This is a guest post from Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of O2E Brands, the 250M company group of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, You Move Me, Wow 1 Day Painting and Shack Shine
The conventional wisdom is that to be successful in your career, you need to be singularly focused on your business goals. Usually, this translates to working 60 hours per week and sacrificing sleep, time to yourself, and time with loved ones.
Maybe we needed this trade-off in other eras where the number of hours we each worked was the number one determinant of success. But I don't believe that it is still true today.
Working 20% more only gives a 20% productivity boost. But devoting 20% more time to thinking and recharging can result in a 1,000% productivity boost if that time leads to a breakthrough idea, brilliant decision, or higher morale for everyone you work with.
My company, O2E (Ordinary to Exceptional) Brands, which manages four global brands including our most well-known, 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, is living proof. We have $250 million in revenue, and are growing at 24% per year. Yet, for the last 20 years, I've taken Fridays completely off from work and technology.
We also offer our employees five weeks of paid vacation per year, including ending work early on Fridays for First Round Fridays. Some people take all of their five weeks at once. Some take a few days off at a time. Others take a day off every other week. This gives them the freedom to recharge in whatever way works best for them.
Why working less means getting more done
On Fridays, I do things that nourish my soul and recharge my energy like going skiing with my kids, road biking, cooking, learning languages (French and Italian), and getting massages. Having a healthy lifestyle that I enjoy and that allows me to be a good dad and husband is important to me. But that's not the only reason I limit myself to only working 40 hours per week.
I do it because it's the number of hours per week that allows me to get the most cumulative amount of work done. In other words, I don't believe that O2E Brands would be any more successful if I was working 50 or 60 hours a week. What's more, decades' worth of studies show productivity drops significantly after 40 hours a week.
When we're higher energy, we're more excited, more productive, and better at making decisions.
The opposite is also true. When we're low energy, we lose interest in work, get less done, make more mistakes, and ultimately switch companies more often. One of the reasons I've worked on the same company for 20 years is because I've consciously created a lifestyle I love and don't want to leave. As a result, the business has had continuous leadership, and our momentum has compounded year over year. I anticipate that our revenue will surpass $1 billion in 2021. I think many of the entrepreneurs who leave or sell their company after three or five years do it because they've burned themselves out with overwork.
Finally, our energy doesn't just impact our productivity, it impacts everyone we come into contact with. Not only are cranky, burnt-out people unpleasant to work with, their negative attitudes and low energy are contagious. Therefore, each individual's energy level has a huge impact on our culture as a whole, and our culture has a big impact on the bottom line.
The work myths that torture us
If we can get more done by working less and enjoying ourselves more, why do so many people insist on putting in such long hours? I believe it's because they've fallen victim to two common and particularly destructive work myths.
The first of these is the myth of multitasking. A lot has been written about the downsides of trying to do two things at once. A lot less has been written about trying to do two wildly different things on the same day.
We may think that we can temporarily forget unfinished or unresolved tasks, and move on to something else. Science has shown it's basically impossible. Our brains devote residual attention to open loops, impacting our performance and zapping our productivity. Examples of open loops are awkward conversations, ambiguous emails, bad news, pesky problems-tasks we start but never finish. Psychologists call this the Zeigarnick Effect.
Most people know that it's a terrible idea to text and drive at the same time. But fewer people understand that mixing different types of work together each day also has terrible effects on our ability to concentrate. By having the bulk of your think time, free time, and work time on different days, you can get far more done in less time. This leaves plenty of room in your schedule to actually enjoy life.
The second myth that many people believe about long hours is that they'll know burnout when they see it.
At different points in my career, I've dealt with symptoms of burnout. One thing I've learned is that people often misunderstand what it really is. They look at the problem in a binary way: either you're doing well or you're burned out.
In reality, there is much more of a continuum, and along that continuum there are huge differences in productivity and happiness.
I'd guess that most people have symptoms of burnout and don't even realize it. They're not being as productive or enjoying work as much as they could, but they don't do anything about it. Why? They consider it normal. To see where you are on the continuum, answer these questions honestly:
Depending on your answers, it may be time to reappraise your schedule and routines. Life is too short to settle. Set the bar higher.
I'm not an anomaly
My story isn't just an anomaly. While there may not be many examples of celebrity entrepreneurs who have mastered work-life balance, there are thousands of successful entrepreneurs who have.
For example, Reed Hastings, founder of Netflix, takes 6 weeks of vacation per year. All employees at Jason Fried's software company, 37 Signals, only work a 32-hour, four-day workweek from May through October. Also, every month I connect with three other entrepreneurs, and we provide each other advice. All three, like me, insist on balance:
These examples show not only that limiting your schedule is possible, but also that there are many ways to do it. Taking Fridays as my free days works for me. It may not be feasible for you or even optimal for your personality. Just taking Friday mornings might work better, for example. I encourage you to find what works for you.
Do your own experiment
I understand that making the transition to working less, based on the assumption that it will make you more successful, is a difficult jump for many people. Personally, I'd make a bet with just about anyone that they could be more productive in four days than five. But don't just take my word for it.
Try this simple experiment: at the end of every day for two weeks, pull out a journal and answer the following questions at the end of the day:
Take the first 5 days as a baseline, then start incorporating more free time and thinking time into your schedule in whatever way works best for you. Keep asking yourself the same questions to see the impact of your new routine. You'll likely be surprised by the results.
I still ask myself these questions every single day.
Whether you're a startup founder or the CEO of a large company, the principle is the same: if you're burning yourself out, even a little, you're not doing you or your company any favors. Start working less, and I believe you'll quickly find you're accomplishing more.