David Heinemeier Hansson is Co-founder of Basecamp, Creator of Ruby on Rails, and a New York Times Bestselling author – and he only works 40 hours a week.
Wait, what? Should you be running your business like Hansson, or is burning the midnight oil simply part and parcel of the entrepreneur life?
For most entrepreneurs, leaving the 9-to-5 world also means leaving behind those 9-to-5 hours: 63% of small business owners work more than 50 hours a week, and most are still checking emails, scheduling meetings, or networking on social media long after the workday is “over.”
Startup life is even more demanding. Randi Zuckerberg – founder of Zuckerberg Media, former Director of Market Development at Facebook, and, yes, Mark’s big sister – says she put in 15- or 20-hour days during her time at Facebook. Zuckerberg claims it’s impossible to invest time in business, family, friendships, fitness, and sleep each day while building a startup and advises others in the startup world to pick three of the five.
So what’s an exhausted, overworked business owner to do? Recognize that work-life balance is a myth and throw yourself into the business you love, says CEO of Bodetree Chris Myers. He cautions that “little success is found when you don’t live and breath your business.”
Myers echoes a chorus of entrepreneurs and business leaders who tout the idea of committing around the clock. As Mark Cuban brags about skipping vacations for 7 years and Marissa Mayer says startup teams should work 130 hours a week, busyness has become a status symbol. The Wall Street Journal has even gone so far as to call 4:00 A.M. “the most productive hour.”
While many business leaders are wearing their marathon workdays like badges of honor, this so-called glorification of busy isn’t resulting in much more getting done. A study of American workers found that output declines sharply after the 50-hour mark – which means any hours you put in above and beyond those 50 are largely wasted.
And overwork has been linked to a plethora of health problems including depression, heavy drinking, diabetes, impaired memory, sleep disturbances, and heart disease. So if the exhaustion of a long workweek doesn’t slow you down, a medical condition will.
Despite all the talk about hours, time isn’t at the heart of the work-life balance debate – success is. Every hour of backbreaking work you invest in your business is supposed to bring you that much closer to success, or so we’re told by workaholics like Marissa Mayer. It’s a classic case of believing that more is more.
But we tend to overlook the fact that we all have a different idea of success. Even the most esteemed business leaders perceive and define success differently. One entrepreneur’s full-throttle, 24-7 mania for his business is another entrepreneur’s frenzied, feverish nightmare.
So rather than think of work-life balance as a zero-sum game, consider whether the hours you invest in your business are helping you meet your own definition of success – whether that’s leading the industry, achieving financial freedom, spending more time with your family, or helping your community. Decide what your ideal work-life balance is, then plan your time around that ideal. Hurry, the clock is ticking…