"I'm Libby and I'm a workaholic."
"Hi, Libby," the group responds in unison, their soothing singsong hanging in the air.
"I've been in recovery for fourteen years and things are going pretty well. But sometimes when I'm glued to my computer screen, I suddenly break out in a cold sweat thinking I was supposed to pick my son up after school and I'm five hours late." (Never mind that my baby is now in college. Old habits die hard.)
An understanding murmur ripples through the crowd. They know what it's like to leave a kid sitting on the school steps because you've got a client on the hook. Or to let your mate sit alone in a restaurant because you can't pull yourself out of a meeting.
I recently spoke to a woman whom I'll call Katherine at a health-care convention where I was delivering a keynote. Holding back tears, she told me she had two teens and a husband she loved dearly. Her family had been begging her for several years to get home from work in time to eat dinner with them. Never mind cooking it, Dad would handle that.
But somehow, 5 p.m. would roll around, then 6 p.m., then 8 p.m., and her husband would be calling her at the office for the second or third time to remind her to come home. The tragedy of Katherine's confession made me grateful that I'd overcome my own workaholism to put my life back in balance. Now I wanted to help Katherine do the same.
We set up a schedule and enlisted both her husband and boss for support. They were delighted to help. Katherine was a model employee, workaholics often are, and while her boss appreciated her productivity, he had no desire to see Katherine continue on her punishing path to burnout. Katherine's husband had long since run out of ideas and was willing to try anything.
The plan was simple. Katherine would arrive at the office every day by 8:30 a.m. and leave four days a week by 6 p.m. – a standard workday for her company. She'd allow herself to stay at the office until 7 one day a week, or until 6:30 two days a week. To hold her accountable, Katherine's husband agreed to call her at 5:30 each day, then again at 6 to make sure she was winding up her work and heading home.
I warned Katherine that she might feel a little bit like a trapeze artist caught between letting go of one bar and grabbing onto the next. But the only way she could grab onto that new life was to loosen her grip on the old one and trust her support net. She agreed.
If you're ready to stop getting all your juice from the job, how about trying one or all of these?
- Slow down and rediscover simple pleasures like reading the Sunday paper front to back or playing a board game with your kids.
- Plug into people and not devices by setting boundaries for use of your smartphone, e-mail, and tablet.
- Don't kid yourself that forgoing vacation time makes you the office hero. Take the time to recharge.
Have a terrific spring and start planning those summer breaks, too!