I just sneaked into my office. The clock on the wall says 11 p.m., but I've barely noticed. My fingers dance over a keyboard, furiously answering last-minute emails. Why do I do this to myself? What makes me think answering emails at 11 at night makes any sense?
Might as well face it: I'm addicted to work.
For me, the problem started more than a decade ago, when technology became so pervasive. It wasn't just easy access to a smartphone that caused me to think about work all day. It also wasn't Gmail, which I remember beta testing way back in about 2006. I usually blame Wi-Fi and a laptop, an easy scapegoat since they are the two seminal technologies that made working from anywhere more feasible. (Before that, I somehow figured out how to take a desktop computer home with me from work and connect up to a modem, but I will spare you the gory details on how that all worked.)
Pervasive computing is just one small part of the problem, though.
I have a deeper, core motivation to keep working, keep pushing, and keep striving. As usual, there's a root problem. Having easy access to my email on an iPad might exacerbate the problem, but these tools are not entirely to blame.
It's me. I need to change. The real problem is that I'm too driven to succeed and willing to make too many compromises. One of my goals for next year is to not be so hyperconnected that I'm hyperdisconnected from the people around me. So here's my plan.
First, I am going to finally figure out how to program my router to disable the internet after 6 p.m. Most routers offer this feature, but you have to wade through a few settings to get it to work. I like the Skydog router that makes this much easier (the company was recently acquired by Comcast, so we'll be seeing the tech fairly soon). Without Wi-Fi running in my office, I know I can still tap in with my phone, but it's still a roadblock for just about every other gadget. Plus, it's a healthy reminder to disengage.
Second, I plan to schedule more "away time" from work. It sounds simplistic, but booking a series of trips and vacations long before I actually need them is a great way to force myself away from (OK, let's call it jar myself away from) work. It's a crowbar for addicts like me. Given the choice between walking through the woods or crunching out another spreadsheet full of startup data, I will always pick the woods, but my bad habit is to drift back to the data. Being more intentional about scheduled time off will help me avoid that.
Third, I'm determined to stop checking email so often. It's a well-worn pattern. One of my tricks will be to use an out-of-office message more frequently after 5 p.m., which is a practical way to let people know I should not be bothered--even for those two hours behind me in California. Kicking back a message also reminds me that I am not supposed to be working. If you know of a good email app that helps people like me avoid being too proficient with messaging, let me know.
Here's hoping these three small steps help me not connect up so often. However, I realize the problem is also that I am using work to get ahead and achieve success. At times, that's what we all have to do to move forward, especially if you are just starting a new venture. If it becomes a lifestyle pattern, no success of any kind will bring fulfillment and rewards, not if you're too stressed and overworked to enjoy it.
So, are you with me? Do you want to be more productive when you are actually at work, instead of stretching out your "workday" to a 12-hour span? Post comments if you have some plans of your own, and here's to working a bit less and enjoying life a bit more.