You’ve heard these sayings over and over: The early bird gets the worm, hard work pays off, be the first to arrive in the office and the last to leave. There are so many motivational quotes—cliché and otherwise—that it’s easy to buy into them all.
But, at what point do your hardworking habits stop being productive and start taking a toll on your health, your abilities, and inevitably, your career?
There isn’t usually a big, flashing “Chill out!” sign to bring you back to Earth. But, there are often signs that you’re spending too much time hammering away at your to-do list—and not enough time taking care of yourself.
1. You’re Always Turning Down Opportunities to Socialize
The first time I realized I was spending too much time working and not enough time being social was actually when my parents pointed it out: “Lil, you’re spend another weekend on your computer…instead of with friends?”
At first, I was offended. Of course I spent time away from work! I have lots of friends! But then I gave it some thought: When was the last time I didn’t turn down an invitation to grab a meal or hang out? I had to go back several weeks to find an example (and it was grabbing a working lunch with a committee I was on, so not good).
It’s easy to lose track of how many times you’ve turned down a co-worker’s invitation to lunch or a friend’s offer to get drinks. It always seems like you’re saying no just this one time for something more important—until you look back and realize that you’ve been saying no, well, all the time.
How to Stop
As any workaholic knows, simply saying, “Just hang out with people more” is easier said than done. After all, any moment away from your precious desk is a moment when you’re not getting through your work.
My advice? Start small by simply saying yes. Whenever a colleague invites you to go on a lunch excursion, tag along. If a friend tells you a few people are getting drinks after work, ask her, “when and where?” Once you master the art of not immediately declining, it gets easier to choose other plans over work. You’ll probably even find that you work more effectively when you give yourself a break.
2. Your Colleagues Don’t Want to Work With You
We live in a society that prides itself on being busy, so having co-workers call you the hardest worker (or, in some politically incorrect cases, the Work Nazi) seems like a badge of honor, rather than a bad thing.
However, when you start to notice that your colleagues are no longer wanting to collaborate or team up with you because you’re the person who’s working all the time (and therefore putting pressure on them to work 24/7), you should take a step back and re-assess what you’re doing. Whether that means changing your schedule or just observing how others organize their time, don’t let these moments go unnoticed.
How to Stop
If you find this happening to you repeatedly, it’s time to follow the herd and do what they’re doing—rather than blazing your own trail and trying to get people to do as you do.
For example, you might think it’s a great idea to stay late every night to get a head start on upcoming projects—but your team might not be as enthused. Take a cue from them: Every job needs boundaries, and lacking them leads to frustration, resentment, and burnout. Trying to get everyone to stay late one night to meet an important deadline is totally OK; trying to make them stay late every Friday night crosses the line. Do them (and you) a favor by knowing when to call it a night.
3. Your Body Is Responding Negatively
About two years ago, at the pinnacle of my workaholic ways, I started noticing that my hair was falling out. At first, I thought of bizarre rationales for why it was happening—this is a natural part of the hair cycle! My hair always sheds this much! But after several weeks of watching excessive clumps of hair clog up my shower drain, I had to admit that it was more than just a weird hormonal phase.
People react to stress and being in constant “go” mode differently, which can lead to weight gain or loss, trouble sleeping, stomachaches, headaches, and all sorts of other health problems. Yes, the easy route would be to pop some Excedrin when you feel a migraine coming on, or sleep one extra hour one night to make yourself temporarily feel better. But that’s not going to change the underlying issue that you’re overworking yourself.
How to Stop
Health gurus always say stuff like, “Listen to your body!” But like a lot of people, I don’t exactly know what that means. I’m not always sure when a health issue (like the hair loss) is a serious concern or a false alarm. And if you’re working way too hard, you’re probably not at all attuned to your body.
So, take an inverted approach: Instead of assuming that any minor (emphasis on minor) health problem is just a temporary issue, go ahead and ask yourself if it’s possibly related to working too hard. For example, do you have chronic stomachaches nowadays? Assume it’s related to work, and take a second to think about your behavior. Stuffing your face with Hot Pockets and washing it down with Diet Coke at your desk probably isn’t doing your stomach any favors, so try a week of stepping out of the office for a healthy salad. If you start to feel better, then you know you’re on the right track.
That said, I’m no doctor: If you notice something that seems concerning or out of the ordinary, it’s definitely time to swing by for a check-up. Seriously, take care of yourself.
Overcoming your tendency to overwork yourself usually comes down to paying more attention to how you’re feeling as well as to how people are reacting to you. Remember, you’re allowed to socialize, work normal hours, and be healthy. You just have to decide that you’re worth it.