PRODUCTIVITY

10 Signs You Need to Stop Trying So Hard

Always do your best to get everything right? Maybe that's your problem.
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Read this site often? You're probably an overachiever, just like me and thousands of other entrepreneurs out there. That's not a bad thing. Striving to do better work, accomplish more, get healthier, and be a better person is what makes you and your business successful.

But trying too hard all the time, especially if you're doing it in many areas of your life at once, can lead to a very big crash. That's what happened to Todd Patkin who joined his family auto parts business at 22, just out of college, and got used to working 80-hour weeks as the company struggled to survive. By his mid-30s, the company was a success but the long work hours had become a habit.

Other parts of his life suffered. During a motivational talk, he jumped off a table, something he had done many times before. This time, however, his feet hit a concrete floor that broke several bones and prevented him from going to the gym, a mood elevator for him. Then he and his wife lost a pregnancy. "That really affected me," he says. "I fell deeper and deeper into the hole."

In the grip of depression, he found himself unable to function. He and his father would drive to work each day, and Patkin would go in his office and close the door. "People may have thought I was working," he says. Instead, he often had his head down on the desk. The moment of truth arrived when he and his father were out to lunch and a waitress offered the choice of potato salad or coleslaw. It seemed an impossible decision. "For all intents and purposes, my brain had short-circuited," he recalls.

That experience was horribly painful, but also lucky, Patkin says now, because it forced him to reevaluate what he had been doing. With the help of medication to help lift the blackness, he set about figuring out what truly made him happy, a journey he chronicles in his book Finding HappinessCutting back on efforts and activities and looking at what was truly satisfying was the necessary first step, he says.

You may want to do the same if any of the following sounds familiar:

1. Your relationships are dragging you down.

"Give up on the relationships that aren't working for you," Patkin advises. "Maybe they worked for you before, back when you were in college. But now it's 20 years later." Ask yourself whether you enjoy being with this person, or whether the prospect of time together fills you with anxiety.

Keep in mind that the company you keep is likely to affect your whole outlook, Patkin adds. "Motivational scientists have learned that your outlook in terms of negative feelings or happiness will be the average of the five people you spend the most time with."

2. You're always the one to step up.

If an annoying task needs doing and no one else wants to, do you always find yourself raising your hand? Cut back, at least some of the time, Patkin advises. "There should be times when you say, 'I've done this five times in a row and I don't understand why you can't do it,'" he says. "You have to be honest."

3. You keep working ridiculous hours.

It's one thing to burn the midnight oil for a week or two in order to finish a major project or close an important deal. But if overly long workdays have become your norm, you must make a change.

"Work is a marathon, not a sprint--you're going to be doing it for the rest of your life," Patkin says. "If you're always working 70 hours a week, what's that doing to your health and relationships?" He acknowledges that taking time off was easier for him in his company, with family members available to cover for each other. Without that back up, it can be difficult to delegate. But it isn't optional.

"You have to find someone and put your trust in that person to be a good No. 2, so that you can take a vacation or time off for a life event," Patkin says. If you don't, your business could fall into a rut. "Most people get imaginative and creative when they're not going a zillion miles an hour."

4. Your best is never good enough.

Perfectionism is a serious danger, Patkin warns. "I've had an employee say to me that he was a bad dad because he missed his son's basketball game. I asked him how many he had been to. Turned out he'd been to 10 of the 12 games that season. I told him he was doing a lot better than most of the fathers out there."

Although it's human nature, it's a very bad idea to do most things right and hyper-focus on the few you get wrong, he adds. "You have to start complimenting yourself, and feeling good for all the things you do."

5. You're always comparing yourself to others.

It could be someone else in your office who appears to have the perfect family, or a competing company that appears to have the perfect product. Either way, Patkin says, spending too much time worrying about what others are doing will hold you back. "It's important for someone running a business to say to yourself, 'If I do my own work right, I'll be better off in the long run.'"

Besides, you never know what's real and what's perception. "I went to a conference once and there was a guy with a new auto parts business and no one could believe how fast he was growing," Patkin recalls. "Two years later, he had fled the country because he was being indicted. There's a lot of misinformation out there."

6. You're constantly trying to please your partner or spouse.

If you always do everything your partner wants, if you're always the one to say "I love you," and you don't feel you get enough emotional support in return, then something's out of balance and that needs to be addressed, Patkin says. He's a believer in couples counseling, which he says can sometimes save a troubled relationship.

At the same time, he acknowledges, most entrepreneurs have the opposite problem. "In general, I think we need to focus more on our spouses," he says. That might mean surprising him or her with flowers when it isn't Valentine's Day, or taking a few hours off work just to be together. Paying attention to these things will help preserve your partnership for when work crunch times can't be avoided. "It's like making deposits in a bank account," he says.

7. You always put others' needs ahead of your own.

If that describes you, watch out, Patkin warns. "There are a lot of people in our lives who depend on us and want our help, our time, and our advice," he says. "If you care for these people, you'll want to be accommodating."

That's OK, but only up to a point--sometimes you have to put your own needs first in order to be happy. "Figure out what's important to you, and what fulfills you, and prioritize those things at least some of the time," Patkin advises.

8. You're obsessed with your kids' success.

This is a tricky one, because a certain amount of concern just means you're a caring parent. It turns into a problem when you start living vicariously through your child's accomplishments and failures. At one time, Patkin recalls, his son was a star on his school's basketball team. "If he scored 20 points in a game, I felt like a hero. If he scored 2 points, I felt really bad."

Not only was this a drain on Patkin's emotional well-being, it wasn't so great for his son, either. "It can really mess your kids up if they feel like your love is conditional on their ability to score 20 points."

Speaking of kids, Patkin says to forget the whole concept of "quality time." That might work when they're small, but if you come home from work with just an hour of time you're planning to devote to your older children, they're likely to roll their eyes and go back to texting their friends. But he found with his son that if he simply hung around making himself available, eventually his son would start interacting with him. "It was on his own time," he says. "If you have teenagers, you have to be home more often, even if you're just working at the kitchen table."

9. You've signed up for an expensive gym membership that you never use.

If you've spent the last several years as a couch potato, don't expect yourself to suddenly start working out three times a week. In fact, the gym industry depends on this dynamic--if every paying member of every gym showed up on a regular basis, most of them would be severely overcrowded.

So, Patkin advises, cancel that gym membership. Start with a walk around the block instead, and once you're in that habit, maybe extend it to two blocks. "Just do whatever you're able to stick with," he says.

10. You have a large number of goals.

There's nothing wrong with goals, but some people overdo it, Patkin says. "They have to have 10 percent body fat, and this much money in the bank, and every Saturday they have to do this activity."

If this describes you, he says, it's time to do some pruning. "You should have maybe two business goals, one or two health goals, one or two relationship goals, and perhaps one or two goals related to spirituality, which might be as simple as taking a walk in the woods."

The main message is this: If you want to be happy, create some balance in every part of your life. After all, you're in it for the long haul.

Like this post? Sign up here for Minda's weekly email and you'll never miss her columns. Next time: How to get the best tech brains working for you.

 

Last updated: Mar 11, 2014

MINDA ZETLIN | Columnist | Co-author, 'The Geek Gap'

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and former president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Like this post? Sign up here for a once-a-week email and you'll never miss her columns.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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