A Confession From A Workaholic
I have a confession to make: I’m a workaholic.
No, not to the extent where I start to develop clinical signs from work…or that my work life has drastically outweighed my personal life.
But whenever I’m at home, I would rather choose work than anything else.
Am I an addict?
Over time, I observed this pattern happening in my family and friends as well, where I finally realized: this is not okay, but it happens to almost everyone.
I am an undergraduate student who’s entire semester is online this year. “Work” mostly means online work — lectures, readings, assessments, projects, blogging work.
For each day, I would open Notes on my laptop, set up a certain amount of lectures I have to do, readings I have to complete, articles that I aim to write.
Then, with a cup of coffee, I start working.
From 8 am onwards, sometimes until 3, sometimes until 5…nonstop.
In fact, I realize that I barely let myself stop for a minute when I do so.
Despite the unbelievably intense lectures or being occasionally stuck in the middle of my writings, I find myself mentally struggling to leave my laptop and go sit on the sofa for a 15 minutes break.
As if I have strings attached to my laptop, where the page is always directed either to my university website, or a blank writing page.
I just cannot leave it alone for a solid 5 minutes, can I?
I would rather choose to work continually than to waste time ‘taking a break’. After all, why ‘break’ when I can use the time to finish the actual task instead?
With this thought, I tend to force myself to finish everything I had on hand. Despite all the signs my body is giving me — my aching back from sitting too long, my dried and itching eyes from staring at the screen for several hours straight, exhausted brain from all the horse anatomy that I force fed myself with.
Just a few more lecture slides to go over, just a few pages remaining to read, just a conclusion away from finishing, just some more to go…
Aaaaand… Done! Lectures completed, readings for the day completed, a fresh article written, proofread, pitched!
It’s 4 pm, I have completed all the tasks I set for myself.
I remain in front of my laptop.
I feel like an empty void now — nothing
And so I check my calendar to see what lecture is up for tomorrow, I import a new blank writing page, I scroll through other writer’s articles to look for new inspiration.
I open Notes on my laptop again, I delete the completed task, I set new ones again…
Yep… I like to force myself to work until I’m entirely exhausted, where whenever I am unable to keep up to the task, I feel disappointed and frustrated.
Not only at work but in other aspects as well:
- I hate rest days for workouts. I like to force myself to exercise every other day, despite my soaring muscles.
- I hate rest days for rock climbing too; I also like to force myself to climb continuously throughout the week, despite my injured finger joint and hurting ankle.
- I make tight schedules throughout my days where everything fits just right in. One after another, no gaps in between, so I can be fulfilled and productive.
The worst part is that I never see this as a problem — working nonstop.
I thought this is what’s expected from us: productive, motivated, principled; that this is normal and great.
Little did I realized this is not the same as being obsessed with working.
Yet, it isn’t until I observed this pattern on my mom that I realized things shouldn’t be this way.
Sometimes, she would sleep whilst still playing her recorded lessons on her phone right next to her pillow. Sometimes, she would stay up to 3 or 4 am for the night time stock market and then wake up at 8 am for the next day, amid the extreme headache she had been experiencing for the past few days. Sometimes, she would have conference calls for hours continuously whenever she’s free.
She wasn’t able to spot the problem. Perhaps that happened to me too.
Remember to take a break
From time to time, I remind myself that it is okay to occasionally relax and recharge, that day-offs and breaks are good for my mental health.
Though I still find myself struggling to “let go” of my work, I find several methods of doing so.
Do an enjoyable activity after working for one session.
For me, I choose baking as my ‘enjoyable activity’. For each lecture that I finished watching, I will choose a simple easy pastry to bake before the start of my next lecture, or any other task.
Of course, this doesn’t have to be baking. It can be sketching or painting. It can be leisure reading for 10–20 minutes.
The point is I draw my attention away from my laptop, where I won’t just fall back to work whenever possible.
Baking became handy for me because I can’t reach for my laptop when both of my hands are dirty or powdered with flour.
Setting up my working time frame.
Another method that I use to track my work life is to set a period of time for work. And make sure that I don’t work in the exceeding time.
Since most of my work is computer work, I like to use my laptop battery as my benchmark. Whenever my laptop battery falls below 35-40%, I stop working and leave my laptop in my room for charging until it's back to 90%. (It also helps to maintain a longer battery shelf-life.)
Knowing that there is a time limit for me to work, I find this helpful for me to concentrate more, hence being more efficient than dawdling through the entire day. The charging period would be my resting time.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be the ‘battery benchmark’.
You can just time your work using a timer or simply set a target, let's say, “by lunchtime, I have to finish x,y,z.” The main goal is to set a time limit and that working hours don’t exceed that period.
Set an amount of task for your day — But physically write it out, don’t just have it in your mind.
This is one that I often find myself doing.
Despite ending my day feeling accomplished and productive, I often add more additional tasks to my day because “I finished everything by 5 pm and I can still do more”.
As a result, my work is endless and all I ever do is keep working until it's bedtime.
Therefore, one way I use to come around this is to physically write out my list of tasks for the day. Rather than just keeping them in my mind.
As shown above, I’ve written down all the work I set for myself, including those I’ve already completed. On top of that, I have also listed out the activities that I can do for leisure. In this case, I suggested I “bake a coffee and chocolate cake” during my break time between lectures.
By listing everything out, my brain doesn’t have to ‘remember’ or brainstorm my hobbies for break time, where otherwise it would be easy for me to fall back into working nonstop.
Although it sounds silly, physically writing things down visualizes the amount of work that I’ve completed, therefore the feeling of accomplishment. I find this useful in preventing me from adding additional work for the day.
Stop normalizing workaholism!
Despite the mindset that most people have nowadays, being addicted to work should not be normalized.
Unfortunately, it’s not an easy mindset to overcome.
To those who can’t let go of your work for just even a tiny second, to those who are constantly reminded of the report that is due in the next couple of days, to those who work just for the sake of work, remember that taking a break is not wasting your time.
After all, how can you enjoy your life when you never make time for it?
If you enjoy reading this piece, you would also like to consider reading: