I love working. I love getting shit done.
It makes me feel useful and productive.
I’m a workaholic.
On the one hand, I think that’s an awesome character trait. Others have to force themselves to work. Use silly Pomodoro timers or whatever. I don’t.
But recently I’ve started to notice some not so great patterns in my behavior.
Usually in the afternoon, when all the important work is already finished, I can’t stop. I keep searching for problems to solve, tasks to do. I keep doing stuff.
When I look back, I realize it was all just largely irrelevant busywork.
Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion.
That’s not happening to me. I finish my tasks fast. I’m not paid by the hour so there’s no need for me to procrastinate.
But I feel like I have to work for 10 hours every day, no matter what. So I keep coming up with tasks just to fill the hours.
Now one way to look at this is that this is great because a startup is never finished and there’s always stuff you can do to move things forward.
And even if the things I do in the afternoon are not the most important things, they still move things forward. You never know what tiny task will be the metaphorical flap of a butterfly’s wings that will cause a hurricane.
But everything comes at a cost, of course.
What would happen if I closed my laptop at say 4pm? What happens if I used the rest of the day to properly recharge?
One thing I’ve noticed is that my thinking becomes increasingly fuzzy the more hours I work.
And thinking clearly is the most important thing for me. As a founder, my main contribution is clarity of thought. I have to find the bottlenecks, the leverage points, the things that truly move the needle.
But when I try to cram every waking hour with work, this becomes increasingly difficult.
I’ve noticed that when for some reason I’m only able to work a few hours a day, my thinking is crystal clear. This is for example the case when I’m on vacation.
Yeah, I know. As I said, I’m a workaholic.
The only hours I’m working on vacation are when my girlfriend is still sleeping. I tend to get up a few hours earlier than her. And these are my only hours of work for the day.
Anyway, when I’m only able to work a few hours a day, I’m forced to prioritize.
There is zero doubt about what needs to get done. And since I only have a few hours to work, my thinking changes from “What are the things we can do to move things forward?” to “What are the absolute most important things we have to do to move things forward?”.
Another problem is that one of the biggest energy drains for me is when I’m not sure what to do next. When I’m in doubt about which task to tackle next.
But this really only happens when I’m working too much.
As a result, when I keep working after all the important work is done, I feel drained and exhausted at the end of the day.
Work is energizing for me as long as I know that I’m working on the most important thing. But when I’m not exactly sure what to do next or if what I’m doing matters, it’s draining.
And then I usually don’t even have the energy for proper leisure activities. Which is doubly bad as it leaves me feeling drained and exhausted the next day.
Now the takeaway here seems pretty straightforward.
While I believe there is some truth to the idea that more is more, there is not just a point of diminishing returns but also a point of negative returns.
I want to do whatever I can to make our business successful. But cramming more work into my days is doing more harm than good.
So I’ve started to put some strict boundaries around my work hours with two well-defined blocks to make sure I spend 50% of my time working on the business and 50% of my time working in the business.
I’m planning my tasks for the next day the evening before. And I’ve started to close my laptop whenever I’m not entirely sure what to do next.
I’ve started to write daily again. Spending an hour to write a blog post like the one you’re reading right now is doing more for our business than spending an additional hour on some random busywork.
But I might be getting there.