how many hours should an entrepreneur work?
“There’s no reason someone should outwork you.” -Derek Jeter
Last year I was attending a sports coaching conference, manning a table for lockerdome. My day started around 5:30am with knocking out emails, then meeting one of the organizers, setting up my table, technical checks, etc. At 10:30am we began interacting with the hundreds of coaches roaming the building. Just around 4pm, one by one I saw table after table close down for the day. By 5pm, despite the fact that the event was still going strong, everyone except myself and an 82 year-old coach and entrepreneur, Bob Murrey, had gone home. By 10pm, Bob and I were still both there, on our feet, working the room of potential customers. Like me, the 82 year-old basketball coach owns his own business, USA Coaches Clinics. And like any true entrepreneur, Bob wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to outwork his competition.
The best entrepreneurs, like the best athletes, are fierce competitors. 11-time MLB All-Star and 5-time World Series Champion, Derek Jeter, said it well: “My parents always said to play hard, work hard. There’s always going to be people who are better than you, but there’s no reason someone should outwork you. That’s pretty much the philosophy I had and have to this day.”
So with a baseline that most entrepreneurs will outwork the average person, the question then is how much is enough?
If you work too little, market opportunities will pass you by. If you work too much, you might not mentally last until you can reach a product/market fit and beyond. There’s always something that needs to get done. Sales calls have to be made. The books need to be updated. Bugs need to be fixed. Code needs to be written. Something.
So what’s the balance between too much and too little?
But before discussing what I think works, I’d like to point out two specific categories of people that drive me nuts:
- The ‘I work X amount of hours per day’ guy: There are many people that schedule an exact number of hours they are going to work in a day, regardless of their productivity level. If they are really grooving, they still go home and break their momentum when time is up. If they are mentally shot, they sit at their desk and do nothing just to put in their hours. Trust me, I’ve tried the set hours in the past and can tell you first hand that this school of thought is ridiculously unproductive.
- The ‘work smarter not harder’ guy: 99.9% of the people preaching this philosophy are the absolute laziest, most underachieving people I know. Why can’t you work smart and hard? You see, when you work smart and hard, you get a bunch of stuff done.
My general rule of thumb is simple: work until you are no longer productive, letting your competitive nature – and sometimes Red Bull – be the fuel that drives your productivity. When you cease being productive, go unwind.
More specifically, this means that for Monday through Saturday, outside of setting aside a piece of my day for important activities (prayer, family, working out, etc.), the bulk of my day is open for working until I am no longer productive. Sometimes this means that I end up working 20 hours in a day, while other times it means I work only 8.
And on Sundays I take off so that I can see my wonderful wife because I want to stay married .
While this means that I generally put a lot of hours in, it also means that I only work when I’m productive and besides, it doesn’t always feel like work. A friend of mine, Nate Broughton, makes a great point in his post on this very subject; stating, “What looks like work in 2010 probably looked like vacation in 1980 when our successful friends were building their business. Checking email, responding to customers on Twitter… By that definition, I guess I work like 80 hours a week. But it doesn’t feel like it, thankfully.”
Bottom line, the only thing that matters is productivity. Any startup is an incredible amount of work and an enormous emotional drain. If you want to stay in the game for the long haul (most successful entrepreneurs that are being honest will retrospectively point to perseverance as a key driver for their success), you’ll need figure out what is the best way for you to maximize your productivity.
And know when you need to go have a glass of wine; like I’m going to do in a few hours.