Did you know that a lot of freelancers, even “successful” freelancers either have – or have had jobs?  It seems counter intuitive I know, however when you consider that more often than not “freelancing” equates to “unstable income” it’s not hard to see why many opt to have some kind of safety net in the form of part time (even full time) work. Taking writers as an example, many are teachers, doctors and even lawyers by day and freelancing word smith by night. Like someworkaholic kind of literary super hero.

Time, Location and place.

Now, as there’s only so many hours in a day, the trick is in finding the right job for your needs. The aim here is finding a job that isn’t going to make it impossible for you to freelance outside of work hours because of mental or physical fatigue. As such, many people seek work outside of their respective freelancing fields, however the successful freelancer will attempt to find regular work that compliments their own field.

Finding work as a technical writer or even an editor would give a freelance writer the chance to keep improving their skills whilst earning that all important paycheck. Of course the potential downside here is running out of intellectual and literary steam by the time you come to actually “freelance”. But remember you have to find what works for you, the only wrong answer being: “well I’ve finished work, and now can’t be bothered to do freelance stuff”

But even assuming you’ve made the “right” choice of standard employment and everything is going great you can still run into a pretty big problem. As a freelancer your professional life and private life basically become the same thing, this leads to a sort of mental block on having “downtime” in the form of a little voice in the back of your mind always reminding you “you could be working now”. And it’s true, you honestly could be working now thanks to the rise of smart devices you could be working anywhere, anytime.

Money is good, but so is your health.

Despite the fact “workaholism” has had study after study done for around the last 45 years or so, we still don’t fully understand its effects on people and the ongoing digital revolution has only added a new level of complexities to the problem of work addiction. Smart devices allow us to “work” from pretty much anywhere at all times. Even with standard full time employment the ability to simply take work home with you is enough to blur the lines between “Home” and “Work” resulting in many forgoing much needed leisure time in order to keep on working. If you then add the “Freelancer Curse” of that nagging little keep-working-voice on top of this over worked cake – you can run into some real problems.

Freelancers, contractors and entrepreneurs live in high-pressure work environments of pure stress. Looming deadlines, 24/7 internet based business and a potentially global client base has resulted in longer and longer work hours that many find hard to disengage from, worse still – many find it a rush. Missing that all important call or not pouncing on that e-mail can mean the difference between rags and riches, when the stakes ride high on 24/7 social interactions it’s not hard to see why “Time is money” is a thing. But this attitude leads people to pass up relaxing at all, it’s becoming so wide spread that workaholism is now widely coined as the “first addiction of the digital age”

So at what point does the willingness to be an active member of the 24/7 business world transform into workaholism? Most of the studies and research done over that past 40+ years tends to define a workaholic as “A person for whom work has become excessive and compulsive – resulting in the inability to detach from their respective fields of work” The problem with this rather vague description is that we now commonly call those people “Freelancers” or “Intra/Entrepreneurs”

When is too much, too much?

So the problem becomes: How to differentiate “Has sound work ethics” from “Is a workaholic”? Well thankfully some rather clever Norwegian people from the Dept. of Psychosocial Science at the University of Bergen have spotted some rather specific “symptoms” that characterise workaholics, which they used to create the “work addiction” scale based on the following data points:

  • Constantly thinking about way to free up more time to work
  • Spends a lot more time working than was initially intended
  • Works in an attempt to reduce negative feelings
  • Has been told to cut back hours working, but refuses/doesn’t listen
  • Begins to feel stressed if unable/prohibited to work
  • Often opts out of hobbies or leisure times to allow for more work
  • Will work to the point of negative impact on health

If any of these points applies to you, chances are, you’re a workaholic. The Bergen study concluded that roughly 8.3% of the Norwegian workforce are addicted to work. As side note, similar studies have shown around 10% of the average country’s population are workaholics.

In addition to the previous data points – people already identified as workaholics often ranked highly in the categories of the following personality traits:

  • Agreeableness – Workaholics tend to be modest, compliant and altruistic.
  • Neuroticism – Workaholics are often Impulsive, hostile and rather nervous.
  • Intellect/imagination – Workaholics have a tendency to be inventive and action focused.

