I wrote this blog post for me.
I’ve always been against the corporate grind in my youth. I couldn’t think of a worse torture than sitting behind the high walls of a cube.
Now that’s where I sit ten hours a day during what we call the workweek.
It’s a slippery slope, becoming a workaholic—but I know when it began. First it was putting an extra hour in here and there. Then it was weekly logging in one weekend afternoon before every Saturday and every Sunday was spent toiling away to meet close-to-impossible deadlines—that didn’t even matter because of the vendor.
Why was the vender allowed to slip on due dates, but not me? Because I don’t like to fail, so I made sure it wasn’t me that was the problem in any delay.
Once we hit launch, I should’ve felt excitement, enjoyment, eagerness that we crossed the finish line. But it was momentary relief, like if someone stopped punching me in the face.
And it was momentary.
My workaholism officially set in when a team of ten couldn’t deliver on an assignment, so it fell in my lap. And when it was up to me to get it done and get it done right, that’s when I saw myself change.
Without question, I worked ten-hour days in the office, then another handful of hours at home. I blocked time on the weekends to make some progress—any progress—on a project that took me a year to complete. I checked my email constantly, sunup to sundown, to make sure I didn’t miss any kind of emergency.
I coached myself through every day like a hard run: It sucks but you can breathe through it. Just keep moving forward. Just. Keep. Moving.
But you can only go at this pace for so long before it breaks you, or close to it.
I reached a turning point when I finally finished that big project. Confetti didn’t fall from the ceiling. A flash mob didn’t burst onto the office scene. And when I told everyone that I finished it, no one cared.
I repeat: No one cared.
That’s when I realized that no one cared how many extra hours I worked. No one cared that I stayed late to finish editing an assignment. No one cared that I updated a webpage this evening instead of tomorrow morning. I pushed myself too far and no one cared.
So why did I care so much?
I’ve counted my extra hours starting in January to keep myself in check. But I robotically wrote it down every day without actually seeing it as a number. And when I saw it, really saw it, it shocked me.
As of today, that number is 215.
When I think about what I could’ve done with that extra 215 hours of my life, it sickens me. And I only have myself to blame.
I’m not writing this blog post to receive pity. I write this because I know I’m not alone. I know there are others out there who push themselves too hard for too long until they’re forced to admit they need help.
Is this you? Because it’s me.
Here’s How to Curb Your Workaholic Ways
Admitting you have a problem is an accomplishment in itself. It’s both a humiliating and humbling moment that you confront and experience alone. Many emotions will be felt and you have to open yourself up to feeling them, which will be hard to do because you’ve replaced feeling your feels with working your job.
When you’re ready to make a change—and I mean really ready to make a change—you want actionable steps to move you forward. Here’s how I am approaching my lifestyle change of being a workaholic to being me:
Step One: Take a Day or Two of PTO
Most people advise to take a week off from work, and that is probably what you need. But that cold turkey approach to stop working so much is unrealistic. We both know you’ll just work remotely for hours from your hotel room until you’re back in the office without gaining the rest you needed.
Definitely not speaking from experience. Okay, maybe I am.
When you’re in this deep, you have to ease yourself away from being a numbers-crunching robot into being an actual human being. So only take a day or two off, preferably somewhere that has no Wi-Fi signal. Set up an away message and commit to turning off your phone.
Then reintroduce yourself to you. Because clearly you don’t remember who you are without your career.
Eventually, you’ll graduate to week-long vacations without flinching at the thought of getting behind. But for now, a day or two off will help you gain some perspective.
Step Two: Force Yourself to Leave Work
After the completion of my big yearlong project (and the subsequent breakthrough), I forced myself to come in 30 minutes later to work every day.
I did this by pre-scheduling my alarm clock during times before the reality of the week’s workload set in so that I couldn’t negotiate an earlier rise time.
