Sobering Up the Workaholic
Hard charging executive leaders focus all of their energies on work. Ambitious corporate ladder climbers feel pressured to mimic the day-and-night work habits of their bosses. The instantaneous nature of today’s organizational communications, the ubiquity of company provided Smartphones, laptops and tablets reinforce that down time at night or on the weekend can, in fact, be work time.
Seven day a week email is now the norm. I have written in this space previously about meetings at all hours of the day and night and the s0-called 25 hour day.
Where does it end? As Stephen Covey has said that noe one lying on their death bed has ever said, “Gee, I wish I’d spent more time at work”.
And now there’s evidence that working long hours can take a toll on your health. A recent study by the University College London in the UK shows that working in excess of 11 hours a day can double your risk of developing depression and heart disease. Long hours means less sleep, less time for exercise or time with your family. Yes, your job can kill you.
So, what can you do? Here are some ideas:
Establish clear boundaries around your work day. Block and protect time in your calendar for time to slow down the pace, take control of your calendar (to reduce stress) and take a pause between meetings to re-energize and prepare. Find a meaningful balance to your work hours. Hanging around for another hour to get that last little thing finished simply lessens your time to do something productive or rewarding outside of work.
Demonstrate leadership over your life. Define your priorities: what matters most to you, your family and friends. Once those priorities are identified, write them down, review them regularly and stick to them. In fact, it’s accepted now that you cannot lead others until you can lead yourself.
Plan Down Time
Don’t eat at your desk. Instead, find somewhere away from the email, the telephone and the drop-in meetings to enjoy your lunch and clear your mind. This may even involve moving out of the lunchroom (if you can). One employee in our building brings a lawn chair during the summer so she can enjoy her lunch out on the lawn, under a leafy tree.
Go for a walk at lunch time or, better yet, walk to work. Leave a bit earlier, and park your car fifteen minutes from the office. Walk the rest of the way. When the weather gets better, try riding your bike all or part of the way to work.
Reduce the Stress
While controlling your working hours and exercise helps with stress, sometimes we need a little more. I recently attended a presentation on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Based on the underlying principles of meditation, the concept of mindfulness enables you to develop greater awareness on the here and now, focussing on (for example) your breathing. MBSR is being adopted in workplaces throughout the world and there are ample resources online as well. Or, get a stress ball.
Gaining sobriety from workaholism is difficult. We have to overcome how we’ve been socialized, re-examine our definitions of ambition and success and put our work into the proper perspective.
You have nothing to lose except your life.