My chief goal for this year is
to figure out why I work. Yeah, I know that sounds absurd. But when I
created my New Year’s resolutions this year, I realized that while my writing
and personal goals were crystal clear, I couldn’t articulate a work goal beyond
Another way to say this is that I
am addicted to work. One definition of addiction is: “a
psychological and physical inability to stop consuming a chemical, drug,
activity, or substance, even though it is causing psychological and physical
Coming from a large, sprawling
Irish family with its fair share of substance abuse problems, I use the term
“addiction” advisably. But I think in my case, it’s apt.
Now that I have – in classic,
12-step fashion – identified the problem, it’s time to step back and begin to
craft a solution.
Here’s where I’ve gotten so far:
Answer the Eternal Question
What would you do if this was your
last day on Earth? This is the question the HeadSpace appuses to guide
its meditation on prioritization. Given that Headspace is a mindfulness app,
the question is posed softly and gently. But it is, of course, the eternal
question we all need to answer.
Oddly enough, it’s also the first question
I ask my friends who come to me for career advice. “I don’t know what to do with my life,”
they will say, or some version therein.
I always begin by asking, “If
you had an entirely free day tomorrow, with no commitments whatsoever, how
would you spend it?” Or, if you prefer, “What
would your 90-year-old self would advise you to do?”
In my case, I know I’d prefer to
spend at least a third of my day writing. Of all the things I do in a day,
writing is the activity where I feel most authentic and most relaxed. But
at the moment, I’m not even close to achieving that 1/3 goal.
Practice Being Your Future Self
A Harvard Business Review article states that you have to
practice being your future self. The upshot of the article is that once you’ve
figured out the key components of your ideal day, you need to block out time to
practice being that future self. (This is a familiar piece of advice to anyone
who wants to be a writer, which essentially boils down to: Start
But what really resonated for me in
this article was the way the author, Peter Bregman, framed the “future
He writes: “You need to spend time on the
future even when… there is no immediately apparent return to your efforts. In
other words… if you want to be productive, you need to spend time doing
things that feel ridiculously unproductive.”
That framing really hit home for
someone who consistently conflates
being productive with being busy. On any given day, doing the thing
that you love can feel like you’re taking valuable time away from the 10,000
things you “need” to get done.
Not so, says Bregman: “It’s
the wildly important stuff that never gets done because it’s never urgent
enough… or it’s too risky or terrifying” that you need to prioritize.
Once you’ve set aside your
“me” time, create some affirmations to reinforce that positive image
I’ve written before about how
I’ve used positive self-talk in both my writing and my work. But in recent
weeks, I’ve really doubled down. I’ve made a brand new list of 10 affirmations
tailored to the first quarter of this new year, which I repeat out loud every
morning before I start my work day.
Of those 10, the hardest one to
utter – but the one that matters most – is this: “It’s easy for me to say no to people.”
It isn’t. And that’s not (entirely) because I often need the money.
It’s because – courtesy of my
addiction – I measure my productivity not in terms of number of sales or level
of income (like most business people), but in terms of the number of hours
worked. And with that as my metric for a job well done, more is always better.
I’m trying really hard to focus on
these three, big-ticket goals as I slowly work my way towards managing my
addiction to work.
What strategies do you employ
when you need to hit re-set on your own work/life balance? What have you had to
re-organize in your priorities list to become more productive? Let’s have a