Self-employment is a welcome refuge for people addicted to doing. When you work for yourself doing what you love, work becomes a Catch 22. It’s really easy to work through evenings, weekends, and holidays when you tell yourself that you enjoy work, there’s little dichotomy between work and life, and that you’re building your business, serving others and crafting a legacy.

If you gleefully anticipate public holidays as an opportunity to tackle all those things that you’ll “finally” have time to work on and you approach time off or time with friends with the same rigour that you do work, consider that you could be addicted to doing.

All the nos that nobody uses

When you have a lust for life, are creative, socially-minded and highly productive, you tend to be bad at saying no. ‘Yes’ feels positive and life-affirming and also gives you a sense of feeling important, needed and valued.

But – if you can stop to reflect on your goals, previous commitments or how completely overwhelmed you feel, then ‘no’ turns out to make far more sense than ‘yes’. ‘Yes’ and ‘no’ are closely related: saying ‘yes’ to yet another job, client or commitment, means ‘no’ to sleep, sanity, and your ability to think deeply and creativity on a subject.

Making work to escape doubt

Self-doubt is something that almost everybody struggles with – yes, including those business people who always appear confident and self-possessed. Self-doubt is something that needs to taken seriously when self-employed because it has a very real impact on your profits, goals and enjoyment of your business.

When we’re constantly busy juggling a million things in our business, we minimise opportunities for self-doubt to speak. We’re so busy doing that we can’t drown out our doubts. Saying ‘yes’ to everything, overscheduling and piling on commitments feels decisive. But you’ve lost your ability to decide anything when ‘yes’ is your default response.

Measuring value

Too often, we fall into the common trap of believing that more is better – more marketing, collaborations, cross-promotional opportunities, publicity, sales and clients.

In fact, more does not equal better. It’s entirely possible to do too much marketing when you don’t have the systems and support in place to handle the influx of leads. Collaborations and cross-promotional opportunities can be very time-consuming, splinter your marketing focus, align your brand with other brands that are a mismatch, thereby confusing your clients and community.

More sales and more clients do not mean more profit – in fact, it’s common for profit margins to diminish as businesses grow – and taking on all work is a recipe for disaster when it’s not a good fit.

Not all activities are created equal. Ten minutes on the telephone that results in $3000 worth of work is not equivalent to 15 hours a week on Facebook that results in three direct inquiries which fail to convert.

Your ability to measure the value of your time and choose where you spend your time and attention is imperative to your business. We need to have measurements in place that can give us real data about whether time and money invested is invested well.

External validation

We are social beings. We seek external validation, not to prop up our self-esteem, but because we are part of a pack and care about the opinions of others in the pack. There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, those who don’t seek external validation aren’t necessarily superior – they may in fact be maladjusted or simply arseholes.

External validation becomes dangerous when others, such as your clients, use it to manipulate you. If people are able to change or control your behavior by withholding praise or criticising you, this is a problem.

Reforming your addiction

As they say in the twelve-step program, the first step is admitting that you have a problem. If you are addicted to constantly being busy, in business and in life, and you’re keen to invite more rest, relaxation and joy in, below is a list of suggestions to try.

Not all of them will work for you, but at least a few of them will, depending on your personality and the severity of your addiction.

  • Planning is your friend! Buy a big oversized wall planner for your office and start by writing in your year’s holidays (including long weekends away). Aim to have at least one long weekend holiday per quarter and make sure you leave your laptop at home for these.
  • Write a list of all the things you want to get done today. Now cross out two thirds of it. This is what you’re going to aim for, today and every day.
  • Set a strict start time and end time every day. Consider making this short – such as six hours instead of eight. Generally, the less time you have, the more you get done.
  • Write a list of “bad fit” clients or work, including a minimum budget that you’ll work for. Display this somewhere prominent and consider having it tattooed on your person.
  • If you tend to work on weekends, start by scheduling in a non-work activities on both weekend mornings, ideally physical, ideally with friends so that it’s harder to wiggle out of.
  • Take your email address and phone number off your website and replace it with forms so that people are encouraged to give you more information and you can consider whether or not they’re a good fit for you before you get back to them.
  • Your self-care doesn’t need to be ambitious or activity-oriented. Consider that your self-care could be reading the weekend papers over a cup or two of coffee in the sun.
  • Turn off all notifications on your phone, except for text messages, and unsubscribe from all email notifications from social media websites.
  • Implement an email autoresponder until which time as you’ve got your addiction under greater control. In the autoresponder, give a longer timeframe for responding to emails than you would normally deem reasonable, and direct people to relevant information for the most likely frequently asked questions.
  • ‘SelfControl’ app enables you to set a period during which you cannot access social media.
  • Implement a nighttime routine which includes old school activities: music, radio and (non-work related) podcasts, cooking and meal prep, journaling and other (non-work related) writing, reading books, having a meal with friends and family.
  • Turn off your phone during your work day, outside of lunchtime, when you can check your messages and choose whether or not to return phone calls.
  • Walk slowly around the block once an hour, every hour.
  • Take five deep breaths, deliberately slowing down to notice how you’re feeling at regular intervals throughout the day.
  • Laughing is the antidote to most things in life. Hang out with friends who make you belly laugh and seek out comedy podcasts, television or movies.
  • Go to bed! Sleep is essential to everything. Commit to being in bed by 9pm at least two nights a week.

All this is entirely worth it because being present, calm, energetic and creative is so much more enjoyable than being bitter and burnt out.