For over ten years, I worked every single day and never had a holiday. I worked every Christmas day and even when I was ill with food poisoning and a 102.9 temperature.
I can actually remember the food poisoning episode very well. When you design a kitchen you should design the sink, cooker and fridge in a triangle so you are always within close proximity of one of them. Well, to be able to work when you are ill, you need a similar set-up... a toilet, a bed and an office. Luckily, I had the perfect triangle for food poisoning as well.
With the rising use in tablets and smartphones, there is almost no excuse for not working every hour of the day, even when you are supposed to be asleep in bed. Check your emails in the early hours or tweet when you wake up in between dreams.
Some people might think you are crazy but you have an important email you are waiting for so why not keep your email alerts on Push, even if it's 3am?
Is this a pattern you have become familiar with? Do you recognise the person above? Is this you?
As someone who started web design in the 1990s, I grew up online with a new crowd of people whom I still know many of today. One thing I can read in many of their emails is burnout. We're not jaded and we haven't lost interest in what we are doing, we've just lost the plot and have been sucked into a new world that has taken control.
BTW, I've been online since 6am this morning but I'll write below why that's acceptable in a minute. Well, I'll try and justify it at least. It's Thursday but that won't make sense just yet.
Do you fit the mould?
Anyone who has started an online company or business will probably fit the mould here very well and I'm sure that we have a whole new generation of people who are slowly, if not already, evolving into being addicted to their work, their smartphone or everything online in general.
What happens is that you start with either a small acorn or a Russian vine cutting and they can either slowly evolve into a huge oak tree or rapidly grow into a mass of sprawling and fast growing vine. Before you know it, you have been sucked into a world that you have to keep tabs on, by the minute, or you'll be out of touch and out of date. You have to know everything that is happening in your own world, your twitter friends, your Facebook friends, all of those tech news sites, the latest award winning work etc. You MUST know about this as it happens.
Also, your work means that you must never be more than five minutes away from an email... or does it? Why are we addicted to email and status updates?
Let's look back at our childhoods...
Yes, we can pretty much blame the postman for many of our addictive qualities, especially to email. Growing up, we often waited for the postman to deliver and had an element of excitement and sometimes anxiety, as to whether or not there was any post for us. With email, we have that every time we hit send/receive and we can replicate that feeling every minute of the day.
As I said at the start of this article, I never had a day off for ten years, not even a holiday. Trying to give an excuse for this, one of the reasons was that my main website, thefwa.com, had no automated processes, so every day I had to manually update the Site of the day winner and also any news. I had to also send daily emails to FWA's judges with the latest sites to judge and await their results by return email. I had one huge paper trail of emails and work to do every day.
My workload had become obscene and even though I had realised it and felt chained to my processes I felt unable to do anything about the situation.
The plus side of working 24x7x365 is that you can create an amazing business or become a very well-respected person online as you will undoubtedly have your finger well and truly on the pulse of everything that is happening. The minus is that, long term, things will begin to take toll on your life and the people around you, even if you are single.
How I changed and what you can do
First of all, you must look at your work processes and see if you can automate them. I invested substantially in an all new FWA website ( http://thefwa.com) and we automated as many processes as possible. Heck, isn't that what computers were invented for?! This was the best investment I ever made as it literally gave me a lot of time back. Downside is that I didn't use that extra time for my own personal life but I invested that back into my business and online world again... do not despair though as there is light at the end of this tunnel.
The iPhone also saved me from having to be close to my PC to check email every minute or every hour, or, if I was out, it stopped me getting withdrawal symptoms. Only issue here is that it made the addiction even worse... I was now able to check email when my wife went to the toilet in the middle of the night. Getting a bad email or reading something negative on twitter before bed or even when you are supposed to be relaxing with family is a recipe for disaster and potential family fallouts as the negative impact it can have on your mental wellbeing is not ideal when you are supposed to be relaxing and unwinding.
I used to sleep for 8 hours every night, no problem. I loved going to bed and looked forward to that nice, cosy sleep. Now, I hate going to bed and sleep with one eye open... well not quite but you get my drift.
