Workaholic? Or Just Bad At Time Management?

What is a workaholic?

Rushing around. Always doing ten things at once. Working long hours. Taking work home. Late-night emails. Working on the weekends. Never switching off from work.

Always busy, busy, busy with work.

Most people would commonly describe someone exhibiting this type of behaviour as a ‘workaholic’ and this term alludes to the fact that work can become an addiction, just like alcoholism.

But is there a difference between a hard-working employee and a workaholic?

Personally, I have always found that if you refer to someone else as a workaholic it tends to have negative connotations, but when other people refer to themselves as a workaholic, it is done so with a real sense of pride and as a way to express their devotion and passion towards a job.

So, is it a good thing or a bad thing to be a workaholic?

Well, working hard and getting enjoyment from dedicating a lot of your time to your work certainly can’t be a bad thing. I am sure there are a few exceptions, but I can’t think of any field or discipline that requires hard work in order to be successful.

But there is such a thing as working too hard and working compulsively.

And a life dominated by work with no real balance elsewhere is a sure path to stress, poor health and unhappiness.

According to psychologists, although there is no clear consensus on the clinical definition of workaholism, there is such a thing as work addiction.

Feeling guilty and restless when not working, thinking about work all the time and being unable to detach from work at the end of the day are strong signs of workaholism. A workaholic works compulsively.

Work can be an integral part of our identity and how we define ourselves, but we have to be careful that it doesn’t overtake other areas of our lives. After all, to use an analogy, there’s a big difference between an alcoholic and a wine enthusiast.

Professor Cecilie Schou Andreassen, a clinical psychologist from the University of Bergen in Norway and a specialist in the area of workaholism says:

“In the wake of globalisation, new technology and blurred boundaries between work and private life, we are witnessing an increase in work addiction . . . [and] a number of studies show that work addiction has been associated with insomnia, health problems, burnout and stress as well as creating conflict between work and family life.”

Professor Cecilie Schou Andreassen
Are you a workaholic? / Image by Jordan Whitfield

So are you a workaholic?

Many knowledge workers will experience periods where they are required to work for long hours or are more stressed at work due to deadlines and other pressures.

But at what point do short-term workaholic tendencies become a more serious long-term obsession and how do you know?

Professor Andreassen and her team developed an instrument to help measure work addiction named the Bergen Work Addiction Scale.

The Bergen Work Addiction Scale uses seven basic criteria to identify work addiction, where all items are scored on the following scale: (1) Never, (2) Rarely, (3) Sometimes, (4) Often, and (5) Always. The criteria are as follows:

  1. You think of how you can free up more time to work.
  2. You spend much more time working than initially intended.
  3. You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and depression.
  4. You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.
  5. You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
  6. You de-prioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and exercise because of your work.
  7. You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

Andreassen’s study shows that scoring of “often” or “always” on at least four of the seven items may suggest that you are a workaholic. [Source: University of Bergen website]

You may have not quite reached the extreme level of workaholism that would clearly define you as a workaholic by a medical professional, but if you are working long hours and your thoughts are frequently consumed by work, then you have to ask yourself if too much of your life is spent working and whether or not it is due to your own compulsion or whether you’re just working inefficiently.

To my mind, while workaholism may well be a real mental health condition, for many so-called workaholics, I suspect the long hours and the ability to switch off could be simply down to managing time poorly.

There are many signs of poor time management. Check out this post and see if you recognize any of them in yourself.

If you feel that your workaholic tendencies may be down to inefficient use of your time, the good news is there are things you can do to change the situation.

Control your time / Image by fancycrave via Pixabay

How to regain control of your time

Some bosses and work cultures almost expect you to work long hours and essentially give your entire life and soul to the job. If this is the case, it is important to try and set boundaries early.

If you feel you are working too hard, but don’t necessarily feel compelled to work all the time, then these tips are likely to help.

1. Assess how your time is distributed

Auditing exactly how you spend your time each week can be quite revealing.

Most people’s daily activity can put into the following categories:

  • Working
  • Exercising
  • Relaxing
  • Self-development
  • Socializing/Family time
  • Sleeping
  • Eating
  • Personal hygiene/Getting ready
  • Miscellaneous

You can then look at how you are splitting your time at work.

  • What are you actually doing?
  • How much is low-value, shallow work?
  • How much is deep work?
  • Are you spending your time working reactively or proactively?
  • How much time is spent dealing with emails?
  • Etc, etc.

Doing a time audit will help you with this in tandem with an app like RescueTime or Toggl that can monitor the activity on your devices throughout the day.

Check out this post: How To Audit Your Time >>>

2. Plan how you would like to spend your time

Okay, so you’ve now been smacked in the face with the reality of how you actually spend your hours each week in an ideal, but realistic scenario.

It might be that your weekly activity looks something like this.

Weekly activity pie chart / Time Hack Hero

That’s a lot of hours spent working. Now, what are you going to do about it?

How would you like your week to look? Maybe something like this?

Desired weekly activity / Time Hack Hero

Yes, that certainly looks a bit more balanced, but there’s still room for improvement.

If you are a workaholic, you may be thinking that you need to work as many hours as you are working. However, that is probably not the case and with some planning, I am sure you can hugely reduce the time you spend working

3. Implement a plan to do this

Reallocating your time from the way you are using it now to the way you would like to use it takes some planning, but there are various tools and techniques you can use to help you do this.

Try some of these tools and techniques:

Time blocking

A common problem with workaholics is that they multi-task a lot, which studies have demonstrated to be an inefficient way of working.

Time blocking is an effective way to organise your schedule and ensure that you are focusing on one type of task at a time.

To learn how to use time blocking, read this post next.

The Pomodoro Technique

This is a simple technique uses a timer with the objective of maintaining your attention on a task for short bursts with short intervals in between.

Research has shown that frequent short breaks between work can help you recover your attention and focus.

Read the post below to learn more about the Pomodoro Technique.

Check out this post: What Is The Pomodoro Technique? >>>

Saying ‘no’ more often

Workaholics often end up being over-committing because they never push back when work gets loaded on to them. Learning how to say ‘no’ more often will help to reduce the amount of extra work you take on.

This post provides some useful tips on how to say ‘no’.

Setting boundaries

Setting boundaries is a crucial part of time management and one that will help you to be in control of your own time and workload, rather than have someone else dictate it for you.

Check out this post: How To Set Boundaries At Work >>>

Evening routines

Being able to wind down and switch off at the end of a workman day is important for your health and your relationships. In his best-selling book, Deep Work, Cal Newport discusses the importance of a shutdown ritual in the evening to delineate work and free time.

Check out my review of Deep Work in this post.

Workaholics are often guilty of working right through until bedtime.

Establish some routine and rituals in the evening may go some way towards breaking this habit.

Check out this post: Tips For Productive Evening Routines >>>

These a just a few of the techniques you can use to help manage your time and you can find more throughout this blog.

Time Hack Hero Takeaway

Working hard is an admirable trait, but if you are spending nearly all of your time working and you find it difficult to switch off and disconnect at the end of the day, then it is likely that you have workaholic tendencies that are reaching compulsive levels, which can be extremely damaging to your mental and physical health and also your relationships.

Working long hours does not necessarily mean you are working in a smart and efficient way and it is possible that you could be managing your time a lot better.

Using some smart time management strategies can help you take control of your working day and enable you to allocate time to parts of your life that are also important, such as your health, fitness and relationships.

Balance is important and your life is more than just work.

[Featured image credit: Victoria Heath]

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