How to stop working so much

values entrepreneurI knew I’d been pushing myself way too hard, and so did people around me. I had become a workaholic.

I was  irritable. I turned down invitations. I exercised less than I should. I was stressed-out.

The demands of multiple deadlines and the constant back-and-forth with my assistants, new prospects and old clients had left me weary in body, mind and soul.

Business was good, but life was miserable.

Does any of this sound familiar? Has your lifestyle business started feeling like a business lifestyle? If so, here are a number of reasons why you should be concerned.

Why overworking always produces negative returns

Nothing is wrong with working hard, but research has shown that working too hard can seriously damage your marriage (I’m guessing the same is true for other relationships), lead to chronic sleep problems, heighten your anxiety levels, and drastically increase your risk of heart disease by 67%.

The reason why the workaholic’s health and relationships fall apart is because he/she is too busy to take proper care of them. How can you stay fit if you’re always too busy to eat well, get enough sleep, and get in some daily exercise?

Likewise, how can a workaholic nurture relationships, either with their partner or friends, if they live at the beck-and-call of their digital leash (iPhone/Crackberry)?

The dirty little secret among entrepreneurs is that in trying to build a business that provides us with greater freedom, some of us work more hours than our peers while damaging ourselves and our relationships in the process. Overworking rarely pays off in the long run.

How to stop working so much: tell yourself the truth and let your values lead

The Blogosphere and Podcastsphere are filled with ‘How to’ messages, and with such a strong emphasis upon getting things done, starting and scaling new businesses, travelling the world, etc, it is easy to buy into the idea that one has to be working all the time. That is neither true nor healthy.

Here’s what I did to slay the dragon of workaholism.

First, I simply told myself the truth: I was working way too much and I wasn’t happy with where that lifestyle was headed. Confessing to yourself can be a powerful step in the right direction…try it.

Next, I developed a back-of-the-napkin personal system–based upon things I value most– that now helps me to be productive in the right areas and at the right time. I’m not always as consistent in following it as I’d like, because it is still only a couple months old, but I find that if I keep the important things in view, the system designs itself.

How to develop your own values-based system in less than five minutes

entrepreneurs work too muchFirst, focus on defining your core values, those things that mean the most to you. For me, my family, my health, my happiness, my faith, and my financial well-being all scored at the top of the list. I realized that if any of these areas suffered, it would have a negative effect on my life and business. Don’t take my word for it, even Harvard recognizes that letting your values guide your decisions is essential to creating a solid business.

Next, try allowing your core values to trump all the other intrusions and demands that tend to push you in the direction of overworking. This takes self-awareness and discipline because you have to learn to stop and question yourself from time to time.

We all struggle with that little voice that tries to justify a couple extra hours of work on the weekend. Learning to recognize it is half the battle, but once you do, you’ll find it easier to challenge it without feeling guilty for doing so.

Some quick ideas to help you slow down

I am reluctant to be too prescriptive here, but in case you are still unsure where to start, here are some guidelines that I try to live by

  • Be wary of pushing your kids/spouse/partner/friends out of the picture. My son loves to wrestle with me. Though he is a bit too young for in-depth conversations, it seems to be his favorite way to ‘connect’ with daddy after a long day at kindergarten. Even if I’m busy, if he comes into my office with a request to wrestle, I try to drop everything in favor of 5-10min of horseplay. The same is true for any relationship…people in your life need time and love that only you can give them. Don’t sacrifice what you cannot get back for whatever financial reward that you’re trying to gain.
  • Focus only on one big thing every day. A single day does not allow you the time to solve all the problems, fix all the bugs, or connect with all the people you need to. If you are a perfectionist, it is so easy to set the bar too high for yourself. If you consistently do that throughout your life, you will end up every day as an unhappy, unaccomplished person; someone who never got enough done. What a terrible way to live! However, if you assign yourself one point of focus-one goal-per day, you’ll find yourself more productive and happy as you accomplish that task. I find that I slip into a business lifestyle when I am aiming at too many moving targets. One focus is the key.
  • Try to ‘chunk’ work during those times when you are most productive. It doesn’t matter whether you are a morning person or a night owl, find a block of time that works for you and make that your workday. You can even try the pomodoro technique, and further divide your time into 20min bursts. Rituals are a good way of preparing for and defining these ‘chunks’. For instance, some people like to exercise, pray or meditate prior to writing. Others, like myself, enjoy a mid-day break when I can play with my son at the beach, take a swim, or visit the playground. There are few things more therapeutic and centering as simply pushing a child on a swing. A friend of mine likes to cook a nice meal, and finds that it helps him to get his mind on something other than the business. Arranging work around fun activities is what lifestyle design is all about.
  • Give yourself permission to take time off. I worked with a guy who absolutely hated the feeling that he had to ask permission of his boss to take time off. I guess it made him feel like a child, and I do understand where he was coming from. However, I notice that some entrepreneurs, once they become their own boss, are even harder on themselves than my friend’s boss. They take little time for themselves and work what seems to be 24/7. Perhaps they aren’t interested in emulating a lifestyle business model. All work and no play…meh, that isn’t how I want to live my life.
  • Take a look inside yourself. Sometimes it is so easy to just keep pushing forward with a goal, that you fail to see who it is that you’re becoming in the process. Have you, in your pursuits, compromised your values, started taking credit for things that you didn’t do, or stopped taking care of your body/mind/soul? It is easy to externalize everything and reduce success to how much we have in the bank, how many emails we wrote, how big our house is, etc. Those are vanity metrics if ever I saw them. The metrics that matter usually have to do with who we are and how we feel about life and others. Unchecked ambition is a deadly virus and can turn you into someone else over time; it is worth taking a few minutes to consider how (notice I didn’t say ‘whether’) your business has changed you.

 Taking a good, long look in the mirror

So, are you working too hard? Then do a little soul-searching and ask yourself, Why am I overdoing it?’ Is it because my identity is too tied up in the business? Am I overcompensating because of some deep-seeded fear of failure? Is it greed? Do I work too much so that I can brag about it? Am I simply trying to do too many things? Whatever your answer, my guess is that your goal for starting a business was not so that you could maintain a grueling schedule.

Unless we maintain a laser-like focus on our quality of life, we will end up working far more than we should just to keep up with everything that’s going on in our respective businesses. In fact you might find yourself working more hours than you ever did in that 9 to 5 Monday-Friday desk job that you left behind. That’s not what a lifestyle business is supposed to be, just so we’re clear on that.

I’m convinced the one thing that will make a positive difference in your life and business right now is a bit of honest self-examination. Are you building a lifestyle business or a business lifestyle? Be honest.

In future posts, I’ll share some tips/tricks/hacks/resources that help me in this area, but I don’t want to provide too many answers just now…first, I want to challenge you to think through this issue for yourself.

Here’s some more questions to help you think deeply about this matter:

  1. What are the most time consuming tasks you do on a daily basis?
  2. What percentage of your working hours is spent on defining and refining your brand, product or service?
  3. What is one change that, if made right now, would improve your business? (the answer to this question might be a good idea for a new product/service!)

Thanks for reading; please share your thoughts below!

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