It's Friday, 8pm. You're out for drinks with a friend. They nip to the bathroom. "Just a cheeky look" you think to yourself. That's how it all starts. You reach into your pocket and before you know it you've got your phone out and you're checking your work emails. Sipping your pint and wondering if you might be able to flick a quick one back to a colleague before your friend has finished washing their hands.
This addiction to work is a common ailment of the modern-day worker and it is, let's be perfectly honest, about as healthy and useful as an addiction as cigarettes. So in the days where you can be emailed, texted, Skyped, Facebooked, tweeted, mailed, faxed and (heaven forbid) called at any time, are we really working smarter, or just harder?
Technology brought with it so many lovely promises – mobility, efficiency, round-the-clock connectivity, access to more information than one could ever process, (illegally) free music and a sense of community. Workers took to this elaborate sales pitch incrementally, say by just getting work emails for when they're on the run. Then it becomes when they're on the run and on the train home. Then, slowly but surely you'll find them watching television, checking their emails because their fingers were idle, protesting like a guilty lover that it's just a quick look, and isn't anything serious, they promise, right before they skulk off to indulge in some email.
Advertisement: Story continues below We're consumed by a desire to do something, compounded by an artificial guilt at doing nothing. The melding of work and personal lives is driving more and more people to exhaustion, with technology at the forefront.
The odd thing is that it's often not driven by increasing pressures from bosses, or a result of having to work across multiple time zones as globalisation continues to make the world a smaller place, though that's how we often justify this addiction. It's simply what is done in the 21st century. What we've done.
Now, in theory, it's quite easy to turn your phone off, or just not look at emails. In the same way that it's easy to not buy a packet of cigarettes if you are a smoker. I check my emails habitually, addictively. When I go to sleep at night, it is part of my routine. I lie in bed with my phone, I check my Facebook, my Twitter, my personal emails and my work emails. The process is repeated when I wake up. I repeat the process at least once on the train in, before I get to my computer at 8am, then on the way home when I leave the office about 6:30. Pathetic, no?
But I'm not alone. Look around and I am guessing that on the beaches and in caravan parks around the nation, people on holidays are perusing work emails.
A study conducted in November by Harris Interactive "finds that more than half of adult workers check their email while on holiday" and "younger workers were far more likely to check email or use their phone during awkward family encounters or at other 'inappropriate' times like parties or dinner". Now awkward family encounters I can understand. But parties and dinner? I've done it so my point isn't to condemn those who have, but point out that we shouldn't.
So where does that leave us? A younger generation feeling like they need to do this to succeed in a career? An older generation who feel that they need to push themselves beyond the boundaries to adhere to their responsibilities? Somewhere in between?
What is abundantly clear is that this is not conducive to a fulfilling life. It isn't normal to vex over work on your holidays but we're telling ourselves that it is. If we spend all our time ensuring that our workload is met, even creating more for ourselves (According to the Australia Institute, we work more than 2 billion hours of unpaid overtime), where do the finer things in life come in to play such as time with family and friends?
I'm not telling you to chuck your job in, or tell your boss to take a long walk off a short pier when you're asked to do some overtime. I'm asking you to stop doing it to yourself unnecessarily. All this technology is designed to help us work smarter, not harder.
It's not the technology that's making us work, as many pundits would have you believe. It's us. So next time you reach for your phone when your friend ducks off to the toilet or to have cigarette, mentally slap yourself and ask yourself "why"?
If there's a genuine benefit for you to do it (that means more than "at least I'll know what I'm in for on Monday"), then go right ahead. If you can't do anything about it – and let's be honest, you probably can't – leave it be.
You deserve to have some time off.
Mike Doman is a Melbourne writer. He blogs at Sporadically Pensive.