What Workaholics Can Teach Us About The Concept Of Productivity

Ah, the workaholic. We all know one; and if you’re a small business owner, chances are good that you might be one, yourself. A workaholic is the person who is at the office until all hours of the night, does their job as a compulsion, and thinks about work all day, every day, even when they aren’t working.

Sound familiar? This post is definitely for you.


Workaholics work a LOT, but are they actually more productive than the rest of us?

Turns out, the answer is: probably not.


Here’s What Workaholics Can Teach Us About The Concept Of Productivity

Laura Vanderkam of Fastcompany did a little digging into the world of workaholics, and she found that people overestimate the amount of hours they work by a lot. Like, a huge amount. She says that, “as a general rule, the higher the number of work hours reported, the more likely the person is to be overestimating.”


How much do workaholics really work?

According to the data Vanderkam studied, if someone says they work 75 hours per week, they’re probably off by about 25 hours. If they say 65, they’re likely off by about 20 hours. And, even if they put the figure modestly at 60 hours/week, it’s still likely that they’re over-reporting by about 10 hours. See a pattern there?

That’s right: the vast majority of people who say they work a lot, probably work 20-30% less than they say they do (about 45-55 hours per week).


I’m not saying that these people are lying outright about how much they work, because it turns out that the amount you think that you work actually has an effect on how you work when you’re there.

Vanderkam says, “If you think you’re working 80 hours per week, you’ll make different choices in your attempts to optimize them than if you know you usually work 55.”

So, workaholics work less than they say they do and also tend to be less likely to optimize the time they do spend working. Putting those two together, it seems that workaholics are probably less productive overall than non-workaholics.

Why is this important?

Time is absolutely our most valuable resource.

If you feel like you’re working long hours and struggling to get everything done, you shouldn’t be re-thinking HOW MUCH you work. You should be rethinking HOW you work.

Why are workaholics less productive while they’re at work?

Here are the top three reasons:

  • Inefficiency
  • Over-commitment
  • Burnout

When you don’t set limits to ‘work time,’ you might find yourself checking your email 100 times per day, or chatting about other projects on Slack. Whatever it is, it’s interrupting your flow and making you less productive.


Workaholics also struggle to to say ‘no’ to new projects. Picking up too many tasks at once causes a sort of domino effect when the projects begin to interfere with one another. One project is completed late, and suddenly everything is late.

Plus, we all know what they say about too much of a good thing. Even if you love your job, it shouldn’t be your whole life. Workaholics have a hard time compartmentalizing work time and free time, so they tend to think of their jobs as especially stressful. This not only predisposes them to experience burnout, but can also lead to additional stress in their personal lives.

What can workaholics do to be more productive?

1. Focus. Focus. Focus.


Force yourself to complete a task fully before moving onto the next.

When you’re working on one project, be mindful about any urge to switch to a new task. Sometimes, it’s good to mix things up, but often, it’s a justification for procrastination.

Leo Babauta of ZenHabits suggests these tips for maintaining your focus:

  • Think about why your most pressing task is important in the big picture. This is your motivation to complete it.


  • Think about that motivation as you start the task. How does each sub-task work toward that goal?


  • Hold yourself accountable using external factors. Tell a friend that you’re going to complete it or set a meaningful deadline.


  • Know what distracts you and remove yourself from it.


Our Advice: We challenge you to commit to working within a single tab. Distraction is the enemy, and having twenty tabs open just might be slowing you down. (And your computer, too!)

2. Hold yourself accountable.

Workaholics tend to dodge accountability for how they spend their work hours. You can make sure to hold yourself accountable by keeping track of how you spend your time. Write it down!

Log your work hours as if you were billing that time as a freelancer. Write down how much time you spend on different activities such as:

  • Email
  • Ongoing projects
  • Strategizing
  • Traveling
  • In meetings
  • Writing, etc.

Once you’ve logged these for at least two weeks, look through your time log with a critical eye. How many of these activities are actually included in your job description? Are you spending too much time on less valuable work? Not enough time on the most valuable projects? Once you have an idea of how you spend your time now, it’s much easier to determine how to work smarter.

Here are the top strategies that we use to boost our productivity:

  • Block out the time.

Add in blocks of time to your calendar to work on projects—then use and defend them! The more you can schedule out realistic amounts of time, the better you will be able to plan ahead for the week.

  • Use the rule of 6.

We love the Ivy Lee Method, which advises us to write 6-item to-do lists every day. People tend to write to-do lists, but tend to complete less than half of the items they write down. By keeping your lists short, you are more likely to complete your tasks, which can help lower your stress levels.

  • Shut your door.

Set your chat option to “away” and let your coworkers know that you just will not be available during certain parts of the day or week. Close your actual door, if you have one, or plug in headphones and tune out all of that office chatter.

Give yourself one hour and get as much done as you possibly can.

  • Don’t check your email (all the time).

Checking email is one of the most time-consuming and addictive distractions. We all do it WAY too much. So, instead of drowning in emails all the time, set aside a few times each day to read and respond to emails.


You only have so much time, so make sure you use it well.

3. Take a vacation.

The last piece of advice that we have for workaholics is that time off is TIME OFF.

Do not check your email, do not bring your laptop with you to Thailand, and DO NOT sneak away from your family to check in with the team.



Don’t just be a busy bee. (via Pexels)

There are a lot of studies out there showing that you simply cannot be as productive if you never take a break. And working through your supposedly relaxing vacation does not count!

Here are a couple of key reasons, brought to you by real, scientific research:

1. Your brain processes new information long after you take it in—you retain information better if you take time off.

2. Taking time to relax makes you more creative.

3. It might help you get a raise. Turns out, people who take vacations may just perform better while at work.

Taking a break can also just mean shutting down your phone.

It can be challenging to unplug completely, but it’s worth it. A recent study indicates that the average person checks their phone as many as 85 times every day. Think of how much time that wastes.


Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist suggests several reasons why unplugging from work (and all electronics) can benefit you in the long run. My favorite?

“Powering down promotes creation over consumption.”

I think this applies to your working mind as much as it applies to your cell phone. If you never think about anything but work, you’ll never be able to think objectively about your work. Stepping away is sometimes the absolute best way to rejuvenate your ability to innovate.


Everyone, let’s stop glorifying workaholism

Seriously, everyone!

Entrepreneur Ariana Huffington says that when we define success with money and power, our lives become out of sync with our true priorities and values. Author Guy Kawasaki calls this “glorifying the busy.”

Our society pushes us to say that we work 60 hours a week, and celebrates the workaholic who stays late every night. But is that really making our world a better place? Are we actually working harder? Or are we just more stressed out?

For me, life is about finding fulfillment and being happy—not living to work. The more I researched work and productivity, the more evidence I also found to back me up. Happy, fulfilled employees may actually be better employees, too.

So, next time you congratulate yourself—or someone else—for a long week at the office, take a step back and ask youself whether that is really a value you’d like to espouse. Instead, perhaps you should spend some time thinking about how you can work smarter, and how you can help others do the same.



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Molly Michieli

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