Workaholism: A Beginner's Guide

An unbalanced take on work-life balance.

Workaholism: A Beginner's Guide

My conversations about productivity are usually about finding balance. It's something I've been striving towards for years.

But a friend asked me recently - how would I suggest becoming more of a workaholic?

My first thought was -

Holy fuck! I really am the cautionary tale. The 80-hour week guy, the guy working on his laptop while his friends enjoy a wine-tasting, the man destined to be the absent dad at the footy game, etc. etc.

- and only when recovering from this daze, did I realise it was an opportunity to examine this from a whole new angle.

Because surely he deserved better advice than "brrrr just work the weekend dood".

Why bother?

Take a step back and it's a lucky question to ask - it means life's already good enough that work can be about more than survival.

But I realised the question was less geared around working a lot than having its perceived benefits - better outcomes, more money, a more sustainable business, etc.

And you don't need long hours to achieve that; just well-placed effort. As runners and cyclists believe in avoiding junk miles, knowledge workers are best swerving busywork and tedious admin: automate what you can automate, delegate what you can, batch the rest.

Still - as someone who's worked hard since I was in short shorts, I couldn't let it stop there.

Right at the heart of this is a philosophical acceptance: that the hours I spend on my work aren't a distraction from the business of living, but a meaningful part of my life.

And right at the heart of that is Step Zero: the underlying why of your work that justifies every what.

No practical steps will aid someone without that spark.


I believe we can build a better workaholism, that still satisfies the craving for a hard day's night.

Here's a start:

  1. Build the system

Is it just money you want? That is a perfectly acceptable reason, money's awesome.

Or maybe it's more esteem in your industry, pushing your potential, or the satisfaction of a better outcome.

Pretty obviously - starting with a clear reason of why you want to work harder gives you something to target.

Not least because there might be smarter solutions. Want more money? That might mean charging more, not working more.

A clear grasp of the outcome will help you set the right inputs. Growing your business by focusing on the 100 more phone calls a week, say, not the 10 more sales.

This gives it the characteristics of an infinite game, tells you where to focus and, most importantly, when to stop for the day.

Because there's always tomorrow.

2. Build the space

We're simple copying monkeys, and as with many things, associating with people who are ambitious, fast, productive and hard-working lets you see and absorb these qualities.

A career in ad agencies meant being surrounded by smart and resilient people, often working til late on toothpaste ads while sending each other Churchill memes.

So a hustle-first environment, like a friendly company, co-working space or coffee shop, might help you thrive on the energy of others.

Just remember, cultivating time with successful people - as Naval says - might make you successful, but it won't make you happy.

So also spend time with people you like and who like you; who don't care about your work or success, and love you anyway.

3. Build the strength

Energy is a supply and demand commodity: the more you ask, the more you'll eventually have.

If you're looking for endurance for hard work, it's like lifting heavier weights. Steadily increase your load, and you can strive harder and further.

My only suggestion is to build the right kind of resilience: less about long hours for their own sake, and more the sustained ability to enjoyably concentrate. This is as much about rest and recovery as burning time in front of a screen, phone or client.

For this, I really recommend Cal Newport's book Deep Work because it contains not only the background philosophy but the practical steps to a high volume of sustained and high-quality work.


Put these three together and you might be onto something.

What do you think?

Disagree completely or something to add?

Hit me up.




Image credit: Jakob Soeby