In today’s episode, Anna looks at the fallacy of the ‘hustle’, why it’s a mistake to build a business on working too hard and how to stop overworking.
The idea of the entrepreneurial ‘hustle’ is reinforced by prominent figures such as Elon Musk – I’m pretty sure he said not that long ago that he doesn’t sleep. And you don’t understand, because his life is so busy, he can’t possibly sleep… And Gary Vaynerchuk, Gary Vee, always talks about hustling and “working your face off”. Now to his credit, he has talked about the fact that that doesn’t mean that everybody else should do that, he just talks about how he lives his life. But still, having those icons, those so-called role models to look up to, does give you a bit of a warped view of what you have to do in order to be successful.
*Resources mentioned during the episode*
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How to stop overworking
Hello there, and welcome back as we continue to talk about work-life integration. Which is all around getting results, yes, but also enjoying work, enjoying your business, having time for your family, for your hobbies, taking care of your health, not burning out, and so on. Easy, right? It’s a simple task.
Now, today I want to talk about why working harder isn’t the answer. And let me first address some myths around entrepreneurship. Now, obviously I’ve already talked about the 9-to-5 structure and the artificial construct of so-called work-life balance and so on, and I think our culture generally has this busyness kind of epidemic, I guess. And somehow we celebrate that in being overworked and so on. So it’s a badge of honour to say, “Oh, I’m so busy,” even though it’s actually a really boring thing to say. If I ask you how you are and you say you’re busy, like, okay great, well tell me something interesting that you’re doing because otherwise, mm, not sure if that’s a great answer. But saying, “I’m really busy,” it’s so typical, it’s so normalised. It’s really part of our society. And, “Oh wow, I’m so busy and important,” as Bridget Jones used to say, “that I can’t possibly meet you. I’ve got to stay late in the office. Oh, you don’t understand. My company, my role is so important.”
And I’m not in any way trivialising anyone’s role, because you’re all doing incredibly important work and I’m sure you are very busy. However, the question is, is that really the best way of doing work for you? Certainly not, I would say. For the company, probably not either. For the economy, nor that neither, whatever the grammatical expression is there.
Now, again, coming to working for yourself, we talked last week about the fact that we don’t have to stick to the 9-to-5 structure. That’s again, an artificial construct. It’s something that yes, society happens to be built around for various historical reasons, but it’s not necessarily the right way of doing things. And now that we’re really trying to be intentional in designing work and life that works for us, maybe it’s time to reconsider that.
So again, in terms of working hard, working harder, some myths around entrepreneurship. And the key one is that it’s all about the hustle. So I don’t know you’ve heard the word, it’s not the dance, it’s not the 1960s Do the Hustle kind of song. And again, I’ll try not to sing when I’m doing these podcasts, although it’s hard to resist the temptation. So it’s not about the dance, it’s not about that.
The hustle is reinforced, I’d say, by prominent figures such as Elon Musk. I’m pretty sure he said not that long ago that he doesn’t sleep. And you don’t understand, because his life is so busy, he can’t possibly sleep. And Gary Vaynerchuk, Gary Vee in the entrepreneurial world, always talks about hustling and working your face off. Now to his credit, he’s talked about the fact that that doesn’t mean that everybody else should do that, he just talks about how he lives his life. But still, having those icons, those so-called role models to look up to, does give you a bit of a warped view of what you have to do in order to be successful.
You also have in the age of the internet and social media all those inspirational quotes and memes around choosing to work 100 hours for yourself so you don’t have to work for someone else. That’s sort of the motto of the entrepreneur or freelancer. Or these incredible CEOs who are getting up at 4:00 AM to meditate and have calls and whatever else, right?
So this hustle, the assumption is you have to work incredibly hard. You have to hustle, you have to work nights and weekends in order to make your business work.
Now, I want to be clear here. I am not saying it’s not hard work.
So first of all, making the escape, making the transition from one field to another, from one type of work and lifestyle to another type of work and lifestyle is going to require hard work. It’s going to require inner work. So we talked a little about mindset and beliefs and stories we’re telling ourselves, confidence, addressing our fears, and so on.
