I've spent a lot of time thinking about how many hours we all work during the week. Not quite 40 hours, or 100, or even 130 hours, but a good chunk of time.
Recently, I heard that Elon Musk tends to work around 80-100 hours per week. It reminded me all over again that we live in a highly connected culture, one that expects us to keep tabs on our email all day long. One Twitter poster told me we shouldn't worry about this topic, that if people want to work 100 hours per week, that's totally up to them. This misses the point by a wide margin. It's not a personal issue. It's an expectation in the workplace, and it must stop.
You might wonder, though. What about when you are starting a company? I take a fairly unusual view here. I still don't think it makes sense. Working 100 hours a week or more at any time in your life is not a good idea. I've already covered why that is according to and in sciencemy own early morning work routine that helps me find focus. My main argument is that intentional work is better than more work.
The question about why Elon Musk works so much reminds me of a long forgotten vice presidential debate from 1988 between Dan Quayle and Lloyd Bentsen, both senators. During a tense exchange, Bentsen tells Quayle: "You're no Jack Kennedy."
Well, I'm no Elon Musk. And, this is a total hunch on my part, but maybe you're not, either. Few of us can claim to have the mental dexterity to run multiple companies. Maybe it takes 100 hours in a week to do that, who knows? Not me, because I have enough trouble doing my day job. I can barely make my 40 hours worthwhile.
Here's the issue, though. Musk wasn't saying what he did to start Tesla or SpaceX or even PayPal. He was giving advice about what you should do. And that's where it gets tricky. He said in this interview, which dates all the way back to 2013, that we tend to have wishful thinking about any new venture, that things will just work out. He advocated for perseverance, which is a critical part of success. Yet, he also missed the fundamental problem. If Elon Musk works 100 hours per week, he might be able to sustain that over a long period of time. It's not good advice for everyone, though. Few of us can keep up that pace for weeks on end. And, worse than that, it's a message that is becoming more prevalent and could be easily misconstrued.
Given the choice between working smarter and working longer, always take the first option. Merely working longer is not going to open any doors, won't attract a big audience, and won't fill up your bank account any faster. It might only make your wheels spin even harder. Or send you to the hospital.
How do you work smarter? In my experience, the people who have figured that out have a morning routine that involves at least some reflection and some planning. They don't dive right into email. They avoid early morning meetings. Lately, I've added another step to my note-taking routine. I'll usually read a newspaper over coffee now, flipping through the pages like I'm in no rush, pausing to look outside and think about my day and what I'm going to accomplish.
Working smarter means planning. It means thinking through issues. It means finding a mentor and asking for advice. It means being intentional.
Hours spent in heavy labor all day is one way to work. That's an attitude that says more is always more. Those are the people who usually flame out.
Another option is to be diligent and smart. It's to make the most of each hour, not just use them up faster. It's to figure out which tasks needs to be done and which tasks can wait until later. It's not about packing as much into the day as possible.
Unless, of course, you actually are Elon Musk. If so, please add me on Twitter.