June 2021

Confessions of a Workaholic

Dawn Stevens, Comtech Services

I recently celebrated the complete vaccination of my family with a trip (my first in 14 months) to my happy place: DisneyWorld. As with any vacation, after the initial booking of my airline tickets, park reservations and tickets, hotel, and dinner reservations, I spent time with my family planning what we wanted to see and do and eat, with growing anticipation and excitement. It had been 18 months since I’d last been to DisneyWorld (the longest time between visits in a decade) – new rides had opened (ask me about Rise of the Resistance and Mickey and Minnie’s Railroad) and of course, new pandemic measures were in place that changed everything we knew about navigating lines and avoiding crowds. We eagerly counted the days until we left.

That is, until about three weeks out. At that point, as with any of my vacations in living memory, anticipation and excitement turned to trepidation and self-doubt, as I questioned my sanity for thinking I could be away from work for 9 days (technically only 5 working days, but in my work life, weekends matter). I tell myself that this is normal – to prepare for a vacation, doesn’t everyone work 80 hours the week before (or for three weeks before) and then 80 hours the week after (or for three weeks after)? Doesn’t everyone take their computer with them on vacation so they can get in a little work while the family is showering and getting ready in the morning? Doesn’t everyone check their emails while standing in line or grabbing a bite to eat?

Observation: Trying to get ahead before a vacation makes you exhausted for your vacation.

I suppose it is no surprise to any of you from this reflection that I am a workaholic. The pandemic and its resulting work-at-home requirements have only exacerbated that tendency. At first – back in those days when we thought we’d only be working at home a few months – I set up at the dining room table. Bad idea. The computer called to me at all hours of the day and night. Walking by and seeing it sitting there glowing in the dark (because of course I never turned it off), I’d stop and check my emails, or I would sit down just to write that last little bit of an article or a report or a stylesheet. I could still sort of participate in the home life going on around me with an open floor plan that let me hear conversations and the TV in the other rooms.

Observation: Leaving your computer on 24 hours a day is not good for it or for you.

As the 2020 holidays approached, necessity moved me to the basement. The dining room table was needed for get-togethers or even just as a big space to wrap presents on. Separation of a floor did indeed keep me from those drive-by stops for a “minute or two.” But separation anxiety was high, and rather than say goodnight and go upstairs at 5 or 6, my drive-bys turned to sleepovers, and I just stopped going upstairs. My husband would call my cell phone, from one floor up, to ask “take out or delivery” when dinner was ready, and I could either run up and grab it or ask him to bring it down (dining in, much like at real restaurants, wasn’t really an option).

As a result of these bad habits, last year I personally logged 3,530.50 work hours – an average of almost 68 hours a week. I am currently maintaining that average in the first five months of 2021. I am writing this column as the clock on my computer says 6:40, and I started the day with a 6 am meeting. A part of me wants to tell you I’m not meaning to brag. Another smaller voice says none of you think I am – that you understand the first step toward recovery is admitting you have a problem.

Observation: Personally logging only 25% fewer hours than two full-time people probably justifies the hiring of another person.

Despite admitting I have a problem, I still feel I can easily explain my behavior:

  • I am a business owner and the success of the company depends on me.
  • Occasionally our work and deadlines call for longer hours, so modeling a willingness to work that extra time will inspire my staff if it is necessary for them to put in a few extra hours
Observation: Sending emails after midnight results in responses at all hours from other workaholics making it even more difficult to stop when you are supposed to.
  • It is often just faster to do something myself than to explain what needs to be done.
Observation: Doing something because it will be faster if you do it prevents the growth of others and locks you into an unending cycle of always having to do it.
  • During a pandemic, there’s nothing else to do.
  • I don’t have children living at home anymore.
  • My husband does most of the cooking and can take care of himself (and truth be told, he works too much as well).
  • Being still just doesn’t suit me. Even my vacations are planned with activities; in my opinion, there’s nothing more boring than sitting on a beach all day. We need to be seeing things, doing things, going on tours, hiking, and so on. All of which leads some family members to joke that they need a vacation to recover from their vacation.
Observation: Vacations are supposed to leave you refreshed, not more tired than when you began.

Although I am an extreme case, I have talked to enough information developers to know that I am not alone. For many of you, my words ring true; even if you weren’t predisposed to working too much before, many have found that the pandemic and forced work-at-home situations have changed their behavior. No more commute time? More time to work! No need to pick up the kids by a particular time? I can take “just a few more minutes” to finish whatever I’m doing. Experts say habits can form in as little as 18 days. Even the average of 66 days for new behaviors to become automatic means that the last year has likely introduced changes in your approach to work that has led to an unhealthy work-life balance.

For this reason, our 2021 Best Practices conference theme centers on time management skills with a theme of “Kicking Chaos to the Curb.” Whether you are struggling like I am to separate from work each day, or simply looking for ways to improve your team’s or your own efficiency, this conference will offer practical advice and tips. Led by Helene Segura, author of The Inefficiency Assassin, The Great Escape, How to Avoid Procrastination, and ROAD MAP to Get Organized, we will build on the virtual format established in 2020, with one-on-one and small group breakouts designed to make you think about the topic, but also to get to know other people with the same struggles and responsibilities as you. This is not your typical virtual event. Here’s what some attendees said about the format last year:

“That was an amazing conference! Best online experience this year, hands down! I was really engaged, had fun, and felt genuine connection to the other participants.”

“The virtual format seemed to provide more time for practice sessions and for interacting in a more focused way.”

“I can’t recall laughing so much at a professional conference.”

“Way more social, and way more focused!”

I talked with Helene right after my Disney vacation. On hearing about my preparation for the vacation, she immediately shipped me The Great Escape, which is a vacation planner for busy people to learn how to recharge and reboot.

I am on a path toward recovery. Last year, I logged 148 hours of paid time off, with about half of it occurring in December for the holidays. In fact, from February to November 2020, I only took off the standard holidays — President’s day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving. My trip to Disney this month represents change: I’m on the way to more than doubling my time off from last year. Further, for the first time, I can remember easily, I turned off my computer and left it at home. Yes, I had my cell phone, and yes, I read emails. But it was a step in the right direction and remarkably I didn’t suffer withdrawal.

I even have another vacation planned for the year: Hawaii is calling – but rest assured you won’t find me getting sunburned on a beach somewhere. I’ll be on snorkeling boats, hiking in Volcanos and Haleakala National Parks, at a luau, touring coffee, macadamia, and pineapple plantations, watching the sunrise from Mauna Loa, … and yes, probably checking my emails through my waterproof pouch for my cell phone. One step at a time, please; one step at a time.

Note: registration is now open for the Best Practices conference, with Helene Segura. Registration includes a productivity starter kit, which contains Helene’s book The Inefficiency Assassin as well as tools that we’ll use during the conference.

About the Author: Dawn Stevens, is CIDM’s Director and President of Comtech Services. She has 30 years of practical experience in virtually every role within a documentation and training department, including project management, instructional design, writing, editing, and multimedia programming.