Hi, my name’s Dan Wahlin and I’m a workaholic – I admit it. It’s good from the standpoint that I get a lot done but it also has a lot of cons associated with it as well that I’m not proud of. I literally can’t watch TV without feeling like I should be doing something more productive (although I have no problem going to see movies at a theater or watching sporting events – that’s my escape I guess). On vacation it’s sometimes difficult the first few days to just “let go” of work and enjoy the time with my family. I always feel like I should be checking email and following up with different business projects. Fortunately, my wife knows me really well after 17 years of marriage and “gently” restricts my usage of laptops and other gadgets while we’re out. She also reminds me that constantly burying my face in gadgets just isn’t cool and shows a distinct lack of self control.
On a given day I typically put in between 12 (at a minimum) up to 16-18 hours working on projects. My company does .NET consulting (ASP.NET/jQuery, SharePoint and Silverlight) but we also do a lot in the training space so there’s always a client project, some new courseware or some other deliverable that has to be worked on. My normal process for handling that is to just work my butt off and see how much I can get done. That process has worked well for a long time but when you start realizing that your happiness comes from how much work you accomplished that day then you have a problem. That’s especially true if you have kids (which I do….two awesome boys). It’s almost as if working more hours feels like I’m more successful or something which is of course ridiculous. It may actually mean that I’m too distracted or disorganized.
Lately I’ve realized that while I’m still productive and always meet my deadlines, I’m really burnt out by the afternoon and have lost some of the excitement I used to have. Part of that’s normal I think given that I’ve been doing this for close to 15 years now, but in thinking through it more I realized that I just need to get away from the desk and take a break. By far, the happiest time of my life was my childhood. Part of that was due to having awesome parents, having far less responsibility (a big factor I suspect), being able to hang-out with friends at school, playing sports, games, etc. but I think a big part of the overall happiness came from being outside a lot. I lived on my bike as a little kid and as I grew up I shared time between riding an ATV all over the place, shooting hoops on the basketball court, playing golf and working on a golf course (all outside work of course). Being a software developer and trainer I generally spend 95% or more of my day indoors and only see the sun when driving from place to place or by looking out the window (that’s sad because I live in a suburb of Phoenix, AZ where it’s nearly always sunny). I haven’t looked into any scientific studies on the matter, but I’d be willing to bet there’s a direct correlation between overall productivity/happiness and being outside some throughout the day (sunny or not). But, I wasn’t sure what to do about it since I do have a lot of deadlines I need to meet after all.
While talking with my wife last night I mentioned how I feel like I’m in a rut and want to get the “fun” back that I used to have. She immediately said that I need to start making time for breaks (a real quick fact – she’s a lot smarter than me and nearly always right). Of course my first thought was that I’d be less productive taking breaks. If I spend 2 hours just relaxing then I’m losing 2 hours of work. But, I thought about it more and realized that I’m probably less productive when I work 10+ hours and only take less than 30 minutes for a lunch break to relax a little. I bet my brain is screaming, “Please let me relax a little so I can figure out these problems you’re trying to resolve!”. So, starting today I’m going to try to break the workaholic habit and spend time outside of the office. That could mean sitting around outside, working out, golfing, or whatever. I’ve decided that no gadgets are allowed during that time and that I shouldn’t work for more than 4 hours straight without taking a break.
I have no idea how my little “break the workaholic syndrome” experiment will go or how long it will last, but I’d be very interested in hearing from others on how they keep fresh and focused without working yourself to death. If you have any specific ideas, techniques or practices you follow please share them. There’s a lot more to life than work and some of us (and I’m thinking of myself specifically) need to take a long, hard look at what kind of balance we currently have. I’d hate to look back at my life when I’m 80 years old and say, “The only thing I did was work – I missed out on life!”.