Work Stronger, Not Longer

April 3, 2012 at 7:29 am 3 comments

An article on made the rounds yesterday about returning to a 40 hour work week. Sound familiar?

The new ideal was to unleash “internal entrepreneurs” — Randian übermenschen who would devote all their energies to the corporation’s success, in expectation of great reward — and who were willing to assume all the risks themselves. In this brave new world, the real go-getters were the ones who were willing to put in weekends and Saturdays, who put their families on hold, who ate at their desks and slept in their cubicles. Forty-hour weeks were for losers and slackers, who began to vanish from America’s business landscape. And with their passing, we all but forgot all the very good reasons that we used to have those limits.

I posted the article on Facebook and got a lot of agreement from entrepreneur friends, then I sent it in an email and got complete push back from an entrepreneur friend. Hot button topic much?

My very first job was working on a blueberry farm in south Jersey. The season was only a matter of weeks and during those weeks I was on the job seven days a week, sun up to sun down. After that I went to work in non-profit, and now for a startup. Jobs that don’t fit the 9-5 mold tend to attract people who are willing to and even enjoy working longer or offbeat hours. I’d guess that everyone who comes across this blog is that sort of person. But there is a huge difference between doing work when it needs to be done and pushing too hard. And unlike the scenario the author of the article assumes, most of us don’t have managers encouraging that behavior. We’re doing it to ourselves, which is why this article is so important for us to read and take seriously: this ridiculous “always hustlin'” pace we’re putting ourselves through is actually hurting the quality of our work and making us less productive.

Not only that, we’re doing a crap job of leading our peers by example. By pushing yourself beyond your limits, you may be helping to create a culture of that around you, which is no good for anyone. The article cites some very real examples along with years of studies that show that neither laborers nor knowledge workers benefit from consistent long hours. In fact, that’s when they’re most likely to make dangerous mistakes. I sit at a computer all day, so even my worst mistake probably won’t result in a severed arm, but it can create a ton of work for my team and possibly stunt the growth of our business. All because I won’t take an afternoon off?

As the wife of an entrepreneur and a newborn, I clearly have a vested interest in my husband being home to spend time with our family. But I have just as great an interest in seeing him (and for that matter, his partner) working only at his best. Any mistake either one of them make because they’re overtired or moving too fast means the whole show could come crumbling down, or at least suffer a big setback, and that will have lasting negative effects on our family more than missing a few bedtimes that our son won’t remember.

So find your limits. For the next week, be aware of your boundaries. Are you dragging in a 9am meeting? Emailing at 4pm and getting no response? Randomly clicking links at your desk at 8pm because you’re trying to power through but can’t seem to focus? Ask your team to do the same. Hold yourselves accountable and figure out not just when your peak hours are but for how long they last. They’ll change from day to day, and that’s ok. One day you may be on a 10 hour tear but two days later you find after 4 hours your eyes are crossing. Start getting comfortable with taking a break (a real one) when you need one. Be brave enough to say you need a day off and prove your words by not responding to email during that time. You can hustle and be passionate, maybe even more so, without putting a time limit on having your butt in a seat. Respect the work enough to give yourself and your colleagues the tools needed to work at your strongest, not the longest.


Cross-posted at


Entry filed under: career, health, professional, social media, stress, work.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tom Dowler  |  April 3, 2012 at 8:27 am

    This is such an interesting issue, especially with an international viewpoint. In Europe the attitude to hours worked each week is pretty similar to here (and like here it varies by industry) but every full-time employee gets 21 days vacation a year – by law. That means most people not only take a 2 week vacation, but also take off odd days here and there to catch up on errands, take a day trip, or just veg out in front of the TV and recharge.

    I never had a problem setting boundaries on time as an employee, but now I’m an entrepreneur – and working from home – it’s much tougher. There’s a more direct correlation between the number of hours I work and the amount of money my business makes. And because it’s more difficult, it’s much more important to set aside time to do things other than work.

    • 2. Jennifer Spencer  |  April 4, 2012 at 9:59 am

      I wonder if everyone having a similar vacation policy contributes to a culture where people actually take those days. When I worked in places that had vacation days, even as the year ended and I knew the days wouldn’t roll over I still never found time to take them.

  • 3. Bailey Triggs  |  April 4, 2012 at 9:05 am

    Yes, yes 1,000 times yes. I definitely suffer from the over-hustle mentality. Grad school? Full-time job? Freelance projects on the side? No problem! I think like a lot of achievers, I tend to under-value my work if there’s not a struggle involved. As if being good at something is not good enough. But now that I am struggling (though only for one more month!) I’m finding myself even more self-critical because I don’t have the stamina to do everything at full mental capacity. I feel like all I do is alternate between spacing out on the internet and whining about my workload.

    My mom gave me a great piece of advice that I’m learning the truth of the hard way (which is the only way I respect, so fair enough): “You can do it all, you just can’t do it all at once.” It’s a mantra I’m going to keep close to heart as I shift into my future entrepreneurial career.


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