It’s also going to take actual, tangible work to work out your strategy, how you’re going to make a viable business to go out there building your brand, your audience, et cetera, et cetera. Especially if you’re building a business alongside a full time job, of course. And sorry to state the obvious, but of course I recognise that you have the full time job, and on top you’re putting this business now. So even if it’s just a temporary side hustle until you ultimately transition fully into that, you probably will need to do some work before work, during lunch breaks, in the evenings, at the weekends, and so on, right. But how on earth are you supposed to build a business alongside a job if you’re not doing extra hours? So yes, of course, on the face of it, that is hard to work, it’s longer hours, and so on.
And, I’m a big believer, and I always talk about this certainly with my clients in the incubator and the accelerator, success as a business owner is going to come through diligence. All the non-sexy things I know I always say. It’s not very sexy. It’s showing up consistently, it’s persistence, it’s doing the work. So it’s not ordering business cards, it’s not telling people, “Yeah, I’m an entrepreneur.” It’s actually doing the work every day, showing up, putting videos out, talking to leads, working with clients, and so on, right. That is what’s going to bring you success.
And you may have heard of Malcolm Gladwell as well saying that you have to work for put in 10,000 hours in order to become a master in some particular skill. So yes, it is hard work. However, again, we’re overworking; it shouldn’t be a badge of honour. The whole point of starting the business in the first place for many of us is that we’re designing again something with more intentionality, more purpose. We want to have fulfilling work. We want to enjoy our work. But also for most of us, and almost invariably when I talk to clients, people want to work less. We don’t want to have those long, long hours and the late nights in the office. We don’t want to have the crazy travel, early mornings flying to clients’ offices. We don’t want to be working on holidays and weekends and have our phone constantly out, and so on.
So with that in mind, it seems a bit odd that we then so quickly fall into the trap of working those same hours when we’re running our business. And that’s what I talked about last week.
Now, it’s also counterproductive, and again, I did mention this last week, but research says things like we can actually only focus for 20 minutes at a time. And even if it’s not 20 minutes, if it’s 40 minutes, an hour and a half, whatever, it does mean that it’s not productive to try to work from 7 in the morning until 10, 11 at night.
I know that. And I’ve just come out of a workshop where I was going live every evening and I had the energy for it and I love it and I feel great when I’m doing it, but it takes a lot out of me, and it’s not something I could do ongoing. And to be honest, probably during those days, I’ve had slightly quieter days so that I can really focus my energy on the night. And other stats, and again, I’ve mentioned a couple of times recently, we only do, well less than three hours of productive work a day, and so on, right?
So first of all, it’s not true, and this is the key point, that working longer hours, working harder in that sense is going to get you better results. In fact, all the data’s point says now it’s the opposite. You might think that you’re doing all the good stuff, you’re working hard and so on. And there is this feeling of guilt in taking time off. There’s the feeling that we have to hustle. We have to be certainly in the corporate world be seen to be working hard. Even when we’re in our own business, we feel like, “Oh, I can’t take that time off to do XYZ, because I need to be doing more.” Especially of course when we’re first starting out, because we feel like, “Oh my goodness, I don’t have a lot of money coming in yet, so of course I have to work all the time.”
And again, yes, you do have to work hard in order to get the business up and running, and probably harder at the beginning. However, a really key insight here is, and I want you to really bear this in mind, if you build a business based on the hustle, i.e. you take lots and lots of clients, more than you really want to, you agree to working on holidays and evenings, you just don’t set boundaries, just do what they say, because any client is a bit of money and yes, you’re not being paid very much, but at least it’s a client and you’re just at their beck and call, and you’re working long, long hours, you’re doing too much and so on, what’s going to happen? You’re going to be successful, hooray, but you’re going to be successful with a business built on hustle and hard work and stress, and working with clients who don’t pay enough, and working during holidays and evenings.
I guarantee you that if you’re clearer on your goals, your parameters, if you charge at the right price, and there’s no right answer really, but if you’re really charging for your value and not undercharging, most of us tend to over-deliver, over-service clients anyway.
If you’re setting clear boundaries, almost invariably most clients and the clients you want to be working with really respect that. And in fact, they’re going to probably be more inclined to want to work with you, because it’s going to seem like you’re very clear on the boundaries, you must be in demand because you say, “Sorry, I’m only available these days and these hours.” Most people respect that. Now, for some people it might not work for them, and certainly certain types of clients do expect you to be at their beck and call. If they’re paying you millions of dollars, by all means over-service them. If I had a massively VIP client who was paying me 500,000 pounds to work with me then of course that would probably from my side involve being very, very available to them at all times. However, for most of us that’s not the case.
