“There is nothing more tragic than a person who achieves wealth, fame, power or prestige only to find he’s lost the love of his family and friends, the respect of his colleagues, and above all has lost the ability to appreciate life for its own sake.”
~ Roger Dawson
The truth is, most companies reward workaholics — promotions, raises, additional responsibility — which can lead to a self-perpetuating cycle: The more success you have, the more you’re drawn to focusing on your career.
You may be your company’s star employee, but as a workaholic, you’ll have little time for family, friends, exercise, or even just small leisurely distractions. The big paychecks, professional prestige, and recognition may make you feel like those long hours, weekends, and holidays spent working are worth it, but do you ever imagine your last words on your deathbed being, “I wish I had spent more time at the office”?
Ten, 15, or 20 years from now, when you’re looking back and taking an inventory of how you spent your waking hours on this earth, don’t let one of your regrets be that you wish you had spent more time living and less time working.
Is there more to my life than work, really?
Not convinced that any of this applies to you? Start with these five sure signs you are a workaholic.
The good news is, even the most hardcore workaholics can start reclaiming their lives just by making small changes that will go a long way toward breaking the compulsive career cycle.
Here are four steps you can take to help you redefine your life as one that belongs to you, not the company you work for.
1. Establish boundaries, shift your priorities, and delegate.
Your first and most important goal: To re-assert your personal life.
This means learning to leave your work at the office, delegating what’s not of the highest importance, and cutting back the time you spend working to 40 hours a week.
It won’t be easy. You’ll feel like you’re slacking at first, like you have to be doing more. So take it slow, and cut back gradually:
If you’re working seven days and 70 hours a week, start by scaling back by one hour a weekday to 65 hours a week. Then work your way down to 60 hours. Then try taking Sundays off completely, and so on, until you’re at 40 hours and you’ve made your weekends your own.
As with any addiction, breaking your dependency on work will go easier if you can distract yourself from thinking about it. So as you cut down on your work hours, reward yourself by spending that extra time doing things you really enjoy.
2. Pay attention to your body.
Workaholism doesn’t just cost you a personal life, it can take a physical toll as well. Stress, fatigue, headaches, and insomnia can be just the beginning.
If you ignore what your body’s telling you as you work yourself into the ground, your symptoms may get worse and could lead to depression, high blood pressure, even a heart attack or stroke. Your work, when you let it run rampant enough, could literally kill you — the Japanese actually have a word for it: kroshi, “death by overwork.”
Make a commitment to stop prioritizing work over your health and well-being: When you’re tired, go to sleep. When you’re run down, take a break. When you get to the point where you’re feeling wrung out, go on vacation.
3. Find balance in your life.
Your mission here is to move from a life that’s work-centric to balanced living, where you allocate time for yourself — social outings, long-forgotten hobbies, even just time to relax — and for those things that matter most, your friends and family.
Start by scheduling your personal time, just as you would work. When you’re completely absorbed by your job, the only way you’re going to be able to kickstart your personal life is by managing it, at first, the same way you manage your work life.
Set aside appointment times in your calendar for movies, dinners, workouts, etc. No matter how small a thing it is, write it in. If one of your goals is to read more, schedule reading time. If you want to sleep an hour more a night, schedule your bedtime, and stick to it.
Eventually, as you force yourself to balance work with a personal life, you’ll be able to find time naturally for your non-work activities without needing to lay them out, hour by hour, in your calendar.
4. Get help if you need it.
Some mental health professionals believe workaholism is an addictive behavior, like compulsive gambling or alcoholism, that requires formal treatment for those who can’t conquer it on their own.
If your addiction to work has spiraled out of the range of your ability to rein it in, your first step is to admit that you have a problem. Your next step is to take action and get the support you need to overcome it.
The Workaholics International Network and Workaholics Anonymous are two good places to start if you need help. Both websites offer extensive resources, articles, and advice. Workaholics Anonymous has a 12-step recovery program and lists W.A. meetings by city and state.
For more information and guidance on overcoming workaholism, try these books:
- The Man Who Mistook His Job for a Life: A Chronic Overachiever Finds the Way Home by Jonathon Lazear (Crown, 2001)
- Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them by Bryan Robinson (New York University Press, 2007)
- Working Ourselves to Death: The High Cost of Workaholism and the Rewards of Recovery, second edition, by Diane Fassel (Backinprint.com, 2000)
- Workaholics: The Respectable Addicts by Barbara Killinger (Firefly Books, 1997)