. You’re paid for your time at work; time off is time you should spend on the rest of your life. This means unplugging; no calls, no emails, no homework. In fact, don’t even let work enter your mind. You’ll be happier, and you’ll quickly realize that most “emergencies” can safely wait until you’re back in the office.
- Avoid Blackberries. This goes with “Leave work at work,” but it’s worth mentioning on its own. The Blackberry seems to be the worst offender, but really, you should avoid anything that chains you to work when you’re not there (remote desktop access is another good example). Avoid these things like the plague; if you already have them, get rid of them. Nothing is more intrusive to the rest of your life than taking your work with you wherever you go.
- Take breaks. Human beings were never meant to sit at desks for hours on end. It’s bad for your health on many levels. Take the time to get up and move around. Let your eyes, fingers, and brain rest for a few minutes. I like to call my wife while walking a lap or two around the building. This way, I get fresh air and sunshine, a little bit of exercise, and some emotional release, all at once.
- Just say no. There may come times when other people are forcing unhealthy levels of work on you. It’s up to you to have the integrity and commitment to say no. Obviously, different situations may warrant different responses. Remember, though; a yes today often becomes the expectation of a yes tomorrow.
- Take control of your finances. Many people let work dominate their lives for fear of lost income. Remove that fear. Take control of your personal finances. Stop living paycheck to paycheck. Save up an emergency fund. Develop side income. Pay down your debt. When you know you’d be fine for some time if you lost your job, the fear of losing it ceases to have a stranglehold over your checkbook.
Ironically, those who moderate the impact of work on their lives aren’t only happier, they’re often more productive and successful than their overworked peers. That’s right; if you keep work in its place, you’ll probably get more done than the person who’s actually trying to get more done. Less isn’t just more; it’s a lot more.