A few years ago, I found myself in a situation that I now realize wasn’t unique. Like thousands of other entrepreneurs, I believed that the more I worked, the more successful my business would be. I was proud of my long workdays and my 80-hour workweeks, and wore it like a badge proving my dedication and worth. The problem was that I was exhausted. I spent nearly every waking moment working, and it was unsustainable. My relationships suffered and I suffered: I couldn’t find the time to have dinner with my wife or go to the gym.
I was a workaholic. That term “workaholic” has become something of a badge of honor among entrepreneurs. Yet, once I gained perspective, I realized even though I spent most of my waking hours working, I wasn’t very productive.
Learning to Be Productive
Why? Because, as it turns out, workaholics are often the least-efficient workers. If you’re working a 12-hour day, then you may not have to be efficient. You’ve got all day—or all night if necessary—to get your work accomplished. With no sense of urgency, you’re more free to fritter your time away on office pools, Internet “research” and Facebook. You spend too much time micromanaging your staff and rethinking decisions you made two years ago.
Take a real close look at what you spend your time on. How necessary is all of the stuff you do in a day? Odds are a lot of it isn’t necessary or a priority—not even a little bit.
After I realized how unproductive I, Workaholic Mike, was, I restructured my schedule and committed to working a 9-to-5 day. Crazy notion, right? Even though it was a self-appointed change, I highly doubted that I could accomplish everything in only eight hours. However, I not only stayed on top of my workload, but was forced to focus on the essentials and stay on task in a way that I hadn’t when I had “all the time in the world.”
Committing to a regular workday wasn’t easy at first. I found myself coming up with excuses to work late. Yet, I was determined: The fix I developed was to schedule myself out of the office immediately after 5 p.m. every day. Whether it was a doctor’s appointment, my kid’s soccer game or dinner with my wife, I made sure that I had a commitment that required me to leave the office. What I learned was that, in my anxiety about making it out the door on time, I prioritized better and actually accomplished more.
More Than a Schedule Change
Limiting your work hours is only part of the solution, though. We all know people who can’t make it through dinner without checking their phones, answering texts or replying to emails. (Heck, some of us are those people.) If you start limiting the hours you work outside of the office, you may find that you enjoy the time spent outside of the office, and you’ll start putting your phone away for longer periods of time.
Maybe it’s not reasonable to stay away from work all night, especially if you do business with people in other areas of the country or world. Set an hour aside every night to sit down go through all the items that need your attention. What you may find is that you do it more quickly than if you interrupt your dinner to answer each message as it comes in. Not only will you be able to enjoy dinner, but you’ll also be able to knock your work out in less time.
It all comes down to setting limits and enhancing your productivity. Neglecting your personal commitments in favor of wasting time in the office won’t help your business, and it sure won’t make you feel more fulfilled. Spending your workday crossing things off your to-do list means that you’re getting stuff done, and at the same time, you’re clearing your free time to have a personal life.
Abandoning my workaholic ways meant that I was able to accomplish more work in less time, while restoring that critical work-life balance. After all, it’s not how many hours you work that matters. It’s what you do with those hours that’s important.
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This article was originally published on July 25, 2014.