So again, the only thing you’ll succeed with, if you hustle away and work way too hard at the start, is to create a business that’s based on working way too hard. So what I’m saying is it’s not about more work. It’s not about the longer hours. It’s about focusing on the right things and doing them consistently without complaining, without getting distracted, without giving up too soon, and so on. It’s about doing meaningful work, not just any work, not just doing and being busy. That doesn’t mean you’re creating movement or impact, right. And it’s the old cliche, but unfortunately very true, you need to work smarter, not harder. And again, setting those boundaries that a friend of mine who’s also a coach a couple of years ago told me, “You know what, when I had my baby,” her first baby, she now has two children, “I actually became more confident. I set higher prices. I was only available certain times. And I was in more in demand than ever.”
I’ve had a similar experience with my business. Certainly I’m much clearer and I have the conviction to go, “Nope, sorry, I can’t do that, unfortunately.” I’m not going to just take on lots of volunteering opportunities and free things. I try to do what I can of course, to help people out. And I show up loads. And obviously this podcast is free and my Facebook group is free, and I really do a lot, I hope you agree, for the community and so on for people who obviously can’t necessarily afford to pay me. But I do have to be really conscious of the fact that, hey, I’m running a business here. I need to earn, I want to earn a certain amount of money. I’m delivering certain value, and these are the parameters for that. So this is the pricing, these are the hours I can and want to work, and so on.
Okay. So what does this mean, working smarter, not harder? So, a few key concepts for me.
One is focusing on the right projects and the right strategies in those projects. And that is of course, say it with me, knowing what success looks like for you. So having a really clear purpose and success definition for yourself, for your life and your business. You need to have really clear goals to know what your priority is, the one thing that’s going to make the biggest difference in your life, in your business this year.
Now you may have heard of, and this is something I learned in my corporate time, the Pareto principle, 80/20. So, along the lines of, and it’s an interesting statistic that appears in the natural world, in business and all sorts of walks of life, that actually 20% of your clients are generating 80% of your profit. And likewise in many other formats, but basically it’s an 80/20 proportion.
Which means that certainly if you’ve been in business for awhile, if you look at your existing clients and projects, you can probably see, hey, there’s a couple who I don’t have to put a lot of effort in, they already know me, it’s the type of client that has the money, that loves what I do, that pays on time. That’s the stuff that takes the least amount of time for me and effort and brings me the biggest reward.
Whereas there’s lots of itty-bitty projects here and there that you kind of just agree to, they don’t pay you very much, they complain, they pay you late. And actually you could scrap all of that and not lose a whole lot in your business, right.
And then what you can do of course is expand and do more of the work, the projects, the clients, that are actually generating income. Or, by the way, you can just stop, and if you’re already earning as much as you want to be earning, you can just use that spare time now to do other things, which is all very good as well.
So, focus on the right projects, the right strategies that are actually going to have an impact from an income perspective, but also from whatever other success measures that you have.
Now, an important piece there is don’t keep reinventing the wheel, especially when you’re starting out. And I’ve done this myself. It’s very easy to be tempted into chopping and changing your goals, your strategies all the time. But you’ll be starting from scratch. So unless you’re a hundred percent sure that something isn’t working, or you’re hating it, you’ve chosen the wrong thing for whatever reason, in that case, by all means take a step back and reevaluate.
But in most cases, we just have to keep going, plodding along, refining, revisiting maybe a little bit, pivoting a bit, but keep going, and the results will come. The results always take longer than we realise. So, staying focused on that strategy is going to actually focus your time and energy and effort on getting results, rather than constantly coming up with, and I know it’s fun, but coming up with new ideas. So rather than creating a new course, a new programme, a new service every year, I’ve got these three core services. Boom, even better, one, to begin with, I’m just going to be pushing that, marketing that. And until you have way too many clients in that service, probably don’t even need to move on to do something else. You want to become known for this one flagship product or service, for example.
