If you consider yourself to be working too much, it’s likely you have already convinced yourself of the benefits of work – greater focus, progress, enjoyment – but there could be an underlying reason why you feel the need to work compulsively that may be indicative of a problem. It can affect your fulfilment in life, as it did mine. In this blog post I’m going to focus on the drawbacks of the working-too-much mindset.
Oxford dictionary’s definition of a workaholic is ‘A person who compulsively works excessively hard and long hours’. I’m not necessarily talking about being a workaholic, but it can be a useful comparison to make to measure extremity and to test how much you enjoy working. I’m mainly discussing the problems a work-first/working-too-much mindset can cause when you’re self-employed or spend a lot of time indoors. It is in some part tied to the priorities you set in life and where you prefer to put your focus. For me, it was a pattern of thought that kept me reassured and comforted that everything was as it should be and that I was on the road to organisation and progress. As somebody on the autism spectrum who likes repetitive routines and organisation, it could be said I was vulnerable to intense work.
It’s not always easy to pinpoint exactly when working to the extreme is a problem, or to identify when you are working to an extreme, as opposed to doing what you should be doing. In my case, I realised it was a problem when I became aware there were a few things preventing me from moving forward in life, and I was helped around this time by a few individuals who pointed out my tunnel-vision approach to life. The main problem was stagnation and an inability to move forward, but it was accompanied by boredom and a miserable or cynical reaction to anything new or outside my chosen field of work. Where feelings were concerned, I suppose I felt emotional pain that all I had was my work, without having a clue how I could change it. I was less receptive to other people’s ideas, I would block out taking an interest in new things, and I would automate my life by the hour to increase productivity. Where the latter is concerned I seemed to think it was okay to be super organised, like a computer, because I was on the autism spectrum; I didn’t acknowledge that I had a human/non-computer side of me akin to a personality.
To generalise, many who have intense routines discover they can be a trap from which there is no return, short of a breakdown anyway. The ‘compulsive’ element takes over and when faced with situations outside of your routine you’re left with frustration, confusion, stagnation, boredom, and misery. It’s like you’re in a hole twenty-foot deep, and without the tools to get out of it all you can do is vent your emotions when things don’t go according to plan. You’ve left your life behind as you transport yourself into new arenas of work or projects you’re interested in, and you forget what defines you as a person.
When you focus too much on work you leave behind something crucial: that fire inside of you that inspires and guides you to become who you are meant to be. That fire is suppressed by an unnatural will to repeat your routine, focus intensely, and block out any ‘distractions’. The ironic thing is that it’s that fire you need to move forward, like a wheel, towards your future. You can’t always create that fire by trying. Sometimes you just need to take the pressure off, to allow distractions to do their work in giving you a break, and to try something new. For some who ‘become their work’, you forget who you are as a person, which interests drive you, and about the people who matter to you. You’re left with an empty husk, dedicated to self-imposed duty of work and without a guiding light. Nobody should allow themselves to get into this state. It isn’t living …
If you don’t feel well at any point over a period of a few days or a week, then this isn’t a good sign. Over-organising life is a skill minds are quite capable of, with great success in some cases, but it isn’t a template for living. In fact it can be obsessive. When you run a business you and your enjoyment in life are integral to your success. You must come before your business.
What is your experience of working compulsively?