You know the business-owner-next-door who is constantly talking about how busy they are, how nonstop their work is, how they work 80 hour weeks?
It’s often said as a form of bragging. It’s like some weird, professional version of meatheads at the gym comparing how much they can lift, bro.
As if the amount of hours you work a week is relevant to anything meaningful at all. It’s not. Seriously!
There’s this strange, harmful myth out there. It’s the myth of the 80-hour entrepreneur. It goes a little something like this: in order to be successful, you must work. A lot. Many many hours.
The more hours you put in, the more successful you’ll be. And you most definitely need to work more than the next guy. If not, you’re slacking, lazy, doomed to failure.
The problem with this? On the average, none of it is true.
The Impact of Cultural Conditioning on Our Work Hours
We’ve been conditioned to think more hours = more productivity = more success.
Rand Fishkin has a great presentation on the topic of cultural conditioning and the ways it leads to poorer results and performance. One of his examples is thinking working more hours — then bragging about it — makes us more productive.
The reality is that for most people, it results in poorer quality work.
Are there some superhumans out there who will pipe up with, “This isn’t true for me, I can totally work 70 hours per week and be successful!!!” Undoubtedly, those people are out there — and in rare cases I do think some people can make it work.
There are a handful of people who can churn through 80 hour weeks and excel (although, from my own experience, this work style can be successful for a short time but is not sustainable).
People tend to just assume more hours = better, more successful, necessary for world domination. And they assume that because it’s what they’ve been taught to believe. They don’t question the validity of it and they certainly don’t test it for themselves.
But what if that work style is no more than a form of peacocking, a new way to puff out your chest and show off to whoever is around to view the performance?
What is this made-up connection between hours worked and success enjoyed costing you? And when did we start prioritizing the quantity of our working hours over their quality?
You Don’t Know How Many Hours You Work If You Don’t Track Your Time
Here’s something that really interests me on the topic of hours worked, and what this post is truly about:
I’m curious if anyone who says “I work X hours a week” literally tracks every minute.
Today, I use Toggl to track my time but for years I didn’t. I just guessed or assumed how many hours I worked.
It was absolutely eye-opening to stop estimating and start gathering real data. Not only could I see exactly where my hours went once I started formally tracking every minute, but the difference between what I thought I worked and what I actually work was startling.
Some days I assumed I’d only worked a few hours, but realized I’d sat at a computer for over 8 without moving, totally engrossed in my projects.
Other times, I felt like I was absolutely drained at the end of the day and would surely see I just clocked a 12-hour day when I looked at my tracker — and was dismayed to see it told me I only worked 4 hours that whole day.
As humans, we’re terrible at estimating our own activity and outcomes in our own lives (like when we grossly underestimate how much food we consume).
I’ve seen the same thing with other people who went from estimating hours to literally tracking everything. What I realized from my own experience (and what I think happens with other people who feel they work an 80-hour week but don’t actually track their time to verify this), is that, yes, I sat down at my computer to work at 6am and I called it quits at 7pm most days…
But I wasn’t actually working that whole time.
I was getting distracted by other tasks that weren’t work. When I worked at home, I would wander off to do laundry or cook myself lunch or check the mail, and that lead to 30 minutes to an hour’s worth of wasted time.
It led to really long days because I wasn’t focused or productive. And I’ve literally watched this phenomenon unfold with others now that I’m at a coworking space and see how others work.
They’re in the space for 10 hours, but 5 of those hours are spent doing unnecessary busy work, mindless internet scrolling because they got sucked down a black hole on the web, or literally wandering around.
That person can look at my assertion that no, you can’t work 80 hours a week and do good quality work and say “pfft, I work 70 hours a week and I can pull it off!”
But the thing is, they’re not actually working those long hours. They look like they’re working, but because of a lack of productivity and focus, the quality of their work is far below what it could be.
Still, before anyone can debate the merits of what makes an appropriate number of hours to work in a week for maximum quality results, we have to take a step back.
The first question is not, “are you effective working over 50 hours a week?” The first questions we need to ask us, “do you know what your hours truly look like or are you just estimating?”
The fact is unless you actually track your time — and not just estimate how much you work — you have no idea where your minutes go and the true quality of your work time.
Tracking Your Time Uncovers Wastes and Inefficiencies in Your Business
That’s what I’d encourage you to start doing: track your time. See where you truly spend it day to day. And not just so you can weigh in on the debate about how many work hours is “best,” but so you can run a more efficient, powerful, valuable business.
When you track your time, not only do you understand how much you truly work, but you can get a breakdown of where your time is going.
That allows you to get some pretty powerful information — information that will allow you to make changes in your business to run it better and more profitably.
