It is eleven o’clock on a Friday evening, and you have been working now for seventeen hours. Your brain is barely functioning, your fingers keep hitting the wrong keys, and you keep stealing glances at your watch, knowing you’re going to miss the last bus home. But yesterday you got to work slightly late; today you went to your colleague’s leaving do; and you simply cannot justify leaving your desk until everything is finished. The problem is that it never will be: unless your business is truly floundering, there is always something to do.
Many successful businesspeople are chronic workaholics. The drive and enthusiasm they have for sticking at a project until it is absolutely, definitely finished propels them to the top spot and allows them to stay there at least until they are driven out by someone younger, someone more enthusiastic, someone able to work twenty-four hours a day instead of twenty-two. But keeping enthusiasm alive for something when every minute of every day is spent dwelling on it, thinking about it, fretting that it will all go wrong, is difficult to say the least. So how do you know how much is too much? When do you have to work through the night, and when are you just following a pattern that may damage your relationship with your job?
What are you doing?
What is the purpose of you slogging away at your desk? Are you finishing a specific project, or starting a new one? Wading through admin that should have been finished weeks ago? Organising your ideas while they are still fresh, before they slip from your mind and disappear beneath the veil of your exhaustion? There is no point in working unnecessarily: it only serves to create a fractious office environment in which others are left walking on eggshells for the remainder of the week. If you’re just passing time, go home. If you’re doing something that absolutely must be done, do it as efficiently as possible and then get out of the office.
Why are you doing it?
Being honest with yourself is the first step to being who you want to be, no matter which area of life you are trying to improve. Work out your motivations for doing something: are you doing it because you need to, because you want to, or because you’re feeling guilty for things you haven’t done and are trying to overcompensate? Granted, there are times when extra hours are necessary, when a team needs to pull together and everyone needs to put in a little overtime; but if you find yourself trying to compensate for things you haven’t done previously, then those are the ones you need to sort out. Never mind the pile of work in front of you, it’s the things looming up behind you that should catch your attention.
What are you hoping to achieve?
There is little to be gained from working tiredly and hurriedly on a delicate project that needs to be perfect. If this happens, it’s probably time to take a break for a few hours and return when you can think straight. On the other hand, if all you’re doing is catching up on fairly unimportant tasks that don’t capture your full attention, then why are you staying late? Are they really so urgent that you must stay away from your bed until they’re done? Sometimes, of course, there is the presentation that has to be prepared, the final touches that have to be added, the minutes that have to be written up before the weekend; but evaluating what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what you hope to get out of it is a useful thing to do at midnight on a Friday over the tenth coffee of the night.
What do you think? Are you a workaholic? Have you been known to put in overtime where it’s not necessary? Why? I’d love to hear your thoughts.