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All Work and No Play: Combating the Dangers of Workaholism

All work and no playDo not fear. I’m not writing from a snowed in mountain resort lodge. I have to admit for years I assumed the proverb “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” came from that Stephen King horror novel turned Jack Nicholson movie thriller The Shining, which mistakenly came in front of my eyes as a youth (thank you older cousins). I say mistakenly because no one under the age of 21 should put that imagery into their head. (And maybe if you are over 21, you shouldn’t either.)

As it turns out the phrase “all work and no play” was originally published in Proverbs in English, Italian, French and Spanish (1659) and is attributed to a writer by the name of James Howell.

The warning of the all work and no play proverb seems clear enough to me. If we don’t release ourselves from the pressures of work from time to time we will become dull and uninteresting. We become like the automated robot on the assembly line who only finds fulfillment in one thing – doing its job. When life becomes our work, we neglect time for hobbies, family, friends, exercise, watching sports, reading, or just plain vegging, all of which could add significant value to life if we let them.

That type of existence doesn’t spark a fire in me at all. Work definitely has value and should be something we take seriously. But life is so much more than working all the time.

So what should people battling with workaholism do? Fortunately, there is a path forward to a better work/life balance.

A Guideline For Work

I think maybe God knew a thing or two about work and left us a clear blueprint to follow. The Bible highlights God saying in Exodus 23:12:

“Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest…”

This wasn’t the first time God had instructed the Hebrew nation in this regard. A few chapters prior in Exodus 20, as part of the greatest Ten Commandments given, God gave them this instruction in verses 8-10:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work…”

In short, God clearly allowed for and expected us to work.

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However, He also commanded rest. The purpose of the rest day for the Hebrews was to worship God. They were to remember the Sabbath day of the week and keep it holy. God had set it aside as special. It was His day.

Working Seven Days a Week Today

We’ve become a culture that embraces an “all work and no play” philosophy. Whether it’s by necessity (because you need the money), by force (your employer requires it) or by choice (because you want the money or something to occupy your time), we seem to have no problem with punching the clock every day of the week.

In my adult life, I’ve been fortunate to avoid the working seven days a week scenario. My career as an educator always allowed for me to have the weekends to myself. However, work doesn’t end when I leave the school building. There are dinners to make, housework and grocery shopping to take care of, kids activities and sporting events to attend, blogging to do, et cetera and et cetera. These things could all be considered work in that they are duties one must finish for life to function normally. You can get as wrapped up in them as you can your regular 9 to 5 job.

I’ve always admired companies that took the decision to work seven days a week off the table for their employees. The restaurant Chick-fil-a does such a thing by shutting down all their restaurants on Sunday. Founder Truett Cathy felt that Sundays should be dedicated to rest, worship and family.

Granted, the company is losing tons of profit on one of the busiest eating out days of the week. I’ll wager however, his employees are happier and sharper at work because they’ve been given at least one day off per week. (Actually I don’t have to wager on that idea. I know it’s true, having eaten there countless times and knowing many people that have worked there. The culture, atmosphere and customer service at Chick-fil-a is unparalleled in that industry.)

All Work and No Play: Combating Workaholism

I think that God knew the potential dangers of working too much. Yes, He wanted their attention and worship on the Sabbath. But were there other reasons why He built into the ancient Hebrews’ week a non-work day?

It’s not entirely obvious how the Hebrews filled the entirety of their non-work day. Perhaps, along with their worship, they engaged in these activities – all of which help to break the compulsion to be a workaholic:

1. Rest. Our bodies need sleep. Most people don’t get enough during the workweek. An extra hour or two may be just what the body needs on an off day.

2. Relax. Let’s face it – work creates pressure, which then creates tension and stress. If not handled properly stress can begin to have negative affects on your body.

In regards to stress, it would be helpful to learn some stress management techniques. These can go a long way in helping you relax and move forward when you feel like giving up. Learning and consistently applying these can help reduce your stress levels.

