Watching Workaholism

We all want to work less, right?

We often complain about the amount of work we need to do. And the shortage of time we have to do it. And we never have enough time for ourselves.

Is it true?

Yes and no. And here’s why.

What work is necessary and what is self-imposed?

Thoughts that produce workaholism

Here are some of our thoughts:

“I have to work really hard to get it all done.”
“Everyone else is working overtime so I need to too.”
“I need to work evenings and weekends to finish this project on time.”

Which of these thoughts are facts and which are stories we tell ourselves?

Is it true? Do you really need to work really hard to get it all done?

Plenty of evidence supports the opposite. People who work really hard do not accomplish more. “Working really hard” often turns into overwork and can lead to stress, panic, anxiety, and even sleep disorders and substance abuse. (Read this.)

At work, we often compare ourselves to others and feel if everyone else is doing it we should too. These thoughts produce feelings of not being good enough, of not feeling worthy. To compensate for these feelings, we try to work harder to prove our worth. Here’s the result:

Circumstance: Project at work
Thought: “Everyone else is working hard, so I need to too.”
Feeling: Unworthiness
Action: Work after hours and weekends
Result: Work excessively

This thought, “everyone else is working hard, so I need to too,” produces the result of working excessively.

When we compare ourselves to others, our thoughts can produce feelings of inferiority.

“I get my work done from 9 to 5,” does not produce feelings of being “less than,” nor produce the need to “work really hard” to get it all done.

Here are other thoughts and the downsides of believing them.

Victim mentality

“I’m so burned out.”
“They’ll fire me if I don’t work hard enough.”

Playing victim.

We blame our work for making us stressed, burned out, or overwhelmed. We don’t take responsibility for our thoughts and feelings about our work. We find ourselves playing victim or martyr. The result is we feel less and less empowered at work.

People pleasing

“My boss expects me to work extra hours.”
“I’m on call at my job 24/7.”

We believe we are living up to your bosses’ expectations when we overwork.

Our thoughts of “not being good enough” produce anxiety and shame. We try to avoid our feelings by overworking. Working excessively may temporarily ease our anxiety, it seems productive and such a positive thing to do, but these thoughts can produce even more overwork.

Learning to say no.

Do you know how to say no to your boss? This takes practice. When you work extra hours you’re not being truthful to your boss (and yourself!) about what you really want. Setting healthy boundaries is key.

Imposter syndrome

“I don’t know what I’m doing so I’ll work harder than anyone else.”

To compensate for our thoughts of being an imposter and our lack of confidence and feelings of self-doubt, we overwork to prove we’re competent.

You’re 100% worthy already.

We couldn’t possibly work longer to make ourselves more worthy. We’re 100% worthy as is, no need to prove anything to anyone.


“I have to work until I make the project perfect.”

Done is better than perfect.

As creatives, we believe we work till we get it right. We want to feel we have control of the project.

But the reality is that work projects have time and budget constraints. Working within the time constraint is a good practice to follow. Do what you can with the time and budget that you have.

I’ve written more about Perfectionism here.

What to do

I’m not denying that within studio and agency culture, working excessively is rewarded, praised or expected. This does exist. But we can choose how we think about it.

A bigger cultural question to answer is this: what is the best environment for designers to excel and succeed? How has workaholism become acceptable?

In the NY Times article ”Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work?” the author uses the phrase toil glamour. “Toil Glamour” is making performative workaholism look desirable and glamorous.

In the Harvard Business Review article, The Research Is Clear: Long Hours Backfire for People and for Companies:

“There’s a large body of research that suggests that regardless of our reasons for working long hours, overwork does not help us. For starters, it doesn’t seem to result in more output.”

Where to start

You can start by observing your own thoughts and beliefs about your work. You can re-examine what you choose to believe.

  • Practice emotional adulthood. Observe your thoughts and behavior. Are you blaming others (or the job), playing the victim or martyr, and not taking responsibility for your thoughts and feelings?
  • Watch your thoughts about yourself. We can’t control what other people think of us, but we can control what we think about ourselves. The self-doubt circling around “Imposter Syndrome” does not serve us. Can you try-on other thoughts that you can believe that produce the feelings you want to have about your work?
  • Check-in with your intentions and what you really want. What is the result that you want? Probably not to work week nights and weekends. People pleasers often don’t tell the truth and do things they don’t want to do. As hard as this may sound, practice saying no.

Are you falling into workaholic tendencies that are producing negative consequences in your life?

Let’s work through it!  Schedule a mini session with me to talk over how we can start working together.


Author: Jamie Cavanaugh

Jamie Cavanaugh is a Certified Life Coach, Educator, Interaction Designer, and Writer.

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