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Workaholics: Wake Up and Schedule the Vacation!

closeup of a young man in bed looking at the smartphone at night

Be honest:  are you addicted to work?  Do you feel guilty when you’re not working? Does it actually seem stressful to take time off or go on vacation? If that thought resonates with you on some level, you might want to think about the consequences.

Without regular blocks of uninterrupted personal time, we eventually pay a big price.

When our brains don’t have time to “refresh,” our productivity and performance levels drop. If we consistently neglect our friends and family, our relationships suffer. And when we don’t carve out time to exercise and take care of our bodies, our health will decline.

Of course, those problems don’t show up immediately. The negative impact creeps in so slowly that we hardly notice. A short burst of overtime might turn into an extended stretch of long hours. Suddenly we’ve created a “new normal,” and it’s a tough habit to break.

Why are we addicted to work?

It’s part of our belief system. Many people have been programmed to think that moving up the corporate ladder is directly linked to a strong work ethic. Get there early, work through lunch, go home late. That helped us get the last promotion, so it must be part of the formula for success, right?  Using that thought process, it’s easy for our self-worth and identity to become tied up with our careers. We have a deeply ingrained belief that work is a serious obligation and commitment. Relaxing? Not so much.

Technology adds fuel to the fire. We all love technology, but it becomes a powerful “enabler” for the workaholics. Long hours at the office bleed into more work at home. Our digital devices make it effortless to take a call from the overseas office at midnight, return a few more emails, and finish up that project at the kitchen table. As valuable as it is, technology further blurs the line between our professional and personal time.

How can you respond?

If you want to kick your work addition, here are five tips to help you recover:

  1. Get clear about prioritizing your projects. Check out Steven Covey’s Time Management Matrix for guidance on classifying tasks as Urgent versus Important. Are you really doing the critical leadership work of planning, strategizing, and building relationships? Or are you constantly reacting to crisis situations which could have been avoided? Sometimes this uncovers our real addiction: the need to be needed. I once gave a client a firefighter’s helmet to remind him that he was spending his days putting out fires instead of preventing them.

  2. Accept the fact that productivity has diminishing returns. Spending more hours at the office is not always the best answer. You’ll be better off getting a good night’s sleep or giving your brain a significant break.

  3. Remember that you are replaceable. Yes, that’s awkward. But it’s true—and actually quite liberating once you accept it. Trust your team. Delegate. Demonstrate your leadership by letting others learn and grow. This step alone could establish you as a ready candidate for advancement.

  4. Block out personal time on your calendar every week. Mark it down just like you would for meetings and events, and make it non-negotiable. Classify that time as a “no-work zone.” This is your opportunity to get reacquainted with your hobbies and passions. Take a class. Try volunteering in your community. Make plans to do something on your Bucket List. You’ll get a new perspective on life—one that is likely to have a positive impact when you return to the office.

  5. Schedule the vacation. Stop procrastinating; just do it. Even if it’s only for a weekend. And wherever you go, make an effort to ditch the digital devices. It’s time for you to experience the beautiful contradiction of “unplugging to recharge.”

Research clearly shows that well-balanced, well-rested employees can get more accomplished in less time.  According to Adele Peters, a staff writer at Fast Company (Co.Exist), more companies in Sweden are now transitioning to six-hour workdays with excellent results. Executives there have found that asking their teams to have greater focus for a shorter amount of time really pays off: employees achieve more business goals and enjoy more personal time with family and friends. Sounds like the ultimate win/win.

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