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Are you in danger of becoming a workaholic?

Are you in danger of becoming a workaholic?

I don’t think that anyone sets out with the intention of becoming a workaholic. Nor does it seem likely that most people allow it to happen willingly. Of course, for some, being a workaholic is seen simply as an unfortunate by-product of being successful and wealthy. Yet, even for them, workaholism is likely to destroy much of the pleasure that their wealth and success brings. After all, if you’re working all the time, you aren’t going to be in any position to make good use of whatever benefits your success has brought you.

It’s important to distinguish between a workaholic and someone who is simply wrapped up in their work—either because they enjoy it so much, or because, for a while, they have decided to make it a priority in order to win a promotion or get the kind of lifestyle that they want. For a workaholic, work is an end in itself. While it may bring wealth or power, what matters most is simply working. Just as an alcoholic drinks because he or she must, not because they enjoy it, so a workaholic is addicted to working—even when there is no rational reason for doing so.

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it’s hard to judge precisely where someone might slip from being hard-working, to become increasingly obsessed with work, to becoming a fully-fledged workaholic. I suspect it happens quite slowly, with no real consciousness on the part of the person involved that some boundary had been crossed between a voluntary immersion in work and a state of addiction.

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Match yourself against these indicators
That’s why I’m offering some indicators of potential workaholism: pointers that might help you notice when you may be getting close to the point where hard work has ceased being a means to an end, and has become an end in itself. None of these actions on their own indicate workaholism. But the more that appear to be present in your life, the more likely it may be that the role of work in your life is getting out of hand.

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  • Workaholics are totally preoccupied with work. It dominates their thinking nearly all the time. They talk about it, even when the subject is inappropriate. They find themselves dwelling on it, when it should be the furthest thing from their minds: when they are supposedly relaxing at home, talking with their family, enjoying a leisurely meal, or making love.
  • Because workaholics devote so much time an attention to work, little or none remains for forming close relationships. Many workaholics are loners; not always because they wish to be, but because they find that their obsession with work wrecks their chances to make good relationships. They work such long hours that they aren’t able to socialize or meet people outside of work. If all of your friends and acquaintances work where you do, or have some other close connection to your job, it’s worth asking yourself why that is.
  • Workaholics either don’t take vacations, or time off when they are sick, or they take their work with them. Going on vacation makes them uncomfortable. They dwell on visions of work piling up. They convince themselves that other people will mess up without them. The most paranoid come to believe that someone will deliberately steal their work, or spoil their projects, if they aren’t there to keep an eye on things. If they do take a vacation, they take along work too, or keep checking back obsessively with their office. The same happens if they are sick. In fact, too avoid taking sick days, many workaholics go into the office, spreading infection all around, or even jeopardize their own health.
  • Workaholics cannot delegate. They are obsessed with staying in direct control of everything linked to their work. They usually justify the amount of time they spend working by convincing themselves that only they can handle whatever it is that they do. If the pressures pile up, they simply work harder or longer hours. the subordinates of workaholics often find themselves virtually redundant, or reduced to the most mundane kinds of work.
  • Workaholics routinely neglect everything else for the sake of their work. Even if they accept that they should be devoting time to other things, they will find some reason to justify not doing so if it would clash with work. The families of workaholics become all too well aware of the countless excuses for missing family occasions, school meetings, birthday parties, or any other activity that might require the person to set aside work for more that a few moments. Many workaholics, like many alcoholics, have a wrecked family life and a history of divorce and broken relationships.
  • If they have to undertake non-work activities, they try to link them to work. Social activities become occasions for work-directed networking. They may seem to be keen golfers, for example, until you discover that they habitually use golfing occasions to conduct business. Every supposed social gathering becomes another opportunity to make new business contacts or try to interest others in something connected with their work.
  • A workaholic’s identity is totally submerged in their work. It’s as if the person is their work, and has no independent existence. This is very close to the truth. For a workaholic, the boundaries between their work and their personality and existence have broken down. Their work not only defines them, they feel that, without it, they would no longer have any existence. Take away their work and there is nothing left. They cannot face the emptiness that would remain, so they rush back to the only thing that offers them security: their work.
  • Many, many workaholics are permanently in denial. Like alcoholics, workaholics often deny their problem. They become extremely clever at hiding the truth from themselves. They think up elaborate justifications and excuses for their lifestyle. They use modern technology to hide their activities from others. Today’s cell phones, laptops, and ease of Internet access mean that the old image of the workaholic as someone sitting at home, or on the beach, surrounded by papers and files is rare. All it takes is a BlackBerry, or one of the new cell-phone PDAs, to have instant access to all the files you might need.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest, and satisfaction to leadership and life. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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