As digital marketers, we’re often guilty of being “busy”. We’re constantly checking our Twitter feeds, responding to messages, keeping tabs on what’s happening in the industry, and juggling multiple projects at once. Our brains are somewhat wired to never miss a beat, to stay in the loop of ever evolving trends and developments. Fear of falling behind, on both, our growth as marketers and in the KPIs we chase in our professional careers, keep us teetering on the brink of information overload. Heck, if we’re being honest, we’d admit to being a competitive bunch who want to make marginal gains with everything we do in our day-to-day lives.
Here’s the reality though: your brain needs a recharge period from being “always on”. Having a continuous go-go attitude chips away at the mind and hurts your ability to perform at peak capacity. A good marketer isn’t afraid of working hard or putting in a little extra time to upskill outside of working hours. However, constant, unrelenting pressure to be a high achiever can have a number of negative effects:
- Poor work-life balance
- Health problems related to stress
- More mistakes and a decline in creativity
- Lower satisfaction in work and personal life
- Detachment from those around you.
One thing many people are guilty of is answering the question, “How are you?” with a rhetorical “busy” followed by an (often unprompted) explanation of why they have been so busy, and in doing so completely dodging the question that was asked. If this sounds familiar, there’s probably something wrong with your work schedule that you’re afraid to admit to. I’ll be the first to hold my hand up and admit to being one of these people.
Over the past couple of months, I have been pushing myself harder and harder – more projects, more ambitious goals, and a greater desire to be more “successful”. Truthfully, this work schedule started around four years ago when I began arriving at my full-time role every morning at 7:00 am so that I could get the ball rolling before officially clocking in at 9:00 am. Most evenings and weekends were also set aside to work further on tasks that couldn’t be carried out during working hours. Looking back, I have no idea how I have managed to sustain and survive this routine for this long without mentally breaking. Sure, there’s some level of satisfaction to be had from signing a new client, completing a particularly difficult project, or working on a new deal, but I never once stopped to ask myself that defining question: Am I happy?
The increasing pressure placed on myself has not surprisingly led to me hitting a brick wall in the past week. Something had to give: this time it was the cancellation of a trip to a conference I had been looking forward to attending for some time. I’m disappointed in myself for not being able to attend, but as I have realised over recent weeks, working seven days a week is not sustainable or productive in the long term. The problem we’re all facing though is that the industry is full of mixed advice. If you’re a regular user of Twitter or LinkedIn, you have probably encountered more than your fair share of these types of posts:
The most successful people I’ve met:
1. Read constantly
2. Workout daily
3. Are innately curious
4. Have laser focus
5. Believe in themselves
6. Build incredible teams
7. Admit they know very little
8. Constantly work to improve
9. Demand excellence in everything they do
— Pomp 🌪 (@APompliano) June 10, 2018
This type of advice is misleading and unproductive. What one person defines as “success” can be quite different to how someone else may think on the subject; so why judge your daily routine by another person’s standards? Some people don’t want to build a company, manage people, become a millionaire, or be an industry renowned leader. They simply want to be great at what they do for a living, as well as be a loving and thoughtful partner, friend, and family member.
A few months ago, Steve Bartlett of Social Chain shared this update on his Instagram account:
— Mark Scully (@ScullyMark) January 5, 2018
It was the first week back after the Christmas and New Year holiday break. The update on Steve’s Instagram account claimed that if you’re working 40 hours per week and the competition is putting in 90 hours per week, you’re destined to fall behind. To be fair to Steve, one of his team may be responsible for managing his Instagram account, and possibly not every update will be signed off by him. The message still annoyed me though as the intent was to stir a reaction from a younger and more impressionable audience that trust Steve’s opinion.
He went on to explain how Elon Musk’s 100+ hour work week is what separates people like him from others. I don’t think anyone will disagree that Elon is a remarkable person with a work ethic unlike most people. But when Steve says, “I know the hours I put in when I started, 90+ hours gave me a tremendous advantage. And in business/start-ups, all advantages count,” he’s foolishly advocating a path to depression. He just doesn’t realise it!
