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Breaking Through Workaholism

10 ways to take back your life from The Man.

Hard work is extolled in our society, and even in the Bible. But it seems we’ve taken this supposed virtue and added globalization, copious amounts of caffeine and unlimited Blackberry/iPhone access to create  a society in which our worth is almost solely defined by what we do. It’s time to take a step back and restore healthy balance to our lives. Here are 10 ways you can get started.

Observe the Sabbath

After God had spent six days creating the earth, He rested on the seventh day and sanctified it. In Exodus 20: 8:10, we’re instructed: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work” (TNIV). This isn’t just a suggestion—Sabbath observance is the fourth of the Ten Commandments. Going to church and then coming home to plug in your laptop so you can work the rest of the day just won’t cut it. If you know there’s a big meeting or a final coming up at the start of the week, push yourself hard on the previous Thursday and Friday. Bottom line: If a day of rest is good enough for God, it’s good enough for you, too.  

Unplug From Technology

Dr. Bryan Robinson, author of Chained to the Desk, calls technology “the opium of our generation,” and few of us can claim we’ve never felt something of a rush when using a tech toy. But just because you’ve got a new, flashy cell phone, Blackberry or iPhone doesn’t mean you have to answer it, even if your company’s paying for it. Weekends and evenings are what the “ringer off” setting is designed for, so use it. You won’t be able to check work email if you don’t plug in your laptop, and let’s be honest: What could have happened at your job that’s so urgent it needs your immediate attention at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night? 

Get a Hobby

Get a gym membership, sign up for a service project or become part of a whitewater rafting club. It doesn’t matter what you do, just commit to any new activity or rediscover an old hobby that requires you to dedicate at least one night a week to it. If you’re worried that you’ll start skipping it so you can work, get involved in a group activity that will depend on your participation or ask someone to keep you accountable. At first you may feel like you’re slacking, but you’ll find life more invigorating, meet new people and have something more to talk about than another oh-so-exciting 70-hour work week.

Set and Enforce Reasonable Boundaries

Trust us, your boss doesn’t work that much overtime, despite what he or she may claim, and your professors didn’t study 24/7 when they were in school. That’s because they learned that to be successful you don’t have to devote every spare minute to work. If you’re toiling far too long each week because of the unrealistic expectations of others, the only one who can change the situation is you. Tell your boss you’ll work as hard as you can during the week and occasionally put in overtime when it’s needed—but that’s it. Be respectful when you do this, and you’ll get respect back. Once the boundary is set, enforce it by not checking or returning voicemails and emails after hours. Your boss and co-workers will soon realize that you’re serious, and as long as you don’t slack when you’re at work, you’ll be in the clear.

Stop Procrastinating

How long do you spend each workday on the Web? If the answer is more than your one-hour lunch break, there’s a problem. It’s all too tempting to write emails, update your MySpace page or check out the latest dumb celebrity video on YouTube, but each trip to your Web browser halts your work momentum. Even responding immediately to colleagues’ voicemails, IMs and emails adds up, eventually creating a mountain between you and what you need to get done before the end of the day. Leaving projects until the last minute can be even worse, as it creates unnecessary pressure and can leave you unprepared for that important presentation to your boss. If you plan ahead, particularly for big projects, and block off time daily during which phone, IM and email are off limits, you’ll have no problem getting tasks finished.

Reassess Your Priorities

You’ll probably claim that your relationships with family, friends and God are more important to you than work, but your daily schedule may tell a different story. To find out if your work habits are detracting from the rest of your life, we’ve devised a simple exercise. Write a list of the five things that are most important to you. Then, each day for a week, log how much time you’re devoting to these activities. At the end of the week, add up the figures. Even for people who don’t struggle with workaholism, work will probably be number one on the list—and that’s OK, but if the things you value most are getting little or none of your time, you’re working too much.

Go to Counseling

If you know you’re struggling with workaholism and just can’t break the cycle of one extreme work week on top of another, you may need professional help. Admitting you have a problem doesn’t mean you’re weak. On the contrary, it shows that you have the strength to change your situation for the better. A counselor can help identify why you feel compelled to work long hours, how your work habits are damaging yourself and those around you and what you can do to free yourself from the shackles of workaholism.

Create a Budget

Debt is one of the main causes of workaholism. Student loans and rent or mortgage payments may be unavoidable, but spending too much on a car, putting every expense on your credit card and even going through the Starbucks drive-through every day can put your finances in a dire state that demands working extra hours to pay for excessive spending. Websites such as Mvelopes.com divide your income between customizable categories such as housing, car, entertainment and tithe to help you manage your finances more responsibly. If you can break the habit of overspending, there will be one less reason to live in the office. 

Get Perspective

Sometimes it’s hard to examine ourselves to find areas of fault or weakness, and denial is one of the key factors that stops people from identifying and then dealing with workaholism. Ask a colleague, family member, friend or someone else you trust to discuss your work habits. Does this person think you spend too much time working? Have there been negative changes in your mood and personality since you started working longer hours? A few minutes of honest dialogue may seem uncomfortable, but it will give you a valuable outside view of your working life that could help you make the first step in overcoming workaholism.

Read The Bible

Several books in the Bible, particularly Proverbs, advocate hard work, calling those who don’t have jobs “sluggards.” However, contrary to what many Christians have come to believe, Scripture does not encourage or exalt extreme work habits. The third of the Ten Commandments says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Too often we let work become a false idol, to which we sacrifice relationships and time with the one true God. Making time to study the Word, to pray and to be in fellowship with other believers helps re-center our focus on the Lord and to put work in its proper place—as an important part of our lives but not the reason to live.

This article originally appeared in RELEVANT magazine.

19 Comments

85,220

statgirl commented…

I used to work for a major corporation that was jam-packed with workaholics. I was friends with a woman (non-Christian) that had worked for the same corporation 15 years earlier, in its heyday, when people were working even longer hours, and she had helped create one of their flagship products that still sells really well, 20 years later. In other words, she was a classic workaholic with a crazy life and tons of responsibility. She told me that one year she made a New Year's Resolution to work only 40 hours/week for the whole year, and she managed to stick to it. She said that not only did her life feel more balanced, but it was also the most productive year of work she'd ever experienced. Restricting her hours in the office helped her to be more efficient with the time she had.

Her story convinced me that when we create balance in our lives, it can actually help teach us to be better workers. I believe the same thing about the Sabbath. If I'm willing to create the discipline to take a day of rest (which, for me, usually means that Saturday is busier, with cooking/cleaning/errands/etc that make it possible to take Sunday off), then the rest of my life, including my work life, will also be more well-lived.

85,220

Name commented…

Did you not realize that there are 2 laws? The 10 Commandments (10 laws) and the Law of Moses (613 laws).

85,220

Jessica commented…

I was talking to a priest one time about this exact thing. He advised me that if the work done on Sunday is to provide for yourself or family and you have no other option - I myself was forced to work on Sunday in the service industry for over a year - then you should take another day of the week to rest. Also, if the work that you do on a Sunday is for the glory of God - in your case, you use technology and work in the church, or if you are cooking a meal for your family - then it is still keeping the Sabbath day holy. We are still called, however, to seek some rest on another day of the week, which is just good practice anyhow.

I agree with you saying that when it comes to not resting, we are so stimulated we seem to forget about the restorative and holy properties of rest.

85,220

Adamiceboat commented…

Quick thought: why do we honor military moms and dads for their choice of career when it takes them away from their families for months at a time yet look down on those called to work as executives in private companies who have to make similar sacrifices - and we call them workaholics?

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career change commented…

I recently came across your site and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice site. I will keep visiting this site very often.

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