If you’re a workaholic you need to protect yourself

Boundaries between work and the rest of your life have to be established

Early in their careers, happy workaholics can wind up being exploited by a dysfunctional culture or an uncaring manager, so they need to protect themselves to avoid burnout.

Early in their careers, happy workaholics can wind up being exploited by a dysfunctional culture or an uncaring manager, so they need to protect themselves to avoid burnout.

Thu, Aug 21, 2014, 07:30

‘Happy workaholics’ love what they do and wish there were more hours in the day to get things done. Nevertheless, they must protect themselves from becoming victims of their own drive.

Early in their careers, happy workaholics can wind up being exploited by a dysfunctional culture or an uncaring manager, so they need to protect themselves to avoid burnout.

As they advance professionally, they’re less subject to those external forces, but they need to protect themselves from being overwhelmed by their own internal drive. The solution doesn’t depend on setting up a work-life balance as one would expect; it’s about setting up some boundaries.

1. Temporal Boundaries designate certain times exclusively for family, friends, exercise and other nonwork pursuits. Note that we’re talking not about balance, but about boundaries; the amount of undisturbed time we preserve for certain activities will vary and may be quite small, but what matters is that you create and maintain a functional boundary around that time.

2. Physical Boundaries ensure that we get out of our workplace at regular intervals and create actual distance between us and our work (which includes not only the office itself but also all our gadgets: our laptops, tablets, phones, etc.) Again, the question is not about balancing the two worlds, but about establishing the necessary separation.

3. Cognitive Boundaries help us resist the temptation to think about work and focus our attention on the people or activity at hand. This is by no means an easy task, particularly given that so much in our work environment is designed to capture our attention: email alerts, message reminders, innumerable blinking lights and flashing icons. Recognising when our attention is being held hostage by work and turning it elsewhere requires persistent, dedicated effort, but it yields substantial rewards, in part because our focused attention is one of our greatest resources.

This subtle shift – eschewing balance and establishing boundaries – isn’t easy work. But it’s worthwhile in trying to protect us from ourselves.

In association with Harvard Business Review