If you’re correlating the number of hours you “work” with what you believe to be success, you’re setting yourself up for failure from getgo, and a lifestyle that will have serious repercussions on both your personal relationships and mental and physical health. I’m not saying this all as an adversary of Steve. I had been following his ‘Everyday Steve’ daily vlogs on YouTube for a number of months before this message appeared on Instagram. It’s clear he has a lot of passion for the industry and sets a lot of time aside to offer advice to his audience, but it’s one thing saying a 90 hour work week is necessary, and another understanding that as a respected industry figure you have a certain responsibility towards those who look to you for guidance. One person’s “success” is another person’s “depression” – don’t expect everyone to fit into the exact same mould as you. Everyone is different.
Unfortunately, Steve is one of many examples of people in a position of social authority who share damaging advice. Whether you love him or hate him, Gary Vaynerchuk has been talking about the importance of “hustle” for a number of years. As an entrepreneur and angel investor with over 1.7 million Twitter followers, he has a large audience of people who pay close attention to his every word. Some of the advice shared by Gary in the past has included, “If you want bling bling, if you want to buy the Jets, work. That’s how you get it”. The truth about how many hours these entrepreneurs and their teams are putting into their jobs is fairly meaningless.
Not everyone wants to buy the New York Jets, Gary. And for those that have ambitious goals, they need to work smarter, not harder.
There have been a number of reports about how working less hours can greatly improve productivity by removing stress, fatigue, and other factors that impact efficiency during any given work day. Take a read of the listed material and come to your own conclusions about whether working over 40 hours a week is worth it or not.
- Entrepreneur – Is a Shorter Workday Actually Better for Businesses?
- Stanford University – The Relationship Between Hours Worked and Productivity
- The Guardian – Do you work more than 39 hours a week? Your job could be killing you
- Business Insider – Forget the 9 to 5 — research suggests there’s a case for the 3-hour workday
- The Independent – Charles Darwin worked for four hours a day. Maybe we should too
- The Huffington Post – 3 Scientifically Backed Reasons Why Working Less Leads to More Productivity
- BBC – The Compelling Case For Working A Lot Less
- Inc – Why You Must Give Yourself Permission To Work Less
5 Simple Questions To Ask Yourself
1) Am I happy?
It’s a simple question. Stop for a moment and ignore every top 10 list you’ve come across about – what qualities every successful person has – and simply ask yourself, “Am I happy?” There’s a huge difference between being someone who’s busy and someone who’s happy with life.
2) Am I defined by my work?
This ties back into the question: “How are you?”
If you generally answer this question with “busy”, you probably have lost sight of what makes you, you. Take a step back and realise that the closest people in your life are not there because of the work you do but because of who you are. If your personality has become a stripped back version of what it once was and replaced with someone who’s all about the “hustle”, you’re probably going to experience burnout at some point in your career. Probably sooner than you think.
3) Have I been productive this week?
Be honest with yourself. Have you achieved what you set out to do this week? If the answer is yes, what do you believe led to this success? Was it the amount of hours you worked or simply self-discipline and greater focus? For me, there have been weeks where I worked all seven days and achieved very little – the lower productivity was down to the fact that I hadn’t a day off in weeks and I was tired of everything.
4) When was the last time I focused on me?
Have you lost track of what your hobbies are? I’m not talking about fitting exercise into your daily routine or ensuring you get enough sleep – those are things you should already be doing. I mean, what do you do each day that is only for you and for no one else? It could be something as simple as hanging out with close friends or family, watching your favourite TV show, rewarding yourself with a meal out, or kicking back on the Xbox. You need to set aside time just for yourself in order to disconnect and recharge your mind. Downtime needs to be a daily ritual, and not something to feel guilty about.
5) Am I proud of what I have achieved?
The problem with the fast nature of the world we live in is that we rarely set time aside to look back and recognise our achievements. If all you see are problems and things that need to be fixed, you will slowly start to develop a more negative view towards life. This is something I’m particularly guilty of that has developed over the past couple of years. It’s only when other people highlight some of my successes that I begin to appreciate how far I’ve come in my career. You should write down a list of achievements that you’re particularly proud of and look at that when you’re feeling down about life.
Once you’ve learned to detach the notion of career-driven success from basic happiness, you will stop being defined by your job.
If interested in more serious industry topics like this, read more about why getting a good night’s sleep is important for both your mental and physical health.