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17 Jul 2013

I've seen several pieces online lately about the work ethic of successful creators in various media - from books and movies, to music and video games - and there's a conspicuous common thread: they all work totally insane hours, all the time. 60- and 70-hour weeks are the norm. 12- to 15-hour days are commonplace. And working 7 days a week is just “how it's done”.

Our culture implies that the more hours you work, the more success you'll achieve. When we say someone is “hard-working” we always mean “they work a ton of hours”. There's no similar praise for people who can get the same work done in fewer hours; instead, we ask those people why they're slacking, why they aren't doing more.

Our culture also implies that successful people sacrifice a lot (though we usually prefer to call that “dedication”). They sacrifice sleep, outside hobbies and recreation, and sometimes even their health. They go days, weeks, or even months without seeing their families or friends. Projects swallow up childhoods and tear apart marriages. Meanwhile, they glorify their “intense” schedules, their “drive” and their “passion”. They throw a cursory acknowledgement into the credits, thanking the people they neglected for years for their “understanding” (as if they had a choice in the matter).

Every once in a while someone says, “Hey, we should stop this insanity. The 40-hour work week was invented for a reason. There’s even some evidence that the creative professions benefit from working even less.” We tell those people they're just lazy, that they don't have what it takes to succeed. You're probably thinking that about me right now, just for bringing it up.

Well, I refuse to believe in a world where we have to sacrifice our lives for our jobs. I refuse to believe we have to throw everything else away and work ourselves to death to achieve success. And I get very, very frustrated when we elevate “doing a lot of work” over “doing the right work”.

It's easy to work a ton of hours. It's harder to make them count. But when you do, you find you need far fewer of them to make an impact. And that leaves a lot of room for the rest of your life to flourish.

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business freelancing