Study Hacks Blog Decoding Patterns of Success

Do You Have a Working Disorder?

September 17th, 2008 · 2 comments

The Danger of Emotional WorkingWillpower

I had a college friend who made social plans based on whether or not he felt like he should be working. The keyword here is “felt.” You might think that a decision to work depends on whether or not there is a specific task with an impending deadline. But for this friend, as with many students — both undergrad and graduate — such logic is hijacked by emotion.

And this is dangerous territory…

Do You Have a Working Disorder?

Let me ask you a few simple questions:

  • Do you frequently make decisions about whether or not to do school work based on guilt?
  • Do you ever go to the library just because you worry you haven’t been there in a while?
  • Do you frequently discuss your workload or the times you’ve been working; are you unusually interested to learn when and how much your friends have been working?

If you answered “yes” above, you might have what I call a working disorder. We focus a lot of our attention on students who don’t do enough schoolwork. But in this post I want to address the less well-known, but equally devastating curse of working too much.

A working disorder means you have allowed your work quantity, not your work output, to determine your sense of self-worth as a student. Once you start down this path, you will experience increasing bouts of guilt and anxiety. You will also rob yourself of relaxation and free time that could be devoted to the type of shenanigans that students — who have no boss or time clock to punch — really should revel in.

Toward a Cure

These problems can be severe, but, at the very least, recognizing you may be suffering from a working disorder is a good first step. Beyond recognition, keep in mind the following facts:

  1. Many of your peers might also suffer from working disorders. Do not use their work habits as a point of comparison for your own.
  2. All that matters is your work output (be it grades or research). Track this closely. Compare this, not hours, to your peers. If you like your grades in a class, you’re fine; even if you’re not suffering through all-nighters.
  3. Student work demands are highly variable over time. Just like there will be times when you have to work late, there will also be stretches when you don’t have much to do. This is expected. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t force busywork into these lulls. Enjoy yourself.

Finally, your best defense can be captured by a simple question. Whenever you’re about to work late at night, or on a weekend, first ask yourself: “what exactly is it that I’m worried about not completing on time?” If you don’t have a good answer, crack open a beer and leave the guilt to us over here at MIT — when it comes to emotional work disorders, trust me, we’ve got you covered.

Do you, or someone you know, have a working disorder? If so, what have you observed that helps?

2 thoughts on “Do You Have a Working Disorder?

  1. Nate says:

    My current working disorder is struggling to find a way to study for an exam made entirely of multiple choice questions in the following format:

    Which of the following statement(s) is/are true about plasmodesmata?
    1. The desmotubule is generally connected to the endoplasmic reticulum of each adjoining cell.
    2. The plasmodesmata are able to transport organelles from one cell to another.
    3. The plasmodesmata permit the cells of the plant to be interconnected.
    4. Plasmodesmata are created during cell division.
    5. Plasmodesmata are part of the apoplast.

    a. none of the above
    b. two of the above
    c. three of the above
    d. four of the above
    e. all of the above

  2. Suzie Bee says:

    I worry when it comes to exam time, because I’m not revising as hard as my friends (if at all, sometimes!), yet paradoxically I usually end up getting better grades. It took me a long time to realise that this is because I learn steadily throughout the year by doing all the work set properly.

    Now I can relax when the revision time comes around instead of worrying that I’m not working when I should be.

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