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Summertime: Rehab Time for Workaholics

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Summertime: Rehab Time for Workaholics

How to use a vacation to conquer work addiction
beach view

    Workaholism is as much an addiction as those to drugs, tobacco or alcohol. Those who suffer from it crave the constant ‘highs’ they get from throwing themselves into work’s deadlines, problems and constant hustle and bustle. Even those near-impossible targets and deadlines can provide an adrenaline rush. Staring into the abyss of an empty order-book or hurling yourself headlong into the race to chalk up still more quarterly profits has something about it akin to extreme sports like bungee-jumping or free-fall parachuting.

    To many people, work seems so much more exciting than the rest of their life. Once hooked on the ceaseless crises and challenges, they can’t let go.

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    Going ‘cold turkey’

    Nearly all addicts face withdrawal symptoms when they try to break free and workaholism is no exception. Recovering addicts are likely to feel unfocused, aimless, tense and irritable. They suffer anxiety (“I ought to be doing something“) and fear (“What’s going on that I don’t know about? Who’s plotting to mess me about some way?”). If they’re in the office, the temptation to fall ‘off the wagon’ and get back into their old ways can be overwhelming.

    That’s why a vacation is a good time to cope with post-workaholic stress disorder (PWSD). Aside from the initial period of cold turkey, the state of nervousness that hangs around is easier to deal with if you aren’t in a place where you can start checking up again. That’s why some high-end resorts now offer to lock away guests’ computers, CrackBerry’s, cellphones and PDAs so it’s almost impossible to slip back into staying in 24-hour contact “just in case.”

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    Designing a vacation to deal with PWSD

    Taking the kind of vacation you’ve always taken — assuming you’re not such a hopeless workaholic that you can’t remember what that’s like — won’t do for this purpose. A PWSD cure needs careful planning in advance and some tough decisions to take your medicine and stick with it long enough to see results. You may need to enlist the help of your nearest and dearest along the way. They’ll probably be willing to assist since, in my experience, they are usually the ones whom you have made to suffer worst during your years as a workaholic.

    Here are the steps you will need:

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    • Take a long enough vacation to allow the cure to work. Three weeks is ideal, two weeks is reasonable, 10 days is the minimum useful period.
    • Go right away — a long way away — so you can’t be called back in anything but the most dire emergency.
    • Contract with someone else (that nearest and dearest person would be ideal) to take charge of all means of contact with your office and deny you access. Tell them also to keep you away from telephones, Internet cafés, and any other ways of getting in touch with your place of work.
    • Before you leave, tell everyone at work that you are going to a place so remote that contact will be impossible. Give an emergency contact number to only one person and threaten to erase all their hard drives and backups when you return if they give it to anyone else.
    • During your vacation impose a total media blackout. No news, no papers, nothing.
    • Select a vacation that includes plenty of activities. It’s best if these are either compulsory or you have paid for them in advance, so you’ll be unwilling to waste your money by not taking part. A beach holiday should be avoided at all costs. The abrupt transition between the continual, hectic activity at work and hours with nothing particular to do will be too much. I used to take group birding tours. You had to go along, because everyone expected it (and you rarely stayed two consecutive nights anywhere, so they couldn’t leave you behind) and you were out looking for birds from before dawn until the sun went down, every day.
    • Act like a recovering alcoholic, for whom a single drink will start it all over again. Don’t check in with your workplace even once. That will send you right back to being addicted. The rule is not a single call, e-mail, or internet connection. Not one.

    Just in case you think this all sounds too extreme and “one little drink — I mean phone call — can’t hurt,” Air New Zealand found that staff who took a total-break vacation showed an 82% improvement in performance on their return. What else can do that?

    Besides, you owe it to yourself to break your addiction, whether it’s strong or mild. Workaholism lowers energy and resilience, undermines your health, wrecks relationships, inflicts needless pain on others and destroys your judgment. The effects can be on a par with drink and drugs. It’s high time organizations took it as seriously and made it either an offense meriting discipline or a condition for which treatment is compulsory.

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    Make this year’s vacation the one where you finally free yourself to live a normal, healthy life.

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    Last Updated on October 21, 2021

    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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