Why We Overwork Ourselves and How I Learned to Stop

Ashley Broadwater
Jul 28, 2020 · 6 min read

Realizing I’m an Overworker

It’s the afternoon, and I’ve been writing for hours straight. I’ve written multiple stories, checked emails, researched and more. Despite all I’ve done and some positive feelings about it, I still can’t stop asking myself the question:

Why We Overwork

The urge to overwork is common and understandable with many potential reasons, though.

What Overworking Can Look Like

When I was in college, I felt like I witnessed “Productivity is Pain Olympics” in which it was both cool and normalized to talk about how you were up all night writing a paper or didn’t have time to eat lunch. Many students didn’t go to therapy because they claimed they didn’t have the time, or they had to work side jobs to have the money for it.

What Overworking Looks Like For Me

I definitely identify with a lot of these causes and emotions. As an Enneagram type three, I fully understand what it means to define myself in my work and my success. I fear failure, invalidation, judgment, and inadequacy deeply and am quite the perfectionist. I find my worth in my productivity and my achievements, even though I know that isn’t healthy, sustainable, or realistic.

How I Learned to Stop Overworking

In Psychology Today, Dr. Bryan E. Robinson discussed several helpful tips on handling our “need” to overwork. The following are those tips combined with my own suggestions.

Work mindfully and avoid multitasking.

Focus on the work you’re doing right now rather than stressful future projects or past mistakes. Focus on one project right now without trying to complete too many projects at once. It is possible for goal-setting to hurt us if we set unrealistic goals that require too much of us.

Find balance and self-compassion.

Figure out what’s a healthy work-life balance for you personally and live into that. Be compassionate about what you’re able to do without judging yourself. Be understanding of and loving toward yourself.

Set boundaries and take breaks.

Take breaks consistently in which you engage in relaxing activities. Set boundaries around what you can and are willing to do; don’t work when you need or want to rest. You don’t have to work on the weekends, for example. These breaks and boundaries will help you be more efficient and effective in your work.

Block off time for yourself and your relationships.

Make sure you have plenty of time to focus on your physical and mental health through exercise, therapy and life-giving activities. Make time for hobbies and appointments. Make time to have meaningful quality time with people you care about and who care about you. Give these activities and people your full, undivided attention and care.

Gain insight and don’t be afraid to ask for professional help.

Think about why you feel a need to overwork and how you can fix that. Are you trying to avoid a personal problem in your life? How can you address that problem in a more healthy, happy and helpful way? It’s okay to reach out to a therapist or mentor for this or for any other need you’d like to address. Psychology Today has a database for therapists and other professional help avenues. The Mighty lists some cheaper online options here.

Why Trying to Stop is Important for Our Health

As much as we may know that trying to stop overworking is important for our wellbeing, the temptations to overwork are still there and will probably stay, to some degree. We still have work to get done, money to make to pay the bills and a nagging feeling that we’re lazy or unworthy if we don’t work a full day or more. It’s easy to feel like our overworking is necessary whether or not we like it.

Take Baby Steps if Necessary

All I’m asking from you is this: At the bare minimum, take care of yourself, and do what you can. Be able to recognize signs of overwork and figure out ways you can work on addressing them in personally helpful ways.

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