CAT | Workaholism
I hope it’s not a big surprise that too much work is bad for you. I know I harp on it all the time, but there’s plenty of research to back it up.
I recently came across a great article by Nancy Shute on the effect of long hours on depression. See http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0030719. The key finding is pretty stark: “People who worked 11 hours a day or more, more than doubled their risk of major depression compared with colleagues putting in eight hours a day.”
That’s only three hours a day – and it doubles your chance of depression. The interesting thing about this research is that they found results across all socio-economic classes. So those white-collar executives who get a flat salary and put in super-long hours are NOT immune from the effects of long hours.
Those extra hours – about three a day – have to come from somewhere. Do they come from family time? Sleep? Relaxation? You need all of these.
We can all put up with on super-long day and bounce back. It’s the constant, non-stop long days that can literally kill you. People who work long hours non-stop are obviously more sleep-deprived, have a higher risk of heart disease, and reduced cognitive function. All in all, long hours can kill you.
At a minimum, it can make you miserable and depressed.
Depression is extremely serious and should not be dismissed as temporary sadness. Depression can affect everything in your life – and in the lives of the people you love.
You Can Also Work Too Little
Sometimes people hear the phrase “Relax Focus Succeed” and think I am advocating sitting on the couch all day doing nothing. I am absolutely NOT recommending that. People need work. We need to feel worthwhile, and that we contribute something to society.
We are now well into the fourth year of this recession and unemployment for some people has been dragging on a long time. And with that unemployment is a dramatic increase in depression. See http://www.livescience.com/13710-unemployment-depression-identity-job-search.html and http://www.livescience.com/13496-unemployment-stress-job.html.
Whether it’s you or your spouse, lack of work puts a huge strain on people. And that leads to all kinds of health problems.
I’m not sure what makes human beings different from all other animals. We get to choose what we do every day. You might think we’d choose to sit by a calm lake and fish all day, every day. But that’s not the case.
As social beings, we need to feel that we’re part of society and that we contribute our share. Yes there are exceptions. But let’s discuss things from the rule and not the exception. Overwhelmingly, people like to have a job, go do something at a “place of work,” and have a life outside the house. It’s normal and natural.
It’s a slightly different subject, but many people love their jobs so much that they can’t see how they are hurting themselves and their relationships by working too much. So they work and work and work.
So, whether the boss forces you to work long hours, or your choose to do it yourself, it’s still bad for you!
And working too little is bad for you.
Both lead to depression and imbalance in our lives. Sometimes we can control that imbalance and sometimes we can’t. But in either case, we can take action to improve our perspective on things. We can stop each day and re-focus ourselves. Trust me, I know how hard it is to get out of a depression funk. And I know how it feels to believe you have to work non-stop.
The goal is balance. Somewhere in the middle of all this perspective and balance. But balance never just happens: We need to work on it regularly if we value it and desire it.
Begin today. It’s never too late.
I’m a big advocate of balance. In work and play and everything else. Ironically enough, you have to WORK at balance: It simply won’t happen by itself.
Part of balance means saying no. Make that “NO!”
Business owners tend to be doers and joiners. When someone drops a request on our laps, we tend to say yes. Whether its a client, a service organization, a church, or even our own business. When the world puts an abandoned puppy on our porch, we take it in.
But we all know that we have a tendency to do too much. We find ourselves on committees and members of clubs, starting new ventures, and joining others. At some point, we simply can’t live up to all of our commitments.
January’s gone and February is upon us! If you haven’t complete a beginning-of-the-year review of your commitments, there’s still time. Just ask yourself whether you might be over-extended.
When you’re over-extended, several things are wrong:
- You’re not living up to your commitments.
- Others are relying on you and you think you might be letting them down.
- Your business may be suffering due to inattention — or attention to the wrong things.
- You feel stress because you “can’t do it all.”
In the big picture, you’re spending time doing the wrong things. You’re energy is bound up trying to figure out what you should be doing — instead of doing something (anything) fruitful!