The research concludes that younger people run the highest risk of becoming workaholics. The level of education, marital status or even gender had seemingly no effect, however parents are far more likely to become work addicted compared to people without children. This suggests the need to “support” could play a fairly large role in this.

Work, Time and Your Life.

Despite some mangers or CEO’s feeling a little happy on the inside when they land someone who’s not only willing, but happy to work till they pass out at the desk, long-term it might not be such a good investment. The Kansas State University released a study in 2013 which showed people who worked 50+ hours a week, were far more likely to suffer mental and physical problems.

Higher ups may love people with the inability to detach from work in the short term thanks to increased productivity, but the key phrase here is “short term” In reality, that productivity is going to nose dive as the persons relationships, mental and physical health begin to breakdown. Stress has this way of building up on people, resulting in this cumulative effect as their life starts to unravel – increasing health and mental risks even further.

The act of working ever increasingly long hours creates a sort of paradox. Working longer hour’s results in more money, but those same hours’ result in less time to even enjoy spending the money in the first place – resulting in working longer hours etc… Before you’ve even realised what’s happened, your life has devolved into nothing more than an idiom… “All work and no Play”

Workaholism needs to be treated as serious condition – and not as some kind of status symbol. Adding to the already difficult task of even identifying if somebody is a workaholic is that Diagnostic and Statistical Manual doesn’t even recognize it as an “addiction” the same way say gambling would be diagnosed. As such, insurance help with treatments (if you’re in the US) may not be available.

But arguably the best way to handle workaholism is to develop your own awareness of the tell-tale tendencies listed in the above data points you may currently have (or potentially develop) Keep an eye on the amount of time you keep putting into your work and take note when you’re professional and private life collide. The simple act of setting healthy work-life boundaries and sticking to them can be enough to stave off work hour creep, however remember that anther idiom – “Work smarter, not harder” is also  a thing.

It’s a tricky path to tread, as we’ve shown – attempting to increase productivity via multitasking, longer hours and being connected 24/7 can and will backfire. It’s an endless cycle, the harder we push to get things done, the harder the frustration of a dwindling attention span hits us – resulting in harder pushes. Perhaps then, the answer to drops in productivity isn’t pushing ever longer hours and instead make better use of the time we have or to put it simpler “Work Smarter”

There’s only so many hours in a day, so make the most out of them.

As such, I propose adopting the following work habits to help you get the most out of your time:

  1. Creative Hobbies are the great stress reliever. As your workload increases you’ll understandably feel less and less inclined to enjoy creative endeavours. However research published in Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology has shown that having a “creative” hobby can indeed improve performance in the workplace.

Creative endeavours have been highly linked to the ability to handle and indeed reduce work related stress. Better still, your hobby doesn’t need to take up vast amounts of your time (but feel free to indulge) as an example why not try writing a short story over your lunch hour or switching out your podcasts for music you find to be inspiring. As an added bonus, your knew found creativity is likely to spill over in to on the job problem solving which is more than helpful in  terms of perforce!

  1. The creation of interesting and inspiring goals is paramount. No matter how hard you push yourself, if you don’t feel interested in your project/task, your performance isn’t going to be wonderful. As it stands, your levels of interest could be the largest factors in your success, as research from Duke University shows – your performance can be optimized simply by having a lot of interest in your current task/project.

Additionally, it’s also rather important for whatever you’re working on to feel important or meaningful. If you view whatever you’re working on as such, you’re more likely to push yourself to completion because you’re positively invested. The aim being the creation of smaller goals to help you stay attentive and focused throughout your work day.

  1. Keep work separated from home. Without maintaining the balance of work/home life, you run the risk of a nose divine in productivity. Worries about your personal and professional life have a tendency to fuel the giant productivity crusher better known as “stress”. Stress leaves you feeling emotionally drained and often depressed, what’s more, a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found a pretty direct link between work-home conflicts and “job burnout”.

There is a real need to create and maintain a healthy balance between work and everyday life. Placing a cap on your willingness to bring work home with you and breaks away from technology will help to create a definite split between work and home, which in turn, will help to reduce job burnout.

