Breaking the Workaholic

It’s the first TGIF of my first week at a new job, and because the week was so full, here is the amplified version: the (awesomely delicious) tortellini soup my (amazingly productive and generous) mother-in-law made while watching my three (exuberant, exhausting, active, loud, snuggly) children has cooled and is stored in the fridge along with the (requisite saucy Fat Boy’s) Friday night pizza, we’ve watched (zoned out to, fell asleep during) Hotel Transylvania and an episode of Phineas and Ferb and an episode of Girl Meets World, and now the (bouncy but exhausted) children are asleep (sprawled under and between blankets, one asleep since Hotel Transylvania on my lap and carried to bed conked out, one hugging a polar bear, the other with a leg draped over the edge of the bed), asleep, and the house has settled (silent, dark, fridge turning off and on, heat turning off and on, computer humming, couch comfy, quiet), and I have settled (cross-legged, contacts removed, sweat pants donned, glasses on) to contemplate (consider, ponder, ruminate over) the aftereffects of the fault-line quake (earth shake, lightning strike, whiplash) that is changing jobs.

It’s a tricky thing, leaving a job and starting a new one. I lean toward (darn near walk with the peg leg of) workaholism. I know this about myself, and I also know that sometimes you need a complete change of environment in order to change habits. Habit changing is difficult, but here’s your chance to establish new patterns of behavior. Here’s your chance to create boundaries. Here’s your chance to break the workaholic.

Burning Bridges, aka Removing Yourself from Admin Status on Social Media Accounts
If it isn’t evident by my 6,909 tweets on Twitter, let me be clear: I have a thing for social media. I love the little chirp my phone makes when I’ve sent out my latest clever-ism into the world. Until yesterday, I had six Twitter accounts logged in on my phone so that at any moment in time, I could share with any of those audiences some tidbit, some link, some quote, some rumination, some witticism, or some photo. I loooooooove social media.

However, it isn’t good for anybody but especially me to keep my nosy nose in all of my old business. Every time I opened Twitter on my phone this week (and it was often), I had to look at those accounts. Just look at them. Sitting there. Waiting for me to send something out. It was actually quite difficult and time consuming for me to figure out how to get those Twitter accounts off of my phone. (Note to those who may need to know: Log off. … Mmm hmm. It was that easy.)

But when I did finally master the art of logging off…ahhh, freeeeee!

This might seem like a strange problem– not doing a job you aren’t paid to do– but some habits are hard to break, and I’m telling you as a borderline (darn near erase the line altogether) workaholic that it is a tic, an itch, an impulse, to unlock my phone and check those social media accounts. With them off of my phone, they are happily out of sight and thus somewhat out of mind. It’s much more involved to check social media when you have to track down a wireless signal and a laptop and log in and start an internet browser and cue up Twitter and log out of your personal account just so you can log in to your old job’s Twitter account.

All addictions are kind of stupid when you think about them. But this one? Silly.

Other Nonsense That Shouldn’t Be On Your Phone
Do you guys sync your work email to your mobile device? How about to your personal computer? Do you use your work email for personal communications?

Another habit of the casual (darn near hardcore) workaholic I am trying to break is being distracted when I am at home. For the past seven years, I have been terrible at creating separation between work life and home life. This week I spent at least 10 hours in my car and around 40 hours at my desk. I spent 20-30 minutes walking to and from my office each day (depending on the type of shoes I had on). This left around 3 to 4 hours each day with my husband and children. What does it say to my family members about my priorities if I spend dinner scrolling through email messages and Twitter feeds instead of actively engaging them? With all of that time spent on work, there’s just not that much time left to spend with my family, and those are the hours that return the highest yield.

Let’s be honest: How many of us are critical employees at our workplaces that we must be on-call during all waking hours? How many of us who are considered critical employees would be contacted via email in the event of an emergency?

I edit people’s writing. I write essays and poems. I used to send out tweets promoting someone’s latest publication. What ignored email received at eight p.m. on a Friday night ever resulted in a major crisis? What publication credit ever disappeared over the weekend because I didn’t share it on Facebook?

None. Nunofem.

There will be no syncing of the work account on my phone. There will be no checking of the work email at night and on the weekends. There will be no using the work email account for personal communications… that’s what my personal gmail account is for, and that one won’t bombard me with a mildly annoying alert about a task I won’t get to until Monday anyway.

And last, but certainly not least….

Stop Doing Other People’s Jobs

Working at Ashland, I had the sincere privilege of wearing about a dozen hats and keeping my fingers in every tangle of fun I could get my hands on. I loved that about my job – the breadth of it – being involved in some aspect of social media and marketing and admissions and recruitment and retention and registration and publications and promotion and alumni relations.

But now, I’m just the managing editor. “So… you want me to just write. And edit. And write. And edit?” Yup. That’s it. That’s all. And I guess that’s plenty.

The impulse of the dabbling (darn near drowning) workaholic isn’t to just do one’s job. Healthy ambition pushes a person to try her hardest to be the best at her job, innovate within her job, and look for opportunities to improve her workplace and organization from within her job; unhealthy ambition, as far as I can see, takes a glance around and thinks (then jumps in) about how it can perform that other person’s job as well or better. It looks like the Right Thing To Do in the moment — what does it hurt to have one other person tweeting on behalf of the program? what does it hurt to have one other person overseeing the electronic newsletters? — but it’s the Wrong Thing To Do! Stop it! Stop it now!

The trouble with doing other people’s jobs is that you are DOING OTHER PEOPLE’S JOBS. FOR FREE. WITHOUT PAY. WITHOUT SOMEONE ASKING YOU. So stop it.

I am used to doing all sorts of different things in my last position, some within my job description and some I invited into my job description and others that arrived uninvited but I let them stay and drink anyway. The workaholic’s virtue and vice is that she wants to remain productive and effective, even at the detriment of the self and the family. Productivity and effectiveness gradually gain weight until they are so morbidly obese they can’t budge off of their mobile devices because they’re so attached to those gigabyte calories that stream in nonstop, telling them what they need to know in order to keep being effective and productive. Feed the machine. Feed the machine.

Confession: I added my new job’s Twitter account to my phone this week, even though my job title has nothing to do with social media. In fact, there’s this whole other guy whose job is interactive marketing. In my department. What will he do if I go stomping around in his office with my Twitter account and web access? Twiddle his thumbs all day? And why should I do both of our jobs? Because I can? Who cares?

Hey Sarah, remember when you were having a mental breakdown about trying to do everything and be everything to everyone a few springs back? People think you’re crazy because YOU ARE.

So stop it. Disconnect from the workplace Twitter account.

Break the workaholic. She’s no occasional abuser; she’s weak, she’s addicted, and she needs to be stopped.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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