3. Reflect. We need time to stop and think. It is really hard to do that with the fast paced nature of the workweek.

4. Revel. How boring would life be without the opportunity to go play? A day off gives us the chance to do something fun that we enjoy.

5. Rejuvenate. We need time to renew our passion for work. Often times, as I relax and reflect on the weekends, I find the answer to problems that occurred during the past week. This gets me eager to implement the solution and move on.

So why are these five activities valuable? Because there is another five or six-day workweek ahead – and so on it goes for the majority of our adult life. Taking a break or even a vacation from work will help us be more efficient and actually enjoy our week more.

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In conclusion, nobody ever looks back at the end of their life and says “I wish I’d have worked more.” The top regrets of the dying reveal they would rather have spent more time with family and friends and found a passion that brought happiness and fulfillment.

Fight the urge to be a workaholic. Engage in the five R’s above more often. They may just keep you from becoming bored, uninteresting and snapping like Jack.

Leave a Comment or Answer a Question Below: Have you ever lived by the mantra “all work and no play?” How many hours a week do you work? Would you consider yourself a workaholic? How has being a workaholic affected your life? Do you feel that you have a choice to work seven days a week or not? What do you like to do on your day off?

Image courtesy of Stephan van Es at Flickr

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  1. I think one of the most important aspect of anybody’s success is maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

    I understand this isn’t always possible and some weeks will be worse than others – but having the idea of having a healthy work-life balance is already a step in the right direction.

    Some weeks will be busier than others but you shouldn’t feel that downtime is wasted time.

    Great post Brian

    • “…downtime is wasted time.” I think this is really important point and what most people (myself included) struggle with. Downtime can still be viewed as productive time in that you are re-energizing yourself for the tasks ahead. Thanks for sharing Rami!

  2. There are many of us working seven days a week with the added bonus of being on call 24/7 that like the extra money the over time brings. I don’t see it as a negative. I haven’t had a day off in seven months and that was only because I was forced to stay home due to cancer surgery. For some reason they don’t like blood and bandages at work but I was out for only 7 days. I couldn’t wait to get back to work,

  3. Good post, but I’m more impressed by your revealing that “All work and no play” was actually from Proverbs. And here I thought Stephen King was just really clever ….. 🙂

  4. I’ve read some interesting stuff recently on sleep, and the importance of getting more of it. I usually have a hard time falling asleep, and have started using an alarm as a time to start getting ready for bed in addition for one to wake up. But it’s certainly helped increase my ‘down’ time.

    Agreed on the importance on a specific day of rest. I’ll take it one step further, and take off both days on the weekend. 🙂

    • I function real well when my body gets in a sleep rhythm…going to bed at decent hours and getting up early works for me. I can’t do 2:00 am bed times anymore like I did in college. 🙂

  5. I don’t consider myself a workaholic with two young boys underfoot it is hard to be one. I do however like to be efficient when I have a few free minutes to do some work. To help our family remain a strong unit and not get over run by the “7 day a week going at full speed” society we have now, my husband and I put into place a family rule. Sunday is a day of rest. We go to church and spend time at home or with my-in-laws on occasion. But Sunday is our family day…no excuses.

    • “….Sunday is our family day…no excuses.” You won’t get any criticism from me for that. There would be some who wouldn’t understand that though.

  6. Ray Clarke says

    I had a period a couple of years ago where I had to spend Saturday and Sunday afternoons at work for about 3 weeks. Our son said to my wife that he never saw me. Instead of thinking of not working on the Sabbath as a restriction we should regard it as a blessing.

    • I’d be OK with going through a short window of time like that as long as I knew it would end. Working seven days a week indefinitely would get old and discouraging real fast.