  1. Remember everything you can be thankful for. We’ve all been there, that point when your workload is so fat you can’t have any time for anything other than more work. It’s at that point, when taking the time to put a little gratitude into practice can make all the difference. Take an honest look at everything you’ve got to be thankful for – be it fellow employees or business associates. As research shows, simply the act of expressing gratitude is enough to increase your resilience to stress, help to limit potential mental and health problems all while boosting productivity and your general satisfaction with life.

As an added bonus, gratitude doesn’t just help make you more productive, but also the people around you. Research by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania shows that when employers thank employees for their hard work, that expression of honest gratitude would trigger a 50% increase on average in team productivity.

The Zen of Wolf?

A commonly used Zen proverb states: “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day – unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour” As the age of 24/7 connectivity rages on, one of the hardest things to do is simply finding time for more healthy habits. The Irony being, that taking the time to slow down – can increase your productivity. Work smarter people, always smarter.

Now even if you put all of this into practise and achieve work Zen, you can’t always control your situation. Life is always trying to find new ways to mess with you, and as such I’ve found a few key points of my own that have helped me avoid a complete and total melt down the like of which even Russiahasn’t seen. You need a tougher hide, one might say hardy?

  • Build Up Hardiness. Hardiness is the ability to handle stress in more positive and healthier ways, it’s also the ability to create and maintain a positive outlook as unforeseen problems leap out of the darkness at your unsuspecting productivity.

Universal truth time: there will always be problems in your life. However it’s how you deal with those problems that has a tendency to determine how successful you are in both the short and long term. When a hardy person encounters a problem, they see a challenge.

  • Seek Challenge. As a hardy person – you accept that life just wants to mess with you as fact, and look forward to dealing with whatever it throws at you. It can be chaos, but chaos can simply be a term for “change”.

Believing that change can only teach you something, but is a force of new encounters and mental stimulation results in viewing change as “opportunity” or to put it simply: you view chaos as an opportunity. This fundamental shift in perception will allow you to accept, understand and control difficult situations – before they control you.

  • Stick With Commitment. When you like what you do, you tend to have the drive and determination to see that task/project to the finish line.

When life throws you that Ol’ Chaos curve ball, you have to up your levels of commitment to finishing that project instead of simply giving in to negative views of fail and defeatism. Regardless of what life throws your/your projects way, stay calm and take control of the situation and finish.

  • Stay In Control. You must believe in your own ability to keep in control and influence the situations around you.

When things go nuclear, you have to believe you can either A. fix it or B. make the most of it via adapting to the situation. Also take the initiative and actively seek opportunities to change potentially negative situations in your favour.

  • Don’t Give In To INTIMDATION! The three C’s of Challenge, Commitment and Control don’t naturally too many people. For the majority of us mortals it’s something we need to learn, and keep on learning.

Intimidation might be a strong phrase there, but how else do you describe being faced with a huge problem with no immediately obvious answer other than “intimidated”? If your first reaction is to simply run from the big scary thing heading your way, you’ll even get the chance to apply the 3C’s in the first place. Stand your ground- meet the challenge, commit to finding an answer, then use that answer to take to control of the situation.

  • Solutions over Emotions. Always acknowledge how you honestly feel about a given situation. However simply lamenting over your emotions doesn’t actually help solve any problems.

Don’t give into negative self-talk (I’d argue staying away from talking to one’s self is a good rule of thumb) instead try to find and focus on positive and indeed logical steps you can take (if you find yourself asking “what would Superman do?” you’ve taken the wrong path) and take them to towards fixing your current problem. The sooner you take those steps, the better you’ll feel.

Ramble if you must, but a point would be nice.

So to summarise, you need to honestly identify any conflicts between home and work you might have, and take an honest look at the amount of hours a day you’re putting in. And remember if you feel your work hours creeping ever longer perhaps it’s time to rethink how you work instead of just focusing on the when/how long. And arguably most importantly is accepting that not every situation is going to go your way – and knowing how to deal with that without simply melting down.

Also that I hate not working, basically that’s why I’m writing this right now if I’m being honest. Like really, REALLY hate that feeling – it’s like I’m physically throwing my time away, is that even possible? And if don’t write I can’t afford coffee… the horror of a life without coffee.