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Why the 4-Hour Workweek Is a Myth

Working less means you get less done. But that doesn't mean you need to work 24/7 either. Here's some real world advice.

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I'm sort of new around here so forgive me if my assumptions are a little off base, but I'm thinking that this audience is way too savvy to buy into The 4-Hour Workweek or any other "too good to be true" concept that somehow manages to hook millions of people like giant schools of starving fish.

That said, I'm also going to assume that vague statements like, "If you want to get anywhere in life, you've got to work your tail off" won't cut it, either. Not that it's an extreme viewpoint; it's actually quite true. But I'm guessing that you probably need a little more meat on the bone than that.

Okay, no problem. If you want a window into what it really takes to make it in the real world--as an entrepreneur, in a start-up or running a small business--then you've come to the right place. Here are some observations from over three decades in the high-tech industry and beyond:

You get out what you put in.   

Many and varied are the ways of productivity, time management, and working smart. We all have our own schemes, our own ways of doing things. But none of that stuff, and I mean none of it, will enable you to break the laws of physics or economics. You get out what you put in.

Work as smart as you want, but unless you figure out how to clone yourself, you've still got to do the work--and a lot of it if you want a lot in return. There are no silver bullets.

The "4-Hour Workweek" is, in fact, a myth.

In 30+ years, I've never known a single person--entrepreneur, executive, manager, engineer, small business owner, you name it--who made what anyone reading this would consider to be a good living by working less than 40 or 50 hours a week. Not a single person. And I don't know anyone who made it big working less than 50 or 60 hours a week. And a lot of them worked a whole lot more.

Sure, there are 4-hour workweeks. If you don't mind showering outside in the rain.

Successful people don't quit while they're ahead.

I have actually known hundreds of successful people who did very, very well for themselves. You know, top executives, serial entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, IPOs and all that. And you know what? I think only one actually quit and retired at what might be considered a relatively young age. I think he was about 50, which means he put in a good 30 years or so before high-tailing it to the tropics.

All the others are still working or quit at a reasonable age. Why? Guess they like what they're doing.

Don't work as hard as you should--work as hard as you have to.

As for me, I have sort of a unique take on the whole work thing. I never work as hard as I should but I always work as hard as I have to. That philosophy has served me well. But I didn't come up with it and build a career around a philosophy. It's more of a "looking back on it" sort of thing.

If I had to average it out, I'd say I've really worked 40 to 60 hour weeks, not including the millions of miles of air travel that go with the territory of being a senior executive and management consultant. Some weeks I worked a lot and some weeks I cruised, but overall, I've always worked pretty hard.

And just as the philosophy says, it never felt like I was working harder than I should because I wasn't. But I always worked as hard as I had to. So I always achieved my goals, for myself and for the companies I worked for. And, for the most part, I had a good time doing it.

About 10 years ago, I quit the corporate world and started my own thing. I call this the second half of my working life. I'm probably working about as hard as I ever did, but I'm doing it on my terms. And yes, that does feel good.

But I know one thing for sure. Had I not spent all those years in the corporate world, I wouldn't have much insight or advice for you or my consulting clients, now would I? So accumulating that knowledge and wisdom probably took exactly as long as it had to. End of story.

Last updated: Jan 11, 2013

STEVE TOBAK is a management consultant, an executive coach, and a former senior executive of the technology industry. He's managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based strategy consulting firm. Contact Tobak; follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
@SteveTobak




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