Workaholism vs. Passion vs. Boredom (How to Get Ahead Without Burning Out)
“A workaholic is a person who works compulsively. While the term generally implies that the person enjoys their work, it can also alternately imply that they simply feel compelled to do it.”
“Passion (from the Greek verb πασχω meaning to suffer) is a very strong feeling about a person or thing. Passion is an intense emotion, a compelling enthusiasm or desire for something.”
“The state of being weary and restless through lack of interest”
Workaholism works (at least short-term)
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about our modern-day work culture and how there seems to be a trichotomy between what it means to be productive/successful/happy.
On one side of the spectrum you have the people that get ahead by working long hours. By hustling.
On the other side you have many people that only work 4-6 hours per day and are more productive and happier than they’ve ever been.
For a long time I was on the side of working harder.
I thought that with hard work and hustle I could (one day) accomplish my dreams. That if I just sacrifice a bit more time today, I’ll be able to make more time for things that really matter tomorrow. That I’ll be happy with just one more raise, one more promotion, or one more opportunity.
After more than five years of blindly following the hustle and the call of something greater, I realized something.
It works. Sort of…
I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t put in the consistent 60–70 hour work weeks. If I hadn’t spent all of those nights and weekends connecting, experimenting, learning, engaging.
My path in marketing over the last five years is a direct result of the extra time spent on learning and doing as much as I possibly could. In other words, it’s a direct result of my compulsive habit of working.
And when I finally got to where I imagined I’d be? I only wanted more.
It’s workaholism because no matter what or how much I did it was never enough. That post or video reached a million people? Great, let’s create something better next time. Each success led to a deeper desire to work more. Sitting in front of my computer and producing more became compulsive.
Then it came. Burnout.
Burnout is a tough feeling to describe. It’s a “crafty and nefarious opponent.” Sneaking up on you slowly until one day, without warning, you’re tired. Not thinking clearly. You have this feeling like no matter how much you do, you’re not doing enough.
And often times after burnout you find yourself overcompensating in the opposite direction to make up for lost time. You want to do pretty much anything but work. Your mind constantly wanders looking for distractions to keep you away from important tasks.
Our internal ambitions, our jobs, our managers, and the modern culture in which we live will push us to our limits if we don’t set boundaries for ourselves.
That’s where I hope to help.
The Modern-Day Work Matrix
No matter where you are in your career or how you’re feeling, there’s a way back to sanity and happiness.
After countless conversations with teammates and chats with friends and family who were feeling a lot of the same things, I put together a “Modern-Day Work Matrix” to help folks visualize what they’re going through.
The four quadrants explained
Passion (I): Ideally, we’d all be somewhere in the upper-right quadrant of the matrix — “Passion”. Passion is where true productivity, happiness, and fulfillment thrive. Where people feel a sense of meaning and contribution in their careers.
Typical 9–5 (II): I struggled to come up with a label for this quadrant because I didn’t want it to come with a negative connotation. I landed on “Typical 9–5.”
As with (I) this is also a wonderful quadrant to be in because people are generally satisfied with their careers. They feel a sense of pride in their work and have a connection with the company and colleagues.
However, there can be a lack of a deep sense of passion for the work or the company. This makes it easy to leave the position in search of a new calling.
Boredom (III): “Boredom,” is a tricky place for people to be in as there can be a variety of contributing factors. Factors such as a lack of challenging projects, mastery of a skill, little-to-no opportunities for growth within the company, misalignment in company vision, etc.
Boredom is one of the main reasons that good employees leave companies in search for new opportunities. It’s a natural evolution.
Workaholism (IV): “Workaholism” is the most challenging quadrant of all four. There’s an incredibly fine line between working hard and burnout. When mixed with Passion (I) workaholism can begin to seem like a necessity to accomplish one’s goals, dreams, and ambitions.
The matrix is fluid (and that’s a good thing)
If you’re bored at work that doesn’t mean you can’t change your circumstances.
Your passion today may change tomorrow to something different tomorrow.
Your typical 9–5 may slowly transition to boredom, or better yet, into your passion.
If you’re struggling as a workaholic you have the power to make changes that dramatically improve your quality of life.
Bottom line: The matrix is fluid and will constantly evolve based on both internal and external factors. The internal factors are completely within your control.
Prioritization is crucial
“Focus is really about aligning with your purpose — whether it be your purpose on a specific project or your higher purpose in life.” — Fidji Simo (Facebook)
One of the reasons that I found myself in the workaholism quadrant was because I wanted to do everything.
I attempted (unsuccessfully) to do the work of 3 marketers at once — all while keeping up with my own brand and personal life.
Part of it was because I was learning and felt like I had to do double the work just to keep up with more veteran marketers. Part of it was because I’m a fierce competitor and couldn’t stand not knowing how to do something.
I never thought about prioritization. Ever.
If I spent too much time doing one thing I’d spend extra hours in the evening catching up. That led to a lot of late nights.
It wasn’t until I started prioritizing the most important tasks throughout the day that I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.
Focusing solely on the things that need to get done and the things that have the biggest impact on overall results is how I started to move out of quadrant IV and back into I.
Here’s how you can do the same.
How to effectively prioritize
- Plan your day/week ahead
A day or week without a map tends to lead to more anxiety and less productivity. Keep a list of everything you want to accomplish during the week and stick to it — no matter what. I use Dropbox Paper & Trello to keep track of everything.
- Drop tasks that don’t make a big impact
It’s easy to feel like everything we do at work is critical. It’s human nature! It took an honest conversation with myself to realize that some of the things I was doing on a daily basis weren’t making a significant impact. I dropped the low-impact tasks, began to focus on only quality work, and have felt my productivity and happiness increase ever since.
- Break up your day into productive chunks
We all have our sweet spots throughout the day when we’re super productive and focused. Mine are between 9–11am and 2–4pm. That’s when I do my most creative work. I save the rest of the time for less creative work like answering emails, responding to our community, catching up on company communications, etc. Find your sweet spots and make sure you make time to get some exceptional work done every single day.
- Set boundaries and stick to them
One of the hardest things to do when you’re working long hours is to set boundaries for yourself. It takes a ton of patience and self-control not to check email or finish up some loose ends from the day. But making a promise to yourself (or, even better, an accountability buddy) to end work at a certain time every day does wonders for your mental state.
- Come to terms with letting go
We’d all love to be everything to everybody all of the time. The reality is we’re human and doing so would require an incredible amount of bandwidth. It’s alright to let a few unimportant emails go. You’re allowed to skip out on a happy hour or two (or three). Letting go of the unimportant is a key piece in effective prioritization.
Where to go from here
Working hard and workaholism are not the same.
If you feel yourself slipping into burnout or if you’re already there, it’s not too late.
Now is the perfect time to examine your day in total honesty.
Identify top priorities and focus on those. Drop the tasks that aren’t making an impact. Break up your day into productive chunks. Set boundaries. And come to terms with letting go.
Thanks for reading — As always, I appreciate your claps, comments, thoughts, critiques, and shares! The more the merrier as I always say 😊👏
Note: If you enjoyed this article, you’ll also love this post from Mikael Cho — Can you make every day feel like Saturday?