While having a good work ethic and ambition is critical for success in today’s competitive job market, many business owners, executives and rising stars have an excessive devotion to their work. They struggle with guilt feelings for not spending more time at work and fear potential pitfalls of not being there to oversee their business. Not taking time off from work can have dire consequences; it can lead to burnout and worse, a total downward spiral of your personal life. Whether you work for yourself or for someone else it’s critical to take breaks that help you recharge your battery. Taking regular time off to exercise, spend time with friends and family and time to think outside of the office can lead to breakthroughs and give you perspective on the work you’re doing.
Psychologist Brad Lontz, Psy.D. says workaholism is a disease similar to other addictions. It’s one of the few addictions that society values and people are quick to claim. “You think you work a lot, I spent 12 hours at the office yesterday!” He makes the following suggestions for achieving a healthy work-life balance:
1. Take the “rocking chair test.” Picture yourself at retirement age sitting on your front porch rocking in your chair. Looking back on your life, where do you wish you had spent more time? At the office? On the golf course? On vacation with your family?
2. Challenge your automatic thinking around work. The fact is, as important as we think our work is, when we are dead and gone, the world will keep rotating around the sun. When you are feeling anxious about a “to-do” list, take some time to root out and correct some errors in thinking. What would be the worst thing that would happen if you gave yourself a day off of work? Could you live with that? Would the world survive?
3. Check in with others regarding your work-life balance. Ask your friends and family if they think you work too much. Workaholics are often unaware of how immersed they are in work and are not necessarily conscious of the negative emotional and physical consequences of workaholism. Opening our hearts and minds to the feedback of those around us is an important step in getting honest with ourselves.
4. Examine your family history around work. When I heard my 100-hour-a-week-working father talk about how lazy he felt compared to his father, my feelings of guilt for only putting in a 70-hour work week suddenly made a lot of sense. Seeing this family pattern around work and becoming conscious of the consequences opened my eyes and helped me change my relationship with work.
Don’t Miss Out on Life
In his popular 1970’s folk song, “Cat’s in the Cradle,” Harry Chapin sang about a conversation between a workaholic father and son:
“When you comin’ home dad?”
“I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son, you know we’ll have a good time then.”
By the end of the song, Chapin’s protagonist deeply regrets missing out on his son’s life. In his old age he realizes he has passed down this too-busy-ways to his son who is now not available to him in his aging years.
Joel Peterson, Chairman of JetBlue Airways has these insight about working too hard:
Sometimes, the biggest challenge in being a workaholic is that you simply don’t know you are one. Peterson points out some signs in his post 10 Signs You’re Working Too Hard and How to Stop.
If you’ve stopped exercising, can’t sleep and are eating poorly, you’re heading down a road that could lead to a disastrous destination. And if you’re far enough along this destructive path that you’ve abandoned your hobbies and interests, can’t find time for friends or family and are obsessed with work day and night, you may actually need an outside intervention. He says, “Don’t be too surprised if it comes unsolicited at the hands of a doctor or lawyer”.
Here are 6 common signs Peterson identifies that may reveal you’re under too much stress – and suggestions for what to do about it.
1) You’re chained to your desk. An editor at the Chicago Sun-Times once said that he couldn’t take time off. He was afraid the place would fall apart without him – and he was terrified it wouldn’t. If you think the universe depends on you, you’re headed for a high-stress breakdown. Hire people who will do a better job than you ever could, and then celebrate their successes, get out of their way and recharge your batteries regularly.
2) Your mind races in circles. You think the root of your stress is that you spend all of your time in a state of intense focus. But really, most people under stress are re-plowing the same field over and over. They confuse this obsessing with focus, but it’s really the opposite. Problems typically get simpler as you work your way through them, so make sure your solutions involve reducing complexity. Then work on execution in bite-sized pieces that are less demanding than the larger initial problem. When your stress is under control, focus will come more easily.
3) Your favorite phrase is “you’ve got mail.” Email may have become a mindless stress reliever for you; but like most things, it’s a two-edged sword. If you’re disciplined, it’s a time-saver. But if your use of it goes unchecked, it morphs into a constant interrupter, a pestering reminder of all you’re having a hard time responding to. So turn off your email – for hours at a time –and work on developing the discipline to check in on a regular schedule and not more frequently.
4) You’re always running late. Make a commitment that you’ll be five minutes early to every meeting and every event, and then tell others about it as a way forcing you to curtail the activities that are making you late. This will rarely reduce the quality of your thinking or your work, and it will usually help you re-frame your priorities and focus on your accountability and deliverables.
5) You never take a mental break. I once had a set of partners who bought tickets for me and my wife to take a week’s vacation and promised that none of them would answer calls from me or report anything to me during the trip. At first, I didn’t know what to do with myself; but soon, I lost myself in a book. When I “woke up” I was in another century, as it were, reveling in language, culture and history – things I love, but had forgotten about. Taking mental breaks every once in a while creates opportunities for learning and enjoying new things. To incorporate them into your daily life, set up rules for yourself. One of mine is not to work on airplanes – and since I do a lot of flying, I now do a lot of reading.
6) Your phone has become an appendage. Never turning off your phone, or even worse, being unable to even put it down, leaves you open to constant interruptions. Although I can’t seem to do it, I know busy people who set “office hours” for themselves during which they even block out personal interruptions. The analog to the phone being on all the time is the office door that’s always open. Be sure to give yourself some quiet time to think, to plan, to reflect in a place where there’s no phone and no one walking through the door, even if it’s just for 30 minutes a day.
If you possess more than a few of these signs you might want to re-evaluate your schedule and re-calibrate so you can disengage from work avoid having regrets that you didn’t spend time with the people you love.
- I can’t justify leaving work to exercise
- I bring home work every night and weekend
- I regularly cancel dates with my significant other and my kids
- I fear not showing up at work will result in turmoil there
- I know my business could run without me but I still can’t take a vacation
- I’m gaining weight, feeling anxious and can’t seem to get in control
- I am quick to anger
- I’m drinking more than I used to
- My conversation is solely about work
- I have regular nightmares about work
Take time to unwind and reconnect with those outside of work each day. This could help you gain perspective and improve your work and may also lower your stress level. As an employee, this may sound easy. But for the sole proprietor or the CEO’s it may be a monumental challenge.
It’s impossible to avoid stress altogether, in fact, some stress can help us rise to our best. Our challenge is to monitor our stress levels and seek feedback on our behavioral response. We can then use this information to attempt to adjust our habits. Many times we can make minor schedule changes coupled with changing our knee-jerk response to ‘constantly working’ that could improve our personal well-being.
A good coach, friend or significant other can help give you perspective on if you’re managing your time well. Once you gain control of your work habits, you may then be able to say, “you own your business, not your business owns you”!