Another tip is focusing on the results versus focusing on the hours work. So it doesn’t matter if you’ve worked two hours in a day or 20 for that matter. I’m sure you’ve had those days when you’ve just done a few hours and boom, you’ve bashed out, for me incredible podcast episodes, blog posts, have client calls, created something, made progress on whatever, and had an amazing result in a very limited amount of time. Whereas other days you just work and work and work, and you look back and you think, hang on, what did I do? I just replied to emails. I did adminy stuff. I haven’t actually made any real movement in the business. So, results versus hours worked.
Another one is progress versus perfection. I’m a perfectionist. It’s quite an excuse to not actually do anything. So don’t let that be you. Make progress, put something out, evolve it, refine it, improve it, but just do it, get it out there. You’ll learn, and you’ll be able to then optimise and move forwards.
Setting yourself deadlines. Tasks tend to fill the time allotted.
Just like if you have a suitcase when you go travelling or a handbag, don’t know about you, but I can very easily fill whatever space I have. So, set yourself deadlines, block your calendar, so that you’re only fitting the time that you have, right.Because when I first started my business and I didn’t have a lot of clients, I could easily over-service and work for hours and hours on projects. Fine if you want to do that at the beginning to make sure that you have really happy clients and you’re getting incredible results. But longer term, hopefully you’ll be getting more clients and you can’t do that so much. Better to set those good habits from the beginning.
Speaking of habits, routines, habits, those are really key to save you time as well. Think of Mark Zuckerberg and the black jumper. Or was that Steve Jobs, I don’t know, wearing the same thing. You don’t have to keep thinking and coming up with new ideas. Just every day, the first thing I do, I do this on Facebook, I record this, I post that, whatever.
Speaking of Facebook, turning off distractions. Turn off notifications of your phone. Turn off the email while you’re working on projects. Focus on one thing at a time.
You can use lots of tools. There’s the technology that can actually help you, automation software. There are apps that block your apps if you want them to do that. I like to be in control of my own life, my own phone. But by all means, if that helps you, putting time limits and making sure you can’t open Facebook or whatever.
You want to outsource. So whether that’s a virtual assistant, an accountant, a cleaner, getting rid of the stuff that takes a huge amount of time and doesn’t generate a lot of value, that’s, what’s going to make a difference for you.
Saying no to the wrong things. We’ll have a whole episode on this soon, but cannot underestimate the importance of making sure you’re saying no to the wrong clients, wrong projects, anything that’s not getting you closer to where you want to be.
And then lifelong learning as well. I’m a massive fan of that. You want to be getting better. You’ll get better over time with experience anyway, but certainly making sure that you’re constantly on top of your game, you’re getting better at your craft.
And by all means, embrace being a time management geek and read books and listen to podcasts, audio books, and learn lots of techniques that are going to help you. Even one technique that’s going to help you work smarter rather than harder.
So again, I’ve just listed lots of ideas there, but just to give you some thoughts, and maybe one or two of those, something you can think about and take forwards.
But the key message I want you to remember, working harder is not the answer. So again, the question, what you’re doing when you’re finding yourself “Oh my gosh, I have too much to do. I can’t possibly meditate. I can’t possibly take a step back and look at my strategy. I can’t possibly XYZ,” that, my friend, is exactly when you need to take a step back and maybe meditate or take a break and review your strategy. Because that probably means you’re just going a hundred miles an hour. Doesn’t matter how fast you’re going, if you’re heading in the wrong direction, right. So, Stephen Covey. So, make sure then you are taking a bit of time off.
The few times, and I don’t have a great meditation habit, but the few times I’ve been completely frazzled and taken 10, 20 minutes to listen to a guided meditation, I have come back and I’ve been so much more focused, so much more present, and I’ve been able to calmly then approach my tasks. I get completely manic if I think, “Oh my goodness, I’ve got so much to do.” I end up not doing anything productively. I’m just scattering my time and my effort across lots of different things. So if you’re anything like me, when you find yourself feeling frazzled and you think, “Oh my goodness, I don’t have time for a break,” that is absolutely when you need a break.
And I’ll be talking more about, again as I said, saying no, as well as taking care of yourself, getting clear on your priorities, establishing those boundaries, and so on. But again, working harder is not the answer.
Thanks so much for listening and I’ll see you back here next week. Bye for now.
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