When I work long hours, I usually work myself into a trap.
It starts when I have lots to do, so I push to put in more hours to fit it all in.
In the midst of these longer hours, I often get caught in a cycle of wanting to check off all the things on my to-do list instead of focusing my energy on the most important jobs I must do. I do this because when I work a lot I need to feel I’m productive and checking off to-dos helps create this feeling.
This creates my first problem: I’m now putting in a lot of hours, but I’m not putting them into the things that need to be done. This makes these hours less productive and often turns my longer hours into prolonged distraction from the important jobs I should be doing.
The second problem is that given the way I approach work, longer hours are less a sign of passion or commitment than they are a warning sign telling me that I should really be working smarter.
Working for a start-up inevitably means there is always more work to do than can be done. Even after prioritizing the important jobs, I’m left with more must-do work than I can manage. Thus, I’ve got to figure out how to get more done with what I have to work with—by becoming more efficient, hiring new people, training and delegating, finding more resources, etc.
But when I’m working long hours, trying to get too much done, I get short-sighted. I don’t see new opportunities, much less take advantage of them, and I find it harder to make a priority of what’s important. In short, as I work harder I work dumber.
At times long hours are needed, to be sure. Sometimes push comes to shove and a deadline just must be met. But I see long hours as analogous to driving a car with its RPMs in the red zone: it can be done for a short while, but it’s dangerous to make it a habit.
I’m trying to find ways to always work smart. So far that means looking for better ways of doing the same work, searching for talented staff who want to take new responsibilities as challenges for professional growth, finding new resources from unlikely sources, and grasping new opportunities that are now within my reach.
My hope is that by working smarter I’ll work long hours less often, actually achieving more as I do so, and keeping space for all the other important things in life.