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Are you a workaholic?

I’m not sure if I’m a workaholic but there are definitely times when I think I am in danger of becoming one. In this article I would like to talk about workaholics and time management. The two subjects are closely linked but there is, in my eyes, a clear distinction between being a workaholic and managing your time badly.

A workaholic may manage his or her time very efficiently, and be very productive in the workplace, or may manage time badly and achieve very little despite all the effort. Meanwhile, someone with a relaxed attitude to work might equally be a good or a bad time manager.

Being a workaholic is about leading a life in which work seems to take up a very large proportion of your time and energy. If you’re lucky enough to be doing a job you really enjoy, which you would be happy to do just for fun, even if you weren’t paid for it, you may well be quite healthy as a workaholic – although your family and relationships may suffer if you ignore them in favour of working.

Most workaholics are driven not by enjoyment but by more stressful factors such as a fear of failure, or by the need to make money, stay in employment or meet their employer’s demands. Excessive stress leads to unhappiness, depression and physical illness, as well affecting your relationships, so if you feel you’re becoming a workaholic you need to do something about it.

From time to time I have to take a good hard look at my life and decide what’s most important. Work should never be allowed to dominate to such an extent that my family and my health suffer. It’s easier said than done, but I must place limits on the hours I work and try to see things in perspective.

Making sure I take all the available holidays and breaks is part of that, but I find that life looks much better if I actually use my time off to do something enjoyable – rather than just sleeping. There’s a danger that life can become simply a cycle of hard work and sleep, which isn’t a recipe for fulfilment.

In theory, good time management should allow you to achieve more productivity at work in less time – and so free up some time for enjoyment. In practice, if you’re not careful, the time you save by good time management gets spent on doing extra work.

There are various useful techniques for time management, sometimes involving planning your life out in computer programmes. To me, the basic principle is quite simple: you can’t do everything, so you must somehow cut down your workload to fit the available time.

However, it is very difficult to predict how long each job will take, so even your shortened job list might end up being a little too long – and then the jobs at the very bottom of the list will end up not being done. The trick is to ensure that those jobs which remain undone are the right ones.

I classify each job in my list according to importance and urgency. If a job is very important, it needs to be high on the list – even if its deadline is some distance away. If you leave those jobs until close to the deadline, you risk the possibility that some unexpected problem, or some unexpected but important new job, will prevent you from delivering.

Some jobs have urgent deadlines but are not necessarily important. For example, there may be an offer that you can only benefit from if you respond by a particular date. Have a look at it, in relation to all the other jobs on your list, and decide whether it’s really worth jeopardising the delivery of your more important jobs to do that one. What I’m saying is that there’s a difference between urgent and important, and too many people are so concerned about dealing with the ‘urgent’ tasks that they let the more important ones slip.

Look at your work strategically. As well as assessing importance, schedule your jobs – in your diary and year planner – so that you meet the important deadlines. Make sure every job is listed, so you don’t forget it, and make sure you visit that list regularly to make sure you are making progress. Use notes on your wall, or your whiteboard, or on your mobile phone’s organiser, to remind yourself of key tasks that must be done.

One last thing: when creating your prioritised list of jobs and deciding which ones you definitely won’t be doing, make sure you prioritise some jobs that you actually enjoy.