At the risk of boring you with even more descriptions of yourself, if you are addicted to work and/or the online world we live in... how did I recover from 24x7x365?
I thought I had to be connected to email and everything else ALL day and EVERY day, even now my business (FWA) is very well automated. However, inside, I knew I was wrong and having recently got married, my wife was making this quite clear to me as well and I knew she was right. My father also had spent many years hearing about how much time I spent working and often weighed in with his thoughts. As you get older you also realise life is flying past.
So, how could I stop working every day of the week?
Simple... if you feel you need to be connected to the online world every day of the week, stop right there and here is what you do:
1. Next Friday, you will stop work at 5pm and you will leave your smartphone out of site (Edit: you can see the level of addiction when you spell words like "sight" as "site") and off. If you find an excuse here that you still need it as a phone... get another phone for personal/emergency phone calls. If you won't do this... move your email, Facebook and twitter icons into a folder so you do not automatically launch one of them.
2. Between Friday 5pm and Wednesday 6am, no work and no online activities that are not needed. You could still use your smartphone for real life, i.e. searching for traffic news etc. Just do not get sucked into your previous pattern of keeping up to date with your online world. I appreciate this 3 day week might only be achievable by people who are self-employed or those who are in control of their own working hours but even if you work for a company, you must take control and stop all out of working hours activities during these days. You'll be amazed how fresh you feel... please try it for at least one week.
3. If you decide to take a holiday, try to leave your phone at home or get an old school type of phone just for those occasions. When I went on honeymoon I had no phone at all, all I missed was the camera and I was amazingly relaxed. If your wife, partner, friend etc has a smartphone, try and convince them the same or you'll end up looking at the old you.
4. Back to work Wednesday morning and you can now focus on working for the next three days. Yes, you'll have a lot of email etc but if you actually work 3 structured days, you'll find yourself enjoying being busy and not being that person who was always checking stuff. Just get your work ethic back on track. It's more than possible here that after 2 days of work, you'll be back to the point of having some spare time and you can enjoy some of Friday doing that random surfing you used to enjoy.
5. You can put your icons back in their usual locations on your smartphone or tablet until 5pm Friday when you'll move them away from temptation again.
6. Ideally, you should stop working every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 5pm and you should leave your smartphone out of reach as #1 above. You should also dissuade your family and friends from bringing their devices into social situations. Especially at home and even more so if you have family, have a room where devices have to be left at the door. Have at least one area "device free". If you take your phone to bed with you... STOP DOING THAT TODAY! It's an easy one, just leave it in another room and a room you don't have to pass if you need the toilet. Need an alarm or to know what the time is at night? Go old school and get a super cool alarm clock for your bedroom.
You might think I'm crazy to say that if you are so busy, you should work less than 50% of the time you currently are. How the heck will you get all of that work done in just 3 days? If, like me "all of that work" is actually a lot of fluff, you'll find it easy and very refreshing.
A good online friend of mine recently buried a friend of his, way before his time. He just went to bed one night and didn't wake up. Life's far too short and none of us know what is around the corner. Don't let that be you and don't let the online world we have all become addicted to take you over for another week, let alone the rest of your life.
So, at least try the 3 day week and let me know how you get on @fwa ( http://twitter.com/fwa). If you find it can work or helps you at least realise your level of addiction, make sure you tell at least one of your colleagues or friends to try it as well.
I just got my life back and so did you. :)
About the author:
Rob Ford, Founder & Principal, The FWA Network (http://thefwa.net)
Rob Ford, born England 1969, founded Favourite Website Awards (FWA) in May 2000, a recognition program for cutting edge web design, which has since evolved to also showcase the best in mobile via m.thefwa.com (http://m.thefwa.com/), the best in photography via FWAPhoto (http://www.fwaphoto.com/) and the best in video via FWAwebTV http://thefwa.com/fwawebtv. Rob has four books under his belt, all of them bestsellers (see them here http://go.thefwa.com/rob_books). You can follow Rob @fwa (http://twitter.com/fwa).