Here’s some of the insight you can glean about your work from rigorous time-tracking:
- Where you’re wasting your time: This is the biggest and most obvious insight. If you track your time, you know precisely how much of you spend browsing Facebook when you should be doing client work. Once you’re aware of these time sucks, there’s no excuse for not eliminating them from your routines or habits.
- Where you’re being inefficient: I know most entrepreneurs have what Chris Ducker calls “superhero syndrome,” or the determination (read: stubbornness) to do everything on their own. And I get it, especially if you’re starting up: you need to bootstrap and take care with business expenses if you want to increase your profits. That means outsourcing carefully — and time-tracking can help you do just that. It highlights your inefficiencies. If you value your time at $200 an hour and you spend 3 hours doing a task you could have outsourced to a specialist who charged $300 for it, well, you just saved yourself $300 in your own time.
- Where you’re losing profit: Tracking your time can also show you how much time you spend on different clients or projects. In most cases, 20% of the stuff that you do drives 80% of your profit. Double down on the profitable 20% and weed out the clients who take up massive amounts of time but don’t contribute to your bottom line.
One Big, Unexpected Benefit You Unlock When You Track Your Time: Focus
Tracking your time gives you the real data you need to make more informed decisions in your business, from the kind of work you do to the clients you want to focus on (and get more of).
I expected to find those useful insights as a result of tracking my own time — but there were some other, unexpected benefits that came along with using Toggl to log every single minute of the work day.
I found two big things:
- I stopped multitasking
- I did more work in less time
In other words, through tracking the hours in my days I found my focus.
Here’s how: Toggl stops me from multitasking because I’m more aware and mindful when I actually switch tasks. Before, I could just beebop around with no consequence to the action.
If I had 50 million tabs up, I’d just wander around through them all trying to get something done but effectively doing nothing. Or I would do a little work here, a little there, get confused or lose my place in another project and spend 10 minutes readjusting to that task, before switching again…
But when I track my time, I have to go into my time tracker and literally switch tasks. I have to stop the clock on my existing task, create a new one, and start again. That was much more of a barrier to multitasking… and eventually, I stopped trying to jump around between different tasks.
I focused. Today, I pick up one thing and I work on it until I need a break or until it’s done. I get through my to-do list one at a time, piece by piece.
Not only do I get so much more done in a day this way, but I believe the quality of my work is higher, too — because with every single thing I do, it gets my full attention.
Potential Pitfalls of Time Tracking to Avoid, and a Few Tips for Tracking Success
Time tracking works a bit like using calculations for financial planning: the results are only as good as the data you plug in. In this case, tracking your time will only be as effective as you are disciplined around actually tracking it.
That’s the most obvious pitfall: there’s no shortcut or secret to making it work. You just need to doggedly keep at tracking your time until it becomes second nature to you.
I’ve made it a habit in my own work day at this point, and it’s just something I do without thinking. The first tab I open? Toggl. The second is another favorite tool: my task manager, Asana. Then pick a task on the list, put it in Toggl, hit the green start button on the time tracker, and I’m off.
The moment I consider the task finished, I hit the stop button. And repeat on the next task.
To do this successfully for yourself and get useful data from your time-tracking efforts, you:
- Have to make it a habit, something you do without thinking. If you need to decide to track your time, you’ll fall off the wagon with it at some point. Make it a non-negotiable.
- Need to keep it organized. Take the time to set up whatever time-tracking app you use so you can actually sort through and interpret the data later.
- Have to stay disciplined. Stick with it. That’s really all there is to say there — remember, no shortcuts. Just do it!
And finally, you have to take the initiative to change where you see the need to do so. That means making time to periodically review the data your tracker gives you, and make informed decisions based on what you see (even if it’s something you don’t like or don’t want to accept as true).
A recent example of that for me was around my email. I’ve always started by day by opening my computer and heading straight to my inbox, where I’d work for an hour to clear it out. Once my inbox was all tidied up, I’d start on my first task.
Then I’d keep the inbox tab open all day long. Whenever a new email appeared, I wouldn’t check it — but I’d know. Eventually, I’d crack, pause whatever task I was working on, and take a dive into the inbox until it was clean again.
I didn’t realize how truly inefficient this was until I looked at Toggl and saw just how many hours I spent on my emails, and how frequently I started to dart into my inbox. So I made a change: now, I’m trying to form a new habit: don’t look at my email until at least half my to-dos are crossed off for the day — and don’t keep the tab open while I work on other tasks.
It’s tough, but I’m already seeing the benefit: more productivity and even more energy, because I’m not weighed down by the nagging sensation that I gotta check my email NOW.
Try this for yourself. Start tracking your time and see what insights you get from doing so that can help you implement changes that increase your productivity, profitability, and success in business.