How do I quit being a workaholic

Some time ago I realized that I’m a workaholic. I have to make a few things clear: I don’t feel too much pressure and I do enjoy what I’m doing. No bad feeling about it at all. Furthermore, Buffer, my current employer, is literally the most work-life balance-aware company I have ever heard about. We work 4 days a week, entirely remotely, and we focus on being asynchronous so we don’t force others to be present during specified hours.

How, given the above factors, could I become a workaholic?!

Let’s dig into that and try to find out. Writing this article helps me to organize my thoughts better, reflect more, and figure out solutions.

How did I realize I’m a workaholic?

This past weekend, my fiancee’s parents visited mine. We had a great time, and on Saturday evening, when everyone was chilling out, I thought: what can I do in this spare time? Not thinking about it too long, I took my laptop and started figuring out some architectural decisions for the approaching project.

This feeling of excitement when I was creating diagrams in my head, painting graphs and decision trees. That’s what I love.

And that’s exactly when the realization struck me: damn, you’re a workaholic.

Saturday evening, spending cool time with my fiancee, parents, and in-laws. And what is the first thought I have when I’m trying to find some activity? I’m reaching for my laptop and doing work-related stuff.

Luckily, I figured out it’d be worth it to do something about my realization.

Is it really a bad thing?

Usually, when you think about workaholism, you picture tired and unhappy people in suits, working long hours in the office before (if at all) coming back home.

Well, it’s not like that, at least in my case.

I’m traveling the world, I spend a lot of time with my fiancee, visit my parents multiple times a year, and my further relatives at least twice a year. I exercise. Ah, and I’ve got friends in two different cities in Poland that I also visit multiple times a year.

Where is even the space for workaholism here?

It turns out there is. Maybe not every day, where it’s fully occupied, but you sometimes have those slow days when you’re trying to find some occupation for yourself: reading a book, watching TV, looking at your ceiling, and contemplating.

So when I’ve got a moment like that, I usually work.

There’s also one more thing to it. I love my work, and I’ve always dreamed of being in software engineering. So it’s not like I’m unhappy when I do it. In fact, I do enjoy it, probably even more than watching some TV series. And I don’t feel bad about it like I would about wasting a few hours playing a game.

Is it even workaholism then?

The first definition of this term, by Wayne Oates, states that workaholism is “the compulsion or the uncontrollable need to work incessantly”. Seems like a match.

Is being a workaholic a bad thing? Especially, this type of workaholic?

After some conversation about it with my better half, we agreed it is, indeed, a bad thing. There are so many other things I can do in my free time.

What reasons I discovered

When I think about some of the root causes of my workaholism, I can deduct some bad patterns there.

Work is my way of procrastination

If I had only one word to describe me in my career, it’d be ambitious. I want to grow, I want to learn, I want to progress. And it’s not even about my current job. I want to create my side business, I want to grow the blog and my followings. If you look at my 2021 in review and plans for 2022, you can see how many things I pursue.

The thing is, all these goals require work and a good amount of it. You have to get started on each one of them, and starting is hard.

So, naturally, I procrastinate.

But how do you procrastinate so you don’t feel guilty? You do something that adds value. It turns out to be work, in my case.

If working is my way of procrastinating, then it’s definitely a bad thing.

I feel the urge to be a top-performer

You already know I’m quite ambitious. There is another outcome of it.

My life has always been a set of goals I create for myself, in every area of life I’m interested in. Learn how to play Sonata No. 2 on piano, run 3 kilometers under 11 minutes, read a book a month.

Become a respected person in the company. Have people come to help them solve problems. Have one of the highest throughputs. Solve complex technical crosswords. Get promoted.

In every job I have ever had, I was always a top performer. I’m not even sure I can do it differently.

It’s not a bad thing, of course. Thanks to that it’s where I am right now – respected, making good money, without any significant boundaries in my life – it’s like I always wanted.

However, it indirectly affects this procrastination thing. If I want to run away from some other activities, working is safe and guilt-free, because it pushes me toward my goals, correct?

I find pleasure in my work

“This feeling of excitement when I was creating diagrams in my head…” – sounds like a crazy poet turned programmer, right? Besides being the truth, I wanted it to sound how I truly feel about that.

I’ve been doing software engineering-related things for 15 years already. That’s more than half of my life. And I certainly wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like it, at least not so much time.

It doesn’t matter what exactly it is. It can be work, it can be some side-project. Whatever it is, I find my joy there.

Remote work is a two-sided sword

Buffer, my current employer, is a 4-day workweek company, completely remote. You can work wherever you want, and we’re flexible about our work hours. Do you have a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day? Picking up kids from a school? No problem.

I use the possibilities I have, and as I already mentioned, I travel the world, visit my family, and so on.

Working is so easy you can do it everywhere; just bring your laptop and have a good internet connection.

You don’t have boundaries set by leaving your office. Everywhere is your office.

If you don’t have control over it, and you enjoy doing your work as I do, there is a chance you will end up like me.

What I do to quit

First, and probably a key step is behind me – coming to the realization.

The second step was discussing it with my fiancee, as she is the one who understands my situation the most and can help me understand, or realize things better.

This article is sort of a diary and confession, which I suppose can do some good for me. It’s one of those things I do now to avoid working – I’ve got a lot of other goals I can pursue in my free time, and writing more is one of them.

It’s time to come back and face some other challenges finally.

Do you know the power of compounding? I was reflecting on it lately and decided it is in use not only for the stock market. If I write more or start some side projects, they will slowly grow and use my past efforts more and more. I just have to start, and I will be doing what I love anyway.

So the first part is the fight in my mind. I need to focus on changing my habits and procrastinating less.

The second part is about future follow-ups. I need to start clocking my working hours, so I have some data to analyze and act upon. I am a data-driven person, after all.

Let me know if you ever felt similar.

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