Written by: Emily Wagner

The Neverending Workday, written by Melissa Gregg with Fast Company, does a really great job describing the perfect storm of “white-collar ambition and endurance”. This is an excellent piece that speaks directly to my workaholic heart. The article discusses the links between working and athleticism as a metaphor for the “workers who are fearful of stepping off the treadmill and losing their rank in the company”. And Leslie Perlow expands on this in the article, “If you stop working long hours and always being accessible,” she writes, “others will likely speed past you on the career ladder.” Which is the perfect description of an anxiety I, along with many peers and colleagues, have had since I first started working. I made the connection early on that I would work as hard as it took to build a successful and comfortable career and the first step I knew to take towards that was to never take my foot off the gas.

Why? Because working long hours and being the one to turn the lights off each day is a stamp of hard-work, of accomplishment, and your worth. It is a test for the mentally strong. Condition yourself to the unnatural and unnerving and you will succeed… right?

But years later, nothing has changed. To no one's fault but my own, I have not taken a real vacation where I “shut down” in more years than I can count on one hand because of the risk of falling off the metaphorical treadmill… What would really happen if I shut my computer off before the sun comes down today? Or even more terrifying, what if I go on vacation and am actually unavailable for a period of time? Will we lose that client? Will we miss the email or phone call that will change everything? The likely answer is no. But that doesn’t stop my brain from turning over and over again wondering. And I am not alone in these thoughts as nearly 40% of all American workers over 18 say they work 50+ hours per week. It has been proven in numerous studies and debated about across business sites in great detail, working too much leads to burnout and to a myriad of health problems that will not lead me to being a healthy, more productive employee. Read about the mental and physical risks here in Time Magazine, or here in The Economist, or here in Huffington Post… you get the point. It is really bad for both you and your employers.

The irony of it all is that I sit here at 10pm on a Friday night writing this piece, so I am just as guilty as the best of them. Many of us work in “rollercoaster” industries and have conditioned ourselves to act in haste on the fact that there is always something more that can be done each day. There always will be as this is the controlled variable here. Our behavior and reactions being the independent variable.

So today, I challenge myself and readers to make changes to this mindset and help me follow these 5 commandments to find a more well-rounded, healthily balanced, and still equally successful life:

  1. Stop talking about how busy I am. Not only are we busy, but we talk about being busy, which in turn takes up more time we could be devoting to personal well-being.

  2. Stop comparing my own level of “busy” to those around me. Whether it be my colleagues, my clients, my family or friends, I am so competitive that I compare my “busy-ness” to theirs and somewhere along the line, decided if so and so is still at the office at 7pm, surely I need to be as well.

  3. Stop feeling guilty for deciding when enough is enough and hit pause on the play back reel of “what-ifs”. There hits a point each day where I have hit maximum productivity and I usually recognize this, however it is always the “what-ifs” that keep my treading forward, past the point of getting much done and into blank space. 

  4. Start enjoying the slow downs. As I mentioned above, I often experience big momentum swings of professional high high’s and equally low low’s, shifting from one to the next multiple times in the span of a day even. When busy, which is almost always, I work myself to the bone and burn out every time, but when a goal is met and victory achieved, I never take time to enjoy the moment and rejuvenate my mind. I believe this is critical, not to slack off, but to find peace in the ride and balance the ups and downs.

  5. Start celebrating how much I actually do accomplish each day, week, year. For many years, I have always loved to go back and read my emails sent exactly 1 year ago, 3 years ago, etc. I like to transport myself back to what I was doing during my day then and see how far I have come, but I still don’t celebrate much, or truly enjoy the celebration as I am already thinking of what my next move is. I will stop and smell the roses of each workday a bit more and celebrate the little wins.

I am not talking about accomplishing less, but rather finding a better way to achieve it all. Easier said than done of course, but I am up for the challenge and am ready to report my findings. Stay tuned!