It is not rocket science and you probably heard this one before: work in work time, play in play time. Still, between knowing it and applying it there is a gap.
And it is impressive how far this technique, when applied, can take you out of chaos land into relaxed, energized and motivated work land, and how many people think play and relax time is optional, something that can and almost should be invaded by work whenever it is necessary.
Let's start by dispelling the excuses. Of course, you might be going through a rough patch with your job and work your way into the night on this particular period. Or your cat (or even worse, a human member of the family) needs medical attention, so you had to deal with that and you've fallen behind work, and now your work all over the place. Literally, it has invaded most places in your time.
Mad periods do happen. You know them - they are those times when you wonder if you can do everything you have to do and still sleep enough at night and eat once a day on the run (who invented these prosaic constraints for the human body that get in the way of our passionate workaholism anyway? I don't know, but when I found out I'll share it with you and we can write a letter about the complaint together).
However, if you find yourself always or repeatedly stuck on this mad-speed treadmill, there is no mad period that should last that long. If you find yourself with work invading all the corners of your life, there is a very strong chance that you just don't have a strong enough play ethic.
If "play" sounds too far-fetched and makes you react with disgust (because it's so, like, the opposite of work!), let’s be gentle to your puritanical workaholism and call it rest time. Or self-care time. If you are a generally curious person that wants lots of experiences in their life, let’s call it exploration time. If you are very responsible and relationship-oriented, you can think of it as nurturing relationships time (you don't want to make your friends and family feel abandoned or lacking your attention, do you?).
So, whatever other things you are interested in or devoted to (other than work), use it to justify to your workaholism the need for "other" time.
As it happens, I am quite passionate about my work too. But, and this is a big but, I realized some time ago that in the very interest of my work, I need the generically called play time. Here's why:
Play time is like cleaning up the slate and re-energising yourself. It is, if you want, a distraction from the (deep voice) very important (undo deep voice) time spent working. In fact, “play” in my native language it is called exactly that - "distraction". You want to be at your best when working, don't you?
Well, not having real-time off is like not sleeping enough - it makes you foggy and unable to see the best strategies. It makes you spend much more time-solving things and completing projects. It makes you feel exhausted and inefficient.
When you walk into work after having spent an entire weekend not doing anything work-related (I know, blasphemy), you can actually see the easier ways to sort things out. Everything is easier to do, and you feel much better about yourself for having that energy and clarity of mind to see and solve things easily. It makes you feel stronger and more efficient.
Now, of course, I am not in your life. I don't know its messes. I am on my own, and everyone's mess patterns are different. I don't know what you have to deal with, but try this one out. Aggressively get rid of some activities, postpone them or do them in advance, as to have at least one day off per weekend. Really off. If you are a true workaholic, you will of course quickly find a way to use up that day in the interest of sorting more things out, or starting a new project, or doing something nice for the ones around you. But this is step one. If you can, please resist the temptation. Imagine the following outrageous scenario: it might be that your company will not actually collapse even when you do not put in all those extra hours, and that you will not get fired. In fact, it could very well be that nobody notices much.
And if you feel tempted into transgressing, and working, here is some food for thought.
When solving complex tasks, it is known that sometimes the best solutions come from moments of insight. These moments normally occur when you are relaxed, and well on your way into undertaking some distracting activity. The mind needs to enter an incubation stage: having worked on the problem for a while, you have to focus on something else or simply be relaxed to allow our so-called unconscious to work on it without our effort in a much smarter way than we possibly manage effortfully.
Also, do you find it fair or ok that work should take every breathing minute you have? What about fun and play and exploring new things and spending time with the people you love or enjoy the company of? Was that not in your life plan?
If you are indeed stuck into some project that requires all of your time and absolutely can't get time off for the weekends or evenings in sight, we have a plan b, an aggressive lateral strategy.
If you are indeed that stuck, and frustrated, I want you to look at the time when this project will be over and book some days off. Think of it as revenge for getting overworked.
If you know you will use this time to sort out other things around the house, book it anyway. Buy yourself an (affordable) holiday anywhere for a few days, to keep you out of your compulsive work routine. Then proceed to finish your project in the most efficient way you can see fit at this precise moment.
After the mad period has ended, establish boundaries. Put the work time in a box, and try to not let it spill over. Repeat, as we both know shit (cough) I mean life will get in the way. Enjoy the benefits, until they become part of who you are and your lifestyle. Create a habit.
After you created this habit you can proceed to more advanced things. Master at least four free weekends, and four weeks in which you have left work at a reasonable time and had a relaxing evening. Actively notice their benefits and change your opinions on how efficient working all the time is.
The most common relapse at this stage happens like this: you will see you are more energised and efficient in your work than before. You will get excited. You will generalise on this mood, and think how much more work you could get done if you will use more time at your current energy levels. You will forget that the current motivation and energy levels are created by not over-crowding yourself. You will overwork again, until you collapse back into a stressed puddle of chaos,
exhaustion or despair. Cycle complete. Welcome back. Start again. It takes most workaholics a few of these cycles to learn this lesson, as we are not (really) rational people when it comes to what we can or should achieve.
'Tis all fine, darling. Now if you truly want to master this, try making a habit out of it in the mission, and establish a challenge for yourself.