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Getting Over Overworking

I don’t want to be an alarmist, but you may have a serious problem.

You’re working too much.

Now I know that on the surface, the idea that you are working too much seems completely ridiculous. You’re famous throughout your company’s org chart for being a complete slacker. Considering your lack of productivity, your negative attitude, your complete indifference to deadlines, and your consistently negative reviews, the idea that you are actually doing too much work simply does not compute.

And yet it could be true.

How do I know? I know because I just watched “How Much Work is Too Much Work?” — 3.5 minutes of riveting video on the website of The Wall Street Journal. In the video, WSJ columnist Sue Shellenbarger and workplace consultant Amy Ruppert discuss the symptoms of — and cures for — overwork. (And yes — let me be the first to start the whispers rushing around Hollywood. It’s only a 3.5-minute video, and even though I spent most of that time getting popcorn, I totally smell Academy Award.)

The problem, as I understand it, is that too much work can lead people to a “breaking point.” One of the symptoms that shows you’re in breaking-point territory is if you are suffering from insomnia. So watch it. If you find it difficult to drift off to dreamland when you’re ready for your after-breakfast, or after-lunch or before-dinner naps, you may be working way too hard.

Aches and pains can be another symptom of overworking. Next time you and your colleagues are in the conference room, try an Arabian double front off the conference table. It’s a simple gymnastic move in which you start with a half turn and flip two times in the air before landing on your feet. If this results in any aches or pains, you’re overworked.

Overwork can also take its toll on relationships. Ruppert tells of a worker who postponed her child’s eighth birthday party for one week, because she had agreed to go to a meeting on that day. This is cruel and horrible. She should have taken her kid to the meeting with her. Trust me. After four hours listening to management blather on, that kid would never want another birthday for the rest of their life.

(There was also some chatter about how overwork can result in loss of memory, but I forget what that was all about.)

Another serious result of overwork is a psychological condition called anhedonia. It’s a mental state in which you never feel good about anything and lose touch with the joy of life. If you feel the slightest pang of depression when you walk in the front door of your workplace, and don’t even crack a smile when your manager slips in the hallway and falls on her butt, you’ve probably got it.

As Shellenbarger points out, every individual has a different “sweet spot” when it comes to being overloaded with work assignments from your overlords. It all depends on how we react to stress, and how we react to stress depends on many factors, including the amount of nurturing we received when we were growing up.

Of course, we were all mistreated as children. I remember my 16th birthday when my parents refused to buy me a pony and insisted that I be satisfied with a new Jaguar XKE. If your parents refused to cherish you, try to remember all the wonderful nurturing you have received from your managers. Focus on the way they lovingly point out your flaws and openly mock your accomplishments in front of your co-workers. That’s the kind of nurturing that should give you the strength to stay positive the next time a nasty new crash assignment comes along.

It’s how we react to added work that Ruppert feels is critical to managing our stress. She suggests that before you say yes to an additional assignment, you ask yourself what you will have to give up by taking on the work. If it means you will have to give up your weekends or your vacation, for example, you should consider carefully before you sign on. This makes sense, I suppose, but I also think that you should ask yourself what you have to give up when you say no. If it means you have to give up your salary, your health care and your house, you may want to throw caution and mental health to the winds and “just say yes.”

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at


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