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5 Boundary Setting Tips for the Work Obsessed: Before It’s Too Late

The “workaholic” badge was once worn with honor. We now know that too much work is linked to amplified stress levels and sleep deprivation, which can lead to an inability to communicate, collaborate, and work productively. Are you a member of the “Burnout Generation,” and what can you do to stop it?

A sign that reads" this is the place.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.com

Some industries are more susceptible than others, but no one is immune from burnout. It can hit the high-achievers, the overworked, and even the unappreciated. They come from all walks of life; business executives, nurses, firefighters, taxi drivers, and many other workers merely trying to perform their daily tasks.

Gallup found that, among almost 7,500 full-time employees, 23% reported feeling burnt out very often or continuously. As well, an additional 44% described feeling burnt out occasionally. These numbers are staggering but nothing to be ashamed of—after all, an addiction such as workaholism is an issue that needs awareness and an open dialogue around how to identify the signs and treat it.

My Work Obsession

I’ve been the founder and CEO of SociallyInfused Media for more than a decade. We’ve come a long way, and I am proud of what I’ve helped to build, but we had some dark days early on. It was all about the hustle and growth of the organization for the first 2-3 years. That meant the entire crew would regularly work 80 to 100+ hour weeks. The level of dedication from my team members was complete devotion―we often slept at the office, under desks, and sometimes even in our cars in the underground parking garage.

I was power-hungry and utterly obsessed with driving business and increasing our bottom line until I made one too many promises, and it cost me dearly. On one specific occasion, I was so keen on closing a new client that I grossly over-promised on a timeline for a major pilot project. My rationale was that if all went well, we would have a new, massive client and it would be worth the sacrifice.

We were in trouble early and, instead of readjusting our client’s expectations, we pushed ourselves into a three month, seven days a week for 18 hours/day schedule.

I literally had to relinquish my personal and family life to meet our deadlines. I also started cutting corners when it came to my own personal wellness—for instance, ordering fast food and depriving myself of sleep. It wasn’t just me. The entire team was also feeling overwhelmed, stressed and overworked. By the time we had successfully delivered the project, morale nose-dived, productivity had tumbled, and 4 of my 9 employees quit.

If that wasn’t enough—and it wasn’t, because the business was still succeeding—I realized that my obsession with work was even more serious once I visited our family doctor. I had gained 35 pounds, my blood pressure was through the roof and my doctor said I was on course to have a heart attack.

It hit me like a Mack truck, and I knew that I had to change the way I was ‘living’ or face the reality of losing both my life and the company that I had worked so hard to build.

Setting My Work Boundaries

From that moment, I prioritized my well-being above everything else and made a vow never to let that go again. Not for any amount of money or fame, no exceptions.

I later learned that, according to the Harvard Business Review, work burnout accounts for between $125-190 billion in health-care expenses each year. Just, wow.

I needed to be scared straight to shake my workaholism and it wasn’t easy. It’s up to the work-obsessed individual to create boundaries to help alleviate stress and actually detach themselves from their job. For those who feel over-worked or simply struggle to find a healthy work/home balance, I feel you, so here are five boundary-setting tips that helped me conquer my obsession.

1. Have a Set Schedule

This is easier said than done in some instances. Some companies encourage a standard schedule, while others have a more flexible time management system. In any case, attempt to normalize your work schedule. Try to set specific hours, if possible. This is especially important for those that work from home often. You would likely have a set schedule in the office, so plan your workday in advance and stick to it. There will be times where your plans must be shifted around a little and that is fine on occasion, but as much as possible, stick to your guns!

2. Unplug Yourself

Physically disconnecting from my job used to be absolutely terrifying. At least one-third of our day is spent working and when something takes up that much of your life, it can be hard to remove yourself from its clutches. However, it’s paramount to setting your work boundaries.

A recent study discovered that the average person checks their smartphone hourly, if not more. Try silencing your phone just before you close up shop for the day. It might seem like an extreme, but your family and friends need your hands-on time too. Make it a point to leave your phone in an inaccessible spot to curve your habit of pulling out your phone; for instance, in the car while at a restaurant or placing it on a high shelf at home when you walk in the door. It may seem difficult at first but you’ll get used to it and it will work.

3. Let People Know About It

Finding support and raising awareness are critical to the success of any significant change in your life. You’re embarking on some serious self-transformation but those around you won’t automatically adjustment their behaviors for you unless… you tell them to. It is important to tell yourself that you are setting limits and boundaries, but it’s just as crucial to let others in on the plan as well. Your colleagues, friends and family need to be aware of the habit changes that you are going to be making so that they aren’t alarmed or feel neglected when you suddenly stop immediately responding which, by now, they have probably become accustomed to. Some will understand while others will not, but all will know your limits.

4. Get Up Earlier

We tend to wake up, grab a quick breakfast, and race out the door; be it work, school, or other social engagements. This might sound counterproductive, but it helps to take the time to start your day on a positive note and sync with those you love. Some of the best times you can spend with family and friends are in the wee morning hours. There is just something special about those precious moments before everyone heads off to their daily routine, and chaos ensues.

Additionally, studies have made some interesting correlations between early risers and success. Wake up earlier, even just 30 minutes to talk about the day ahead, talk to one another and nurture your personal connections before starting your busy day.

5. Schedule Activities Away from the House

This is primarily for those that work at home a bunch, but it can also benefit those that work in the same place, day after day. Immerse yourself in new and stimulating environments so that you don’t feel like shifting your focus to your work problems or decide to ‘catch up on some emails’ when you get bored.

A Healthier and Happier Work/Life Balance

Let’s face it—for most, work is a necessary part of life, but becoming work-obsessed can cause some severe and even life-threatening consequences.

We understand that our physical health and mental well-being are essential and few of us would consciously decide to prioritize our business career over it. Nevertheless, it is happening. We frequently ignore the minor and major symptoms because we don’t have time to think about them—we have a deadline, or is it a DEADline?

To be honest, I’m still working on my workaholism. I worked most of my weekend to finish this article, and the irony didn’t escape me. Finding balance is easy in theory, but quite difficult in reality.

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