How do you recognize when you are working too much and for the wrong reasons?
Who today truly keeps their perspective of what's "normal" or acceptable when it comes to work? Surviving the economic crisis of 2009 has pushed the limits of what is normal behavior when it comes to working. The rules are changing and more and more of us are working longer hours, giving up weekends, taking on impossible deadlines, doing work we hate-because of downsizing and fear of being laid off. And none of this is satisfying or rewarding; it's the work equivalent of the Death March to Bataan.
Can you remember when you worked lots of hours because it was fun? Can you remember how it felt to finish a high-quality project on time, even if it meant long nights and weekends? You walked away from those moments knowing you had created something important and most likely, you had done it together with your colleagues, so the shared experience of success was even more rewarding. In the months that followed, "Remember when we knocked that project out of the park?" would bring a smile to everyone's face and a renewed sense of energy for the task at hand.
This energy is the fuel for sustaining your passion for work. Without it, work is hard and definitely not fun. There's a series of questions you can ask yourself to see if you've emptied your work gas tank and are running on fumes:
1. How will you feel when this (project, task, trip, event) is over? Exhausted or energized?
2. If you didn't need the paycheck, would you still do this? And if you would still do it, would you truly enjoy doing it?
3. How many of your work hours, in percent of time, do you spend looking forward to the tasks at-hand, or dreading them?
a. Said another way, out of one hour, how many minutes are you happy?
b. Is Sunday night the worst night of the week? Do you dread hearing the alarm clock ring on Monday morning?
4. Do you find yourself settling for "good enough" when you used to take pride in the quality of your work?
5. Do you fantasize about getting sick or breaking your leg just to get some time off of work?
6. Do you get disproportionately angry when work intrudes on your time off? (...Also known as "Why are those idiots calling me now?")
a. Do your family and friends see this reaction and wonder what happened to the person they used to know?
7. Do things you used to take in stride overwhelm you?
8. Do you negotiate with yourself about quitting-"If (your most painful thing) happens, then that's it, I'm leaving!"-and yet you never seem to pull the trigger?
9. Do you negotiate time not working with yourself? "I'll just watch the Today Show 10 more minutes, and then I'll work on e-mails." Have you regressed to when you were five years old and you wanted to watch TV just five more minutes Mom!
Any one of these questions can be true at any given time for all of us. It's when two or three or four are true that it's clear that our passion for work has been replaced by a sense of obligation and even dread. Obligation is a bad coach; it never inspires us or gives us the energy we need to be happy at work.