  7. I really needed to hear/read this today. I’ve been working 7 days/week for a long time now and I’m really feeling the need for a break. I’m always tired – mentally, physically, emotionally, etc. When I try to take a bit of time for myself with friends, family, my pets, or even just alone time I feel guilty and if I try to relax enough to watch a movie or read I end up falling asleep within about 5-10 minutes. Obviously a break is in order…

    • I can hear the fatigue it in your writing Kayla and I’m sorry you are going through this. I don’t know how long you’ve been working at this pace but I’d encourage to give on something. When I’ve gone through seasons like this I had to force myself to create some time to give myself a break and not feel guilty about it. Even if it’s a couple of hours here and there we need that time to relax and recharge our batteries.

  8. Awesome post Brian! I like your 5 steps to combating yourself from over working!

    I am going to take your step 3 “reflection” a little bit further… I would say that for reflecting people need to do something that helps them truly reflect on what they are doing and what’s working vs what is not working.

    I would say that meditating is an excellent way to combine relaxation and reflection. In fact the art of Zen is a very effective way to get the most out of self reflection and helping sooth the body through relaxation.

    Thanks for the post 🙂

    • Never done Zen before but have done a good bit of meditating. I always find the best way to do that is to get along, away from distractions. Going on a hike always has been fun for me in that regard.

  9. I easily remember when Sunday, or the Sabbath, was different. We dressed differently; we ate differently -almost always coming home from church to pot roast, my favorite meal growing up; we all rested rather than be expected to do a list of chores like we had on Saturdays; and no going shopping of course since stores were not even open. I’ll admit that I’ve relaxed some of these things with my own family, but some things we do try to be respectful of regarding our choices like getting yard work or laundry completed so that we don’t have to face it on Sunday. This doesn’t affect me, but I was talking with a friend who has children in both the youth and children’s age groups at church. There’s the typical Sunday morning schedule, then children’s choir at 4, small group for youth at 5, the parents’ small group at 5:30 and trying to shuffle back and forth getting everyone dropped off/picked up on time. Sunday isn’t always a day of rest even when you’re trying to do the right thing by keeping your family involved with church activities.

    • Boy Karen…I agree with everything you’ve said here, especially the last section on what Sundays have become with church activities. We’ve had to bow out of some church stuff because we were simply running ragged on Sundays. I understand the value of being a part of activities in the local church but you can overextend yourself there as well.

  10. You are really swimming against the current with this post. It is really unfortunate that we have come to the point where you are looked down upon for coming in at 40 hours per week. We applaud those who go the extra mile for their work, who do right by their family and provide. It would be excellent if we came back to a place where we applauded those who really did right by their families by working reasonable hours. Let’s press back into rest and reflection. Good stuff.

    • Agreed Jon! I really see nothing wrong with people working 40 hours a week or 60 hours a week. (Know some bloggers who put in 80 hr. weeks…not me.) Every person has “that amount” of work time they desire or feel capable of attaining. Whatever the choice, there still has to be time to unplug from it all. There is too much other value in life that will be missed if our sole focus is on work.

      • The unplug time has to be protected at all costs. I had been working for the past 4 years in a job where it was so difficult to unplug from work. I’m definitely done with that, here’s to the normal work week.

  11. I do better than many of my peers, who link their work email to their smart phone and constantly check in. I’ve known people who check work email on vacation. I do not. The moment I leave, I leave. That’s my time for me and I make no apologies.

    • “…check work email on vacation. I do not.” This is very, very hard so kudos to you for showing some discipline. I don’t check in on vacation a lot…only during down times like maybe after the kids go to bed.

  12. I could never understand being a workaholic. I’ve never been in any danger of that, although I often wonder how much I could have gotten ahead, especially as a freelancer if I’d put in MORE work. But I almost feel like my body had no choice. I need a solid 8 of sleep, good food, exercise, time with friends…aka balance, or else I get sick very easily. I’ve seen too many other workaholics in my life, and their family life usually falls apart pretty quickly.


  1. […] All Work and No Play: Combating the Dangers of Workaholism — To combat the dangers of workaholism, take the time to relax and reflect. [Luke 1428] […]

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