I'm not sure when "workaholic" became a word, but I imagine it is offensive to those who have actually been addicted to substances like drugs or alcohol.
Many of us willfully choose to be addicted to work, logging in at 11PM at night just to answer one more email or doing a "jogging" meeting with an employee instead of just jogging for fun or better health. We tend to cram in as much as possible, mostly because technology now gives us that option.
Yet, what if we're not actually addicted to work at all?
There's a hint of an answer in the new book by Charles Duhigg called Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business, which is mostly about productivity and motivation. In the opening chapters, Duhigg writes about how giving people the ability to make small decisions in life gives them a sense of control and how that leads to more motivation and better productivity.
When I read that, I winced.
I know what he's saying, but I feel some of us (including me) have taken this to an extreme. It's possible we are not addicted to working hard, being productive, accomplishing great things, or finding success in the workplace and beyond. Instead, it's possible we are addicted to making small decisions and giving in to the illusion of control. And, that might be working against our ultimate goals.
I've lived this problem as a writer. According to my best estimates, I've now written close to 9,000 articles in the past 15 years. I've written about this before, and it's worth noting that the number includes a boatload of game and music reviews (sometimes dozens per day), plus a massive number of articles for this column. I'm incredibly prolific and productive, almost to a degree that it's a bit embarrassing. When I tell people how many articles I've produced over the years, they sometimes look at me like I have two heads, a tail, and a third leg. They even question my math skills.
I'm proud of this work output, but I've also realized that I really like the idea of making micro-decisions all day. I can decide to test a gadget or take a coffee break. I can type this next sentence or switch over to Chrome and browse Buzzfeed.
It's an interesting realization for me, after all of these years, because I might just like the control. I might be addicted to it. In fact, when I feel out of control--say, with the editing process--I don't enjoy the experience as much. (Sorry, editors.)
What about you? If you manage a group of employees, which part of leadership do you like the most? Is it empowering others and letting them succeed, or do you like the micro-managing involved that gives you a sense of productivity and motivation? I want to ask Charles Duhigg about this topic once I'm done with his book, but the illusion of power might be this: That we like to pull levers and then see results. We are motivated by the impulse to control, not the impulse to get anything done.
As more and more people become knowledge workers, to the point where that term doesn't make any sense any more and we all work with knowledge (and robots do the menial tasks we hate), it's good to start asking these questions. A more pure motivation is one where you want to have an influence and an impact, where you want to see the final results. When we set goals, we should balance the encouragement we feel when we attain something minor or easy with the long-term benefit of actually accomplishing something difficult and worthwhile.
True productivity is a balancing act between the minor achievements with the greater accomplishment. I want to do both. They have to coexist. And, I know my micro-decisions need to be part of the ultimate goals related to influence, achievement, and accomplishment. If they are not helping, it's just a pat on my own back.
If you have the same issues related to control and motivation, let's chat. I want to hear your opinions about whether this is a problem or a more valid way to work.