Business takes hard work. But can you work too hard? I believe you can. Crazy as it might sound, hustle has a point of diminishing returns. Many think that effort is something you should apply as much as possible, pushing the limits in order to reach peak productivity. The more hustle, the better.
I happen to disagree.
Experience shows that overwork backfires. Productive hustle is different. The best kind of hard work comes from a healthy, well-rested place. An excess of effort doesn’t just hurt your personal life and well-being, it hurts your business. A healthy mind makes the best decisions, and an overworked entrepreneur is bound to be a less successful one.
Willing To Work
Independent business demands sacrifice. You do have to work harder than many. You do have to take time away from social life, leisure, and media. This is because you’re doing something that most people don’t do. You’re doing something unique and improbable and liberating, and it comes with a cost. If you’re not willing to give up some of the creature comforts of the standard work/life dynamic, it’s best to stay out of entrepreneurship.
That said, hard work and the sacrifice of time comes down to a simple cost/benefit analysis. Hustle is the price of converting dreams and talk to reality. It’s what you pay for the freedom to beat your own path, and the opportunity to be in command of your own success. Because of this, there’s a strong temptation to work too hard. When all the skin in the game is yours, it’s hard not to overdo it.
Here’s what’s important to remember: working too hard won’t give you a leg up. Running yourself ragged won’t help your bottom line. Depriving yourself of the rest and relaxation that every human mind and body needs is depriving your business of your best effort. A candle that burns at both ends goes out quickly.
What You Owe
As entrepreneurs, we all believe in hard work. But what’s often missing is a belief in a healthy lifestyle. A loss of health (physical or emotional) is too high a price to pay for any business. I learned this the hard way. During crucial periods for some of my businesses, I wasn’t willing to give myself the space and time I needed to stay healthy.
While I thought I was making greater sacrifices in order to get greater returns, I was really only setting myself up for setbacks. Excessive hours, stress, and refusing to devote time to my mind and body’s needs could only have one result: fatigue and illness. That fatigue and illness held me back as a business person. All my hustle didn’t mean more productivity; it meant less.
The same goes true for social life. Sacrificing too much as regards friends and family may lead to some gains, but is it worth it? What’s the point of success if you have to be isolated to achieve it? With whom can you enjoy the fruits of all your hard work if you have to push everyone away to earn it? Again, it comes down to a cost/benefit analysis.
All of us owe certain debts. We owe to our bodies, to our overall selves, to our friends and to our families. These things deserve our time and attention. They deserve our effort as surely as our businesses do. The time we give to our health, and the people who support us, isn’t time we’ve stolen away from our work. It’s time that our bodies and minds deserve. It’s effort our friends and family are due.
Keeping The Balance
To keep yourself— and your business— in good shape, take the time and make the effort. Schedule regular breaks daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. Maintain a steady pace, not a self-destructive one. Keep the pressure at the right level by taking your downtime as seriously as you take your work. You’re not doing this to give yourself a break. You’re doing it for the sake of your business and everyone that depends on it.
If you’re a habitual over-worker (like myself), the first step is to admit it. In my case, I know that I tend towards a counterproductive level of hustle. Because I’m aware of it, I can take proactive steps. For now, I make sure that no matter what’s going on with The $100 MBA (or our software company WebinarNinja), I never let a week go by without taking off a day and a half. My goal is to make that a full two-day weekend, as soon as it’s feasible. I take that goal as seriously as any other goal I have for the business.
To be at your best, plan your down time. It may be necessary to literally schedule time to not work, and to do so in a way that keeps you regularly refreshed. Once you see down time as another responsibility, as a component of your overall ambitions, you’ll get over any apprehensions about slowing down. You’ll see your down time as another task to accomplish, no less important than anything else on your calendar.
As for the time you do devote to work, make it count. Schedule your time so that you’re working consistently, not sprinting until you burn yourself out. Reality will catch up to you no matter how enthused you feel at the beginning of an overwork/crash cycle. There’s always more work you can do. Since you can’t do it all, trying to won’t get you any closer to your ultimate goals.
When creating your to-do lists for any time period, make them priority-based. Keep the most urgent things at the top so that when time runs out, you’ll rest easy knowing that what’s pushed off can wait. Keep track of your progress, and notice how consistent effort— not excessive effort— really does get the job done. Take comfort in that. As your health and attitude improve, so will the numbers.