Many PhD students don’t work, they overwork. Because they have the idea that working more is better, they work so long and hard that they don’t work effectively anymore. And  ‘overworking’ kills creativity and you really need creativity. Imagine this: everybody is like a fishing pond full of creative ideas. If you ‘overwork’ you will ‘overfish’ your pond. The time will come that you can’t throw your fishing rod anymore; you have depleted all your ideas and energy.


Are you a workaholic



The cunning thing is though: at University you are encouraged to ‘overwork’. It is quite normal to make many hours, to work at home, to be available for your supervisor’s phone calls in the evening, to be criticised if you don’t answer your mail in the weekend.  Many employees at Universities lose the balance between work and pleasure. And paradoxically, working hard is viewed as something good, it produces status. You can become addicted to ‘overwork’, even if you won’t get any result. In other words: you can become a workaholic.

We hear often ‘I am working, or ‘I have a deadline’ and we presume that we can use that as a excuse not to visit family or friends, or not to take responsibility for certain commitments. And also, often we don’t ‘overwork’ to get things done, but to avoid certain issues, like your partner’s feelings. For many workaholics – or shall I say, for many PhD students – time for yourself and time for pleasure can be frightening. Just thinking about it can give a twitchy feeling.

How often do you whisper to yourself that if you would have more time, then of course you would have some fun. However, many PhD students use up their free time with more work. How much time do you give yourself to just have fun?

Once unmotivated and uninspired, PhD Students avoid pleasure. Why? Because pleasure leads to creativity. Pleasure creates a sort of anarchy, an enjoyable rebellion; you will feel your own power. And sometimes that is scary.

I hear often: ‘Maybe I work a bit too much, but for sure, I am not a workaholic’.

I have a suggestion for you: try the next test (which is derived from the book of Mark Bryan, Julia Cameron and Catherine Allen ‘The artists way at work, riding the dragon’ ) and find out for yourself. Answer each question with: hardly, often, always or never.


1.     I work outside of office hours.

2.     I cancel appointments with friends and family so I can work.

3.     I postpone appointments till after my deadline.

4.     In the weekend I am working now and then.

5.     On holiday I will have some work with me.

6.     I take holidays.

7.     People around me always complain that I am working all the time.

8.     I try to multi task.

9.     I make sure I have some free time between two projects.

10.   I make sure I finish a project completely.

11.   I postpone dealing with the final stages of a project.

12.   I do have the intention to start working and then start working on three other things as well.

13.   I work in the evening (time meant to be spent with family and friends).

14.   I don’t mind if a telephone call interrupts my work or results in a longer workday.

15.   In  my daily planning time is reserved for an hour of creative work or pleasure.

16.   Pleasure is more important than work.

17.   I make sure my diary is aligned with those of other people.

18.   I allow myself time to do nothing.

19.   I use the word ‘deadline’ a lot to describe my workload.

20.   I always carry a notepad with me to write and always will have my phone on me so colleagues can reach me.

There is a big difference between working with zeal and a fixed purpose and working like a workaholic. You need to know the difference between working and ‘overworking’. It might help you to register the amount of time you spend on working and the amount of time you spend on pleasure. Even one hour of pleasure and creativity in a week can really avoid the desperate feelings a workaholic suffers from.

An analogy: by not drinking an alcoholic becomes sober, by not ‘overworking’ a workaholic becomes sober.

Another tip: make a list of all the things you don’t want anymore, like:

·       Don’t work in the weekend

·       No phone calls with colleagues after 20.00

·       No more working in the holidays

·       Don’t work in the evenings, except maybe one hour a week.

Put the list somewhere where you can see it all the time. And remind yourself that you are improving the quality of your work by not ‘overworking’. It won’t be easy, as other workaholics surround most workaholics, also at Universities. New behaviour can be threatening for colleagues, so the first few weeks you are adopting your new work style it can be daunting or feel unfamiliar. To beat this: plan a short holiday (even a day) at the start of your new attitude towards working and do something fun, creative and joyful. This will really help you.

(photo Flickr, thanks to Johan Koolwaaij)


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