Being a work superhero can kill you

Being a work superhero can kill you

Someone close to me is working himself to death and he’s not yet 30. We’re talking about regular 19 hour work sessions from 7am to 2am the next morning – not once a week but sometimes two or more times a week with a couple of 6 to 10 hour stints on the weekend.

He’s done it for two years but he’s had enough – his health is suffering, he doesn’t see his friends, and he hardly has a life outside of work.

While he is an extreme example, it illustrates my point that you become a work superhero at your peril.

Working 9am to 1pm

I’ve spent 25 years in the public relations industry. The billable hour is our lifeblood.  It’s relentless – don’t charge hours and it’s plain for everyone to see. I learnt something early on in my career thanks to Jill (fictitious name). Jill was one of the few mums in a big PR firm where I worked and had negotiated to work from 08:00-13:00.  In those days our target was 5 billable hours a day and Jill was one of the most billable people in the firm!

While we were at work sometimes six hours or longer than Jill, she still managed to be a top biller proving that workaholics aren’t heroes, they’re not the ones that save the day, they merely fill it up with other stuff. Jill was the real work hero, she had found an efficient, smart way to get things done in the time she had.

We’ve all seen the opposite, in fact some of you may have even been there before or you’re in it right now. You’ll recognise the symptoms: Staring at one spot on a document for ages, taking on a multitude of tasks with little quality time spent on any, stressed relationships, a warped sense of how important you are, an intense fear of failure, no delegation because “you’re the only one who can do the job”, and the gamut of physical impacts – bald spots, lack of sleep, heart palpitations, cold sweats, an over-reliance on stimulants, and so the list goes on.

Learn to draw the line

It’s time to draw the line. Start by writing down what’s important in your life. Then carve out time to spend on those things. In our ‘busyness’ we forget to focus on what’s important and we all think that saying ‘yes’ to our employers all the time is not only right, but makes us feel important and wanted. I know people who don’t go on leave because they feel this so strongly.

It’s time to get a life.

You set the boundaries

There is a word called ‘No’ and without it you don’t manage your work. Not only does your work start managing you, but you start saying no to the things and people that matter most.

Family time is very important to me. I make time for them which means leaving the office at a decent hour – if urgent, I can work from home after we’ve sat down and had a good family chat over dinner. I make time to go to important milestones such as school events, presentations, and parent-teacher talks.  Last week my daughter started university. I caught the train to the city and walked to the university bus stop with her to make sure she had the right one. Once we had confirmed this, we went across the road for a quick coffee. I was an hour late for work but we’ll both remember that day.

The key is to set clear boundaries make them known and then live by them… but you also need to be flexible.

There’s no work life balance only integration

I love going to my son’s cricket. A few weekends ago I had some client work to do over the weekend so I took my laptop to the cricket and for the hour and a half before the game I sat in the car and did it. That’s the integration of work and my life outside work – work life balance is not a balancing act – rather it is an integration of the two and not letting work dominate the other.

Of course there have been times I have had to work late, miss a school function and the like, but these are few and far between.

It’s time to re-evaluate your work hero status and make time for the other important things in your life. Leave work at a decent hour to catch up with friends, sit down around the dinner table with your family and while you’re about it, switch that mobile phone off. Not only will you find it liberating, but more importantly you’ll be present.

More reading:

The most valuable business tip I know
Busy bodies – why is it so important to be busy?
Work-Life. What balance?


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