So why don’t we stop? Why don’t we drop some of these activities? The two primary reasons are guilt and habit.
Horace Mann said “Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it each day, and at last we cannot break it.”
There’s very little we can do about our habits except to commit ourselves to change. Once committed, we must unravel our existing cable one thread at a time and begin weaving another to take its place.
Guilt is another matter.
Perhaps the best way to deal with guilt is to get some perspective.
Ask yourself: are you really obligated to [this cause/this committee/this organization/etc] simply because you have participated in the past? Probably not. So why do you participate?
Legitimate Reasons to Continue:
- I find it personally fulfilling
- I need a change from the other activities in my life
- I enjoy the people/the project/etc.
- It makes me feel good/important
- It helps me in my business
- People express gratitude for what I do. I’m not taken for granted.
- It makes me happy
- It contributes to my physical or mental health
- It is profitable!
Poor Excuses to Continue:
- Other people expect me to be there
- If I don’t do it, who will?
- I made a commitment at some point
- I started this and now a lot of people are expecting it
- If I quit, I’ll feel like a loser
Notice I added an extra line there?
Above the line are legitimate reasons to continue. Below the line are poor excuses to continue. Most of them involve you believing that the stuff won’t get done without you. Sorry to tell you this, but you’re wrong.
Some time ago I took on the job of program chairman for an organization because the president was over-worked and needed help. Two years later I found that I had taken on too many “outside” activities and needed to cut back. I felt that this one thing needed to be done by me because no one else would step forward.
Then I realized that was stupid. After all, the group existed for many years before I joined and has many members. Any group that relies solely on my participation for it’s existence has a pretty weak foundation.
Some people go through this filtering process once a year. Some more frequently. In January a gave up a number of projects and commitments that just we’re working anymore. Part of me wants to feel guilty about that.
But I know that achieving balance means taking stock from time to time and deciding where to spend my energies. It is not selfish to take care of yourself. It is arrogant and selfish to think that communities, organizations, and projects can’t survive without you.
When you re-evaluate and re-organize your commitments, you’ll end up with more energy to dedicate to the remaining activities. You’re time and talents will be more keenly focused and your contribution will be more meaningful.
So do yourself a favor: Re-evaluate your commitments. Put it all in perspective.
And have a happier, healthier, more balanced year!
As we prepare for the Christmas vacation in the U.S., my mind wanders to vacations and family gatherings. These are sometimes combined and often separated.
I remembered, as a kid, that traveling to see cousins in another city was just was much fun as driving to see a national park or an old fort. For us these were both chances to go somewhere and do something.
Vacations are opportunities to “get away” and relax. Don’t work. Don’t worry. Just enjoy life.
We all know that we need to do these things to maintain balance. But somehow we feel guilty.
In these days of technology, it is easy to stay in touch with work, keep up on email, and never actually escape while we’re on vacation. Should you feel good about combining work and rest, or should you feel guilty? I, for one, feel very good about it.
I’ve worked very hard to combine my vacation time and work time. For about fifteen years now, I have been traveling a lot. Sometimes as few as five business trips a year. Sometimes ten, fifteen, or even twenty. As a way to create a little balance, I started added days to the beginning and end of my business trips.
So, for example, I travel to the business city a day or two early. Then I have my meeting. I might travel back right away or add another vacation day at the end of the trip. When I’m going from city to city, I might add vacation days in either city, or even in the layover city.
In this way, I accomplish three things. First, I never have a quick fly-in and fly-out that’s 100% business. Second, I always have a more relaxed business trip. I get to take vacation days. I get to visit friends. I get to actually SEE the cities I visit. And, third, I get to have some very relaxed time to catch up on reading, playing, and putting my toes onto sandy beaches.
Don’t get me wrong. I occasionally take a good five day vacation all at once with no business. But I don’t feel like I’ve taken less of a vacation if I take five days off between two business cities.
For example, 2011 started out with me on a plane at 6:30 AM on January 3rd. I went to Charlotte, NC and spent the next day with a friend, visiting sites and wandering into South Carolina for BBQ. Then I had my business meeting. The next day, I flew to Ft. Lauderdale, FL. There, I hung out on the beach, visited friends, sat on the beach, wrote poetry, and had a BLAST for five days.
