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Succeed Like a Workaholic

Kate Lorenz,

Amy Zucker calls herself a "serial workaholic." The president of Synergy Marketing Group, an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing firm, Zucker regularly puts in long hours, takes few breaks and constantly thinks about the office. Zucker sees this as a commitment to her job and an indication of an innate strong work ethic and a quest for perfection that she has exhibited at every job she has held. "I do it for me," she says. "Only my best is good enough."

This level of job devotion is not for everyone and for many, working too much can have a detrimental effect on personal relationships. Zucker's current situation is unique. She runs her business with her husband and takes her dog to work, so she is able to spend time with her family in and out of the office. And her work ethic has paid off. Her business has grown to be one of Indianapolis's largest public relations agencies.

So do workaholics really get ahead? Yes and no, says Barry Zweibel, an executive/life coach based in Chicago. Zweibel works regularly with professionals who move up the ladder by putting in extra time and effort, but says he also sees the benefit of balance between work and personal time. For most people, sustaining a workaholic lifestyle long term is just not possible.

Zweibel counsels professionals to learn to do more in less time and urges his clients to increase their contributions, not their hours. Zweibel points to the "Parkinson's Law," which states that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." Thus, if you have three days to work on a project, most people will use all three days to complete it. "It is part of the human condition to let things go longer than they need to," he says.

Zweibel says that professionals could be even more effective by learning to pick and choose when to unleash their inner workaholic. "I'm not suggesting that working hard is not the goal, but you need to take a laser approach." Putting in 110 percent on every task can be exhausting, but those who know how to prioritize and put in the extra effort on the projects that matter most gain extra attention from the boss.

If you want to have the success of a workaholic and still have your down time, Zweibel offers five strategies you can employ.

1. Put in the hours at the right time. "There is a benefit to being seen in an organization," says Zweibel. If you are working late or are in on the weekend, pass by your boss's office for some face time. Not only will you get kudos for the extra effort, but you might get the opportunity for valuable one-on-one time.

2. Pay attention to time stamps. If you are sending an assignment to your boss via e-mail after hours, the e-mail will indicate the extra time you are spending. Pay attention to when you are sending these messages -- they could demonstrate your commitment. However, Zweibel cautions against going too far. Sending messages at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night or at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning could indicate that you are not able to manage your time well, and there is something to be said for being able to get the job done early. "You could make a better impression if you can do the same work in a shorter amount of time," Zweibel says.

3. Talk up your successes. Don't be afraid to be your own cheering section. Make sure your boss knows about your achievements and the extra time you put in. More importantly, have other people talk up your successes. There's nothing like a good word from another respected co-worker or client to make you look great.

4. Be the "go to" person in a crunch. You don't have to work every weekend, but make sure your boss knows that you are someone who is willing to go the extra mile when needed.

5. Strive for perfection, but know when to settle. One thing most workaholics have in common is the pursuit of perfection. This drive to be perfect brings about results, but can also wear you out. On the continuum between lousy work and perfect work, there is what Zweibel calls "merely excellent," which, he says, is "pretty damn good." He suggests you strive for greatness, but allow yourself to settle for "merely excellent" work most of the time and reserve absolute perfection for those really special projects.

Kate Lorenz is the article and advice editor for She is an expert in job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

Copyright 2007

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