The Fallacy of Hustle

No matter if you’re an employee, an intern, or a founder, when it comes to startup life, long hours are a part of your reality. Yet, today, overwork isn’t just accepted, it’s becoming increasingly glorified and normalized by pop culture. Across today’s entrepreneurial community, specifically, an obsession with “hustle” is running rampant.

Why?

One of the primary drivers of this trend is the growing popularity of entrepreneurship as a whole. Being an entrepreneur has always required grit and long hours in exchange for a large potential payout when all is said and done. Now, with over 500,000 new businesses being launched every single month in the United States alone, everyone seems to be an entrepreneur. Couple this the fact that some tech founders have become celebrities (like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and more), and it’s little wonder why so many people think working 80 hours per week is a bulletproof strategy to wealth and success.

Another reason for the perpetuation of overwork is the fact we’re always connected to the online world. Now that most of us have the Gmail app installed on our smartphones, you can no longer avoid that angry email from a customer sent to you at midnight. You can no longer avoid that Slack message sent to you by your co-founder, or that negative Yelp review. While these tools are helpful in a lot of ways, they’re harmful in the sense that they never allow for anyone to truly be away from their work.

The intention behind the working hard is certainly good, but the interpretation is where things have gotten sticky. As a result, it’s becoming more clear than ever before that the concept of hustle has been taken overboard and is causing more harm than good in a lot of ways. Here are just a few of them.

Consequences of Overworking

#1. Negative Impact on Your Health

Research has linked longer working hours with depression, heart disease, and more. For instance, a study conducted in London amongst 10,000 white-collar workers found those who averaged notching 3 or more hours above a standard workday experienced a 60% higher risk of heart-related diseases relative to those who didn’t.

#2. Longer Hours Doesn’t Necessarily Correlate to Higher Output

Anyone who has ever pulled an all-nighter knows we certainly aren’t the sharpest, most alert version of ourselves the day after. By consistently being exhausted when you show up to work, you’re increasing the chances of making a mistake, whether big or small. In the business world, perception is reality, and even a couple misspelled words in an email might cause an investor or a client to question your attention to detail.

Don’t waste tomorrow by doing half-ass work late into the night. If you find yourself strapped for time at midnight, go to sleep and get up an hour earlier than usual. This way, you won’t be shooting yourself in the foot twice.

#3. Not Ideal For Good Habit Setting

Practicing regular, healthy habits is a critical piece to success in any field, but it’s especially important for founders. As the key decision maker at your organization, it’s in the best interest of your company that you’re always at your optimal state so you can function at a high level.

According to Aubrey Marcus (CEO of the innovative nutrition and lifestyle company, Onnit), CEOs and upper-level executives burn nearly as many calories during the day as professional athletes do. Because of this, people in positions of authority at organizations should to be in the best condition physically, emotionally and mentally day in, day out. By working extremely late and pounding Red Bulls, you’re setting yourself up for irregularity, inconsistency and poor habits by not having a routine set in place.

Additionally, according to a 2015 study by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, people who work long hours are more likely to participate in binge drinking. Lastly, those who work late are more than likely doing so on their computers. Research has found that overexposure to artificial light can negatively impact your REM (or “deep sleep”). You can remedy this by trying out the f.lux app, which dims your laptop brightness to a healthy level depending on the time of day.

What We Can Do About It

#1. Have Non-negotiable Me-time

Having non-negotiable me-time, where you take time to focus on self-care as opposed to work, is paramount to preserving a healthy work-life balance and overall wellbeing. Take up a hobby that will get you out of your comfort zone. Go to a meetup where you don’t know any of the attendees. Take your dog or significant other to the beach for a day.

As a startup founder, it’s easy to slip into the trap of throwing your entire identity into your business. To combat this, don’t just be “MacKenzie the Startup Founder”, but also be “MacKenzie the Rock Climber”, or  “MacKenzie the Photographer”. This will allow you to emotionally and physically detach yourself from your work, enabling you to recharge your batteries.

#2. Practice Mindfulness & Meditation

There’s a reason why mindfulness and meditation are spreading like wildfire: they both work. One of the most beneficial parts of mindfulness and meditation is allowing you to let go of the things you have zero control over. To get started, try downloading an app like Headspace, or search Meetup.com for local meditation groups.

#3. Set Mental Boundaries

One of the easiest ways to detach yourself from work is to set mental boundaries which separate your work life from your home life. For instance, if you use your laptop all day in the office, consider only using your tablet or smartphone for browsing the web when you get home. If you have a home office, consider having a strict policy of not working in any other room of the house. What this will do is create psychological triggers in your brain that will make you associate one area with leisure and relaxation and one with work.

You can also use a tool like AppDetox which enables you to set boundaries for app usage within your own smartphone, allowing you to take regular digital detoxes.

#4. Take a damn vacation!

If your business can’t run without you for a week, then you’ve built it wrong. Plain and simple. If you don’t have talented members of your team who you can trust to keep the business afloat while you’re gone, it’s about time to start looking for new hires.

It’s no secret that maintaining a healthy work-life balance is tough for entrepreneurs and members of the startup community. Despite the fact that long hours, every now and then, are inevitable, hustling yourself to death is never the right answer.

Thanks for reading.


Also published on Medium.