On one of those evenings, I attended a business meeting.
Then I hopped on an airplane and flew to Portland, OR. Almost as far as you can go from one end of the contiguous United States to the other. I did another show and then headed home. I landed back in Sacramento on January 12th. In all I had eleven travel days. And while I had plenty of time meeting with friends and relaxing, I had exactly four true “business” meetings. The rest was travel time and relaxation time.
That wasn’t the norm for the year, but it was sure a great way to start the year!
In all, over the last twelve months, I’ve made 18 trips to various cities. I had a total of 76 travel days and 48 days of vacation. By vacation I mean a whole day off work with no business meeting scheduled.
I’ve seen New York City at Christmas Time. I’ve been to Atlantic ocean beaches on three different vacations, and Pacific ocean beaches on three different vacations. Somewhere in the middle I’ve visited half a dozen lakes. I’ve gone on boat cruises, fishing trips, and family get-togethers.
So, for me, the question of whether I should feel guilty is very simple. I do not feel guilty about checking my email between bar hops in Vegas or after spending the day hiking around Lake Tahoe. Email helps me feel confident that the world keeps spinning and that my businesses are going along fine without me.
It’s not cheating to check in and make sure things are fine.
Stopping the vacation to deal with a problem is different. If you do that, you can’t count it as a vacation day. But you have to keep it in perspective. That job that wants to invade your holiday is probably the same job that makes the vacation possible in the first place. Respect it, but keep it in its place.
Many people are taking off the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. For many of us, taking off all that time is nerve-wracking. So don’t feel bad about checking email and tuning in to work once in awhile. The key is balance. Are you on vacation with an occasional email check? If that balance works for you, don’t feel guilty about it!
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year to all!
President Obama just completed a ten day vacation with all the media speculation and nit-picking that goes with any Presidential activity.
I know the media have to fill web sites, radios news shows, TV news hours, and newspaper pages . . . But sometimes they cover things just because they have nothing else to do.
Presidents have to constantly look like they’re working all the time for a number of reasons. First, we have a culture that expect important and successful people to work all the time. Second, of course, our nation has a lot of problems and we want our president to be working on them!
At the same time, we all know that it’s critically important to take time off, to recharge our batteries, and to enjoy ourselves.
My guess is that the President’s Day Off involves at least four hours of meetings and work. And, truth be told, the personality of someone who manages to become President is such that four hours of work per day feel LAZY! So for that personality type, four hours a day is a real nice, relaxing mix.
But the President is no different from the rest of us when it comes to relaxing: Sometimes you have to force yourself to STOP working. Sometimes you have to work on your hobby, sneek a few hours with a good book, or wear yourself out with some outdoor activities.
I don’t want a world leader who can’t relax, recharge the batteries, and take a fresh look at the problems of this country or the world!
In January I heard a lengthy radio discussion about Mr. Obama taking four weeks vacation in 2009. My first reaction was thank goodness! I don’t want stressed out, overwhelmed president with his finger on the button!
But let’s turn the conversation around. When was the last time YOU took a vacation? How many days or weeks did you really relax in the last year?
If the President of The United States can do it, then you can certainly find time to do it as well. You don’t have to have a stress-filled tour vacation: Just a few days off here and there. Relax. Enjoy your life. Take time for you.
When I travel (sometimes I travel a lot), I always try to add one or two days to the trip. I want to get there a day early and see the sights. And sometimes I go somewhere on the way to my final destination. These might not be your classic vacation, but so far this year I’ve spent “extra” days in Las Vegas (twice), Nashville, Columbus, Oh, New York, Orlando, New Orleans (twice), Reno, San Francisco, Portland, and Chicago. That’s about 25 days total (through August).
Plus I’ve plenty of things around my home area of Northern California.
For me, it is more relaxing to not take a big long vacation and do it all at once. But I build mini-vacations into my work life and personal life style.
