The math is wrong
When Marissa Meyer’s dedication to working seemingly inhuman 130-hour workweeks was lauded in an interview as the key to her success, her detractors weren’t quiet in calling the notion ill-formed at best, ludicrous at worst.
In the dim recesses, however, there were a small faction that quietly smiled, with a knowing nod to Mrs. Meyer and her Herculean work ethic. You see, for those who’ve seen their constant state of busyness devolve from simply being a way of life to something akin to an addiction, or a fetish, there is a greater danger still. Not only does an over-dedication to a bursting schedule relieve their need for belonging, importance, or fulfillment, but they do so believing time spent in pursuit of these efforts equals money. Unfortunately, their calculus is wrong.
The myth of the bootstraps
America loves the thought of the hard worker. It’s a part of our national ethos: the struggler, the striver, the Horatio Alger story of a lad who pulls themselves up by the bootstraps to achieve success at all costs. It’s a part of the American Dream, much like the Wild West.
And like the Wild West, the idea that we’re busier now than ever and that our time is valuable is a myth.
The number of hours worked annually in the United States has decreased 10.5 percent from 1950 to 2010, notes Derek Thompson in his Atlantic review of Elizabeth Kolbert’s New Yorker piece, “No Time.” Lest you be tempted to think this means the downfall of the American Puritan work ethic, worry not. Of comparable industrialized nations, Germany led the way with a decrease of 41 percent, and the Netherlands a close second at 40 percent.
Step away from the punch clock
Yet it certainly doesn’t feel that way, does it? Especially if you’re an entrepreneur, you understand the number of hours that you spend at the office, home, and the commute in between. Obsessing over every crucial detail of your company’s future can be an overwhelming adventure. But let’s afford ourselves a moment to step away from that embeddedness to look at what it is that we do and how we come to think about our process.
Identify which daily activities aren’t important to your process, suggests Birkinshaw and Cohen’s 2013 Harvard Business Review article, “Make Time for the Work That Matters.”
Employees can cut down the number of hours engaged in tasks that did not add commensurate levels of value by eliminating, delegating, or outsourcing.
Knowledge workers, who make up a majority of the current economy, can reduce the 41 percent of their time they identify as work-related activities that added little value to their organization and even less satisfaction to themselves.
So, once you’ve eliminated the things from your routine that don’t add anything meaningful, what should you do with that time? When you started your career, you had ambitions and dreams that were meant to support your life and the people in it. Is it now the other way around?
Have you become so intensely focused on making a living that you’ve forgotten to make a life?
The value of that hour engaged in a task that may or not be productive pales in comparison to the value of that hour that you’ve now gifted to those in your life or community. They need something much more than your production: your presence. The value of that hour gifted, fully immersed and present in the moment is often reciprocal as well. Spending time with your family or involved with your community as a volunteer provides you a restorative charge that allows the time you spend at work to be enriched, rather than simply spent.