How many hours should you work?

“How’re you getting on running your own business?” a friend of mine recently asked.

“Things are going well, thanks. Still finding my feet but enjoying it so far.”

“Ah great. So how many hours a week are you working?”

Heh, interesting question, I thought. Of all the things he could ask — Are you finding enough work? Don’t you find it distracting working from home? — and he asked how many hours I’m working.

I use RescueTime to track the time I’m at my Mac. Since 90% of the work I do takes place on my Mac (the remaining 10% is travelling and meetings), I have a pretty good idea of how many hours a week I work.

“It varies. Last week I worked around 40 hours.”

“Ohh.” You could almost hear the disappointment in his voice. I imagined the continued dialogue in his head: “40 hours? I’m sure you need to work 60+ to run a successful business.”

Our society has created a culture that promotes long work hours. If you work long hours, you must be important and successful, right?

Well, no.

RescueTime allows me to see roughly how productive I am based on the apps I’m using. It’s not entirely accurate but it gives a decent estimation. On average, I’m productive (coding, designing, writing, emailing) 70% of the time. The remaining time I’m on Twitter, Facebook or Amazon. You know, the normal distractions. Of course, this fluctuates based on how busy I am. Some days I’m in the 90s and others I’m down in the 60s.

Why am I telling you this? Because it highlights that not every moment of our working day is productive. And the funny thing is, the longer my working day, the less productive I am.

Someone who works 16 hours a day or 80 hours a week might only be productive 50% of the time. So, theoretically, I could work for 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week and get the same amount done.

Working long hours is seen by some as a badge of honour and that it puts them in the same league as the greats of the past. But, instead of how many hours worked, we should be looking at our output.

Are we focused when we work? Are we working on the right things? Are we avoiding distractions? Are we automating the things that can be automated? Do we have a structure and routine for our day?

If we ask ourselves those questions, it’s possible to work a 40 hour week (or less) and run a successful business.

It’s only lately that I’ve begun to really appreciate and value time.

Most people care about money. Not in a greedy way (although some do) but in the way that we need money to survive. We plan and budget and save. We’re careful with how we spend money.

Why is it then that we don’t consider how we spend our time in the same way?

We should be spending our time wisely. We should be focused when we need to be focused. We should be saying ‘no’ to distractions. And we should have periods when we’re not working.

I wanted to end this with a quote. While searching Google, I stumbled on this wonderful piece by Kevin Kelly. Although this quote is in the context of travelling, I believe it applies to life as well.

“Time is the one thing you can give yourself in abundance. It is often the one resource the young own. Ironically, if you exploit your gift of time as you travel, you’ll gain more than any billionaire can. Without exaggeration, you’ll earn experiences that no amount of money can buy. Seriously. Although it tries, money cannot buy what time delivers.”