It keeps me sane and helps me focus!
There are two primary ways of looking at your life. Actually, either you look at your life or you don’t look at your life. Everyone does each of these some time. A few people examine their lives all the time. A few people never examine their lives.
But almost all of us are in the middle. We spend most of our time only thinking about our lives a little bit. Then from time to time we go through a stage of thinking about our lives obsessively. In other words, 80% of the time we think about our lives 20% of the time. And 20% of the time we think about our lives 80% of the time.
I have had two incidents recently that brought this into focus for me.
First, I have a great life coach named Jenifer Landers (see Fully Expressed Coaching). One of her constant themes is to leave an opening for something to happen. Leave an opening for someone to enter your life. Leave an opening for good things to occur. Leave an opening, leave an opening, leave an opening.
Then I hired two people in my business who have the profiles of really great leaders. And it didn’t take long before they were volunteering to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I heard lines like “Well, I can do that tonight. I have time available between 11 o’clock and midnight.”
The first thought that pops into my mind is . . . If you don’t leave an opening in your life for a personal life to show up, then it never will.
There is an assumption among many people that your personal life is the time that is left over after all the business and commitments are taken care of. But if you really want to have a personal life, you need to set aside time for it to happen. Whether it’s playing a sport, collecting something, or going out into the woods to have a good time, you need to put it on your schedule!
There are certain things in this world that expand to take up all the space available. Work can be like that if you don’t set boundaries around it. I try to leave work at 5:00 PM every day. I’m rarely there at 5:30. There is enough work to do. I could stay until midnight every night, work seven days a week, and never catch up.
And what would be the point of that? What would I have at the end of every day except another day just like the one completed? When I hear people say “I have no personal life” all I can think of is how they put themselves in that position. If you don’t make time for a personal life it certainly won’t show up on it’s own. Even if you don’t know what to do with yourself, that’s okay. Set aside the time and see what you want to do!
Besides, you’re a much more interesting person when you have more than one dimension.
I agreed to contribute an article to a work on Workaholism some time back. And then I forgot about it.
Well, yesterday I had the pleasant surprise of receiving a copy of the final printed book, Workaholism Perspectives and Experiences from Icfai University Press.
The book is about 190 pages and filled with great essays on Workaholism — Facts, perspectives, and some great tips on making positive changes in your life. I haven’t read most of it yet, but there are some great statistics about the effects of workaholism around the world.
Of course this is a key topic for me (that’s why it’s the topic of the second chapter of my book).
Workaholism can consume your life, your relationships, and your business. Then it affects all the people you live and work with as well as your customers. At the same time, it’s not particularly difficult to overcome. The hardest part about changing a workaholic lifestyle is deciding you want to.
There’s a certain comfort level in working hard all the time: fooling yourself that another hour will make a different; fooling yourself that there are extra rewards; fooling yourself that you’re doing it for the family; fooling yourself that no one can do this but you. Working really hard makes you feel good about yourself.
But some day something dramatic will happen.
And when it does, you’ll be faced with the stark reality that effort above a certain point counts for nothing, that your family values quality time more than an extra box of money, and that lots of people can do the work you feel you have to do.
When that day comes you will be overwhelmed with a sense of loss. Just like losing a loved one, you will have lost a piece of what defines you as a person. You’ll spend time figuring out how “reality” could be so different from what you believed it was. And you’ll work through it.
But working really hard still feels good. So you might cure yourself for awhile, but that doesn’t mean you’re cured forever. Part of it is still baked into who you are. Part of it is pushed on you by society. Part is pushed on you by your job. Etc.
Workaholism is a lot more than a personal choice made by one person who can un-make that choice. It is part of a complex series of structures and relationships that have evolved in modern society.
This book is a great start to recognizing and addressing the issues of workaholism — personally and as an organization. It’s also a good resource for work place counselors and HR pros.
As your bookstore to order ISBN #978-81-314-2469-8.
(Disclaimer: I wasn’t paid for the chapter I contributed to this book and I make no money on sales whatsoever.)