At first, I found myself waking up early anyways, so I forced myself to do work around the house instead of just going in early. Eventually, I eased into the blessing of an extra 30 minutes of sleep.
This didn’t solve the problem of working late into the evening. And I’m guessing you have problems with this too.
I recommend scheduling important appointments that force you to leave the office. Go see the dentist, get an oil change, stop at the bank. These places have set hours (unlike you and me). If you strive to be punctual like I do, you’ll have a valid reason to end your workday by a reasonable time.
Once you can get in the pattern of leaving at a normal EOD time because of external factors, you can start leaving work for yourself.
I schedule LEAVE on my calendar by 5:15PM. I set reminders every 15 minutes gearing up for the big daily walkout so that I can prevent myself from hitting snooze when 5:15PM rolls around.
I’m now trying for 5PM.
Step Three: Create an Efficient Routine
Here’s some harsh truth: Working longer hours doesn’t make you more successful.
Just look at your colleagues around you. What are they accomplishing? And how long are they in the office?
Respect your time by not going the long way about things. How can you do this task faster? What’s a more efficient way of completing this project? How can you stay organized so that you can act faster days or weeks later?
When you receive an assignment afterhours or on the weekend, evaluate whether or not the task is an emergency. If it’s not, decide how you’ll tackle the task when you’re back at your desk so that you don’t feel the pressure to complete it now and you can be more efficient in completing it.
Step Four: Get a Hobby
If you have a life outside of work, chances are you’ll have an easier time leaving the office at the office. If you’re like me who doesn’t do much outside of my assigned cube, it’s easy to fall into the habits of a workaholic.
That’s because you’re not getting the intellectual stimulation that you receive from your work. If you were, you wouldn’t have a need to bring your work home with you every night.
So find an activity that stimulates your intellect the way your work does. If you’re a socialite, find a club, group or sports league to join that engages in mind-challenging activities. If you prefer decompressing alone, there are plenty of solitaire activities you can discover, from practicing a craft and learning a new language to reading a good book and playing an instrument. Lately I have rediscovered the challenge of completing puzzles.
TV is not a hobby.
Step Five: Say No
We are taught to be yes-people. Yes, I’ll drop everything to get this task done. Yes, I’ll travel to attend this meeting because you don’t want to. Yes, my team will take on this project even though it has nothing to do with our team does.
See how ridiculous saying yes can be?
I’m not saying you should turn everything down. I’m saying you need to be more strategic with your yeses.
Many of us became workaholics because we’re afraid of saying no. What if I get in trouble or lose my job because I say no? What if they don’t like me because I say no?
And what happens when you don’t say no? You read a blog post like this because you let it get out of control.
When you receive a request or a project, really assess it. Is it the best solution? Does this request follow best practices? Does it meet your team’s purpose? Does it fall in line with the brand’s values or your target audience’s needs? Should it really carried out by you and your team?
If the request or project goes against any of the above, it’s time to have a conversation. It’s a better use of company resources—and your own time—to plan projects and tasks out strategically, not act on them blindly.
The world will not crumble when you say no. Prevent falling back into workaholic tendencies by being the visionary for yourself and your team.
TL;DR: Grow a spine.
But Does This Really Work?
Only if you’re ready. If you can’t let go of the long workdays and non-existent weekends, then this guide to end your workaholism won’t help you.
These steps are what helped me work through my workaholic habits. If this plan doesn’t jive with you, but you want to make a change, you can read another blog post filled with suggestions. What’s important is that you’re ready to change and you’re seeking out solutions, whether it’s here or elsewhere.
If you’re reading this blog post on its published date, I want you to know that I’m currently spending the day with my sister riding roller coasters at Cedar Point. I don’t have my work phone on me and I’m enjoying my day without Wi-Fi. The work is inevitably piling up and I’ll tackle the to-do list upon my return.
So if you ask me, I think this workaholics guide is a step in the right direction, even if it’s not your first step. I hope one day you’re ready to take that first step, wherever it leads you.