This is a guest post I wrote for Bootkick and was originally featured in their Medium publication.
The narrative in entrepreneurial culture is anything less than working ALL THE TIME means you are not doing it right, or maybe that you’re not cut out for being an entrepreneur. Conversations with other entrepreneurs are often a competition to see who is “busiest”, who is working the longest hours, and who is the most exhausted. While entrepreneurship does require a lot of time and effort, and will occasionally require you to work long hours, working 24/7 is bad for your business.
Working all the time prevents you from reaching and maintaining peak performance.
Let's paint a picture
Imagine the stereotype of the embattled entrepreneur: she hasn’t been to the gym in months. In addition to eating out as part of normal business development, she has gotten into the habit of skipping breakfast. She usually grabs a granola bar from the Costco-sized box she keeps in her desk drawer at lunch and often picks up fast food at 8pm on the way home. She wakes up tired most days, a symptom of too many late nights. Like tonight:
It’s past midnight and there is an empty glass of wine sitting next to her glowing laptop screen. Her glasses sit on top of her head as she rubs her tired eyes and takes yet another look at her endless TODO list. She has a meeting at 8am and knows she should get some sleep, but maybe she should write just one more email…
Sounds about right. Except that it is not. Here’s why:
1. It’s bad for your productivity
Do you think that “one more” email she wrote is going to be well-thought-out and error-free? Do you think she is going to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for that 8am meeting? Do you think she is going to feel excited and creative when she gets into the office? I don’t, and I’ve lived this.
No one makes good decisions when they are tired. No one is providing exceptional leadership when they are exhausted. No one is producing their best work when they are burnt out!
2. It’s bad for your health
Your stamina for the marathon workweeks will vary but eventually, it will start to wear you out, mentally and physically. It can become a cycle where you are so exhausted the thought of working out or cooking is terrible so you skip fitness opportunities and eat out more. Your body isn’t being taken care of so you start to feel sluggish and drained. You are even less motivated to exercise or cook, and you start to feel depressed. And it keeps cycling.
Work ends up being at the expense of everything else, including diet and exercise. Letting these slide over a long period of time puts you at risk for long-term health problems. In the short term, it further reduces your ability to perform. Your energy levels will be lower, you are at higher risk for mental health challenges, and your overall well-being is compromised.
3. It’s bad for your personal relationships
What about your family? Your partner? Your kids? Your friends? Have you ever missed a family get-together because you were trying to meet a deadline? Have you ever been out with your kids but thinking about work? How long has it been since you spent some quality time with your friends or partner?
This is time that you will never get back. If you are familiar with the Harry Chapin song, “Cats in the Cradle”, you get the idea. Time is a nonrenewable resource and one we need to spend carefully. Even if your venture becomes successful, will the relationships you sacrifice be worth it?
4. It’s bad for your team
Working crazy hours also sets a bad example for your team. First, it sets an expectation that they too should be working crazy hours. This will impact your office culture and can create anxiety among your employees. Second, if they are working all the time like you, they are experiencing the same negative impacts. If you want your team at peak performance, they need to be encouraged to get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, and spend time with their friends and family.
How to stop work from taking over your life
There is always more work. There is always one (or two, or fifty) more emails to write. Your TODO list will never be empty. The goalposts are always moving further downfield. But working more is not the answer! Instead, the following tools will help you to reframe how work fits into your life as a whole, and how you can work smarter:
1. Reflect and record your priorities so you spread your time around appropriately
Whether you do something is not related to having enough time, but where that thing sits on your priorities. “I don’t have time to exercise” is never true: you’ve just prioritized exercise below other activities. Articulating your priorities is vital to making intentional decisions about where you spend your time.
One way to identify your priorities is to make a list of the top 5-8 things in your life that are important to you. At the end of each day, reflect on whether you put time into each of them. After recording for just a few weeks it is easy to see patterns in the priorities you put energy into and the priorities you don’t.
The purpose of the exercise is to have some clarity around:
- How do I spend my time?
- Am I neglecting something that is important to me?
- Am I happy with how I spend my time?
The answers to these questions may surprise you.
2. Listen to your body to understand when you give your best value to each of your priorities
Our bodies are good at telling us when we are not doing the right things. We are bad at listening. It tells you when you are eating poorly, not getting enough rest or exercise, and heading towards burnout. These signals are related to energy management. One piece of your energy management is understanding where you get your energy from, which is connected to introversion or extroversion.
Extroverts tend to gain energy from being around other people while introverts tend to lose energy from being around people.
Knowing where you fall on the introversion/extroversion spectrum allows you to plan for when you will be most mentally available for the people around you and when to do tasks that require different types of mental energy. It impacts things like when you should take meetings when you should do your best critical thinking, and when you should build in self-care time.
3. Set yourself up to be ready for when Life Happens, because it will
Self-care needs to be part of Every. Single. Day. Self-care needs to be a daily habit so that you give yourself the physical and mental resources to manage normal daily trials and tribulations… which in entrepreneurship are many and frequent.
By building self-care into your routine you are also better equipped to handle when Life Happens: inevitably, things will happen in your life that throw you off-course. It could be a death in the family, an illness, or financial trouble. There are a million things that can go sideways! When these things happen, instead of being bleary-eyed and burnt out, it means you are able to step up and be a leader in all aspects of your life. This is a competitive advantage to your business in good times and bad.
Sometimes work will be your priority
There will be long days and the occasional crazy weeks. There will be times when you have to make decisions about missing a family event. You will have weeks where you eat out more than is good for you or you miss your workouts. There will be late nights and early mornings and times when you have to push hard to hit a deadline. But these should be the exception, not the norm — and if you’re at peak performance, handling these bursts of activity will be no problem.
You can choose to stay at peak performance
Working all the time does a disservice to you, your business, your family, your friends, and your team. It means you are not considering the other pieces of your life and how they come together WITH your entrepreneurial venture. The narrative of the 80-hour workweek and the culture of “busy” is for those who are not paying attention. They are for those who are not intentional about how they spend their time. They are not for you, or me. By reflecting regularly on your priorities, listening to your body, and taking good care of yourself, you can strive to bring your best to all aspects of your life, while still pushing hard to succeed in your venture.