We often hear of the benefits of working less: our body is naturally wired to work in short bursts and when we give our mind room to breathe we generate new ideas and connections. We are not always measured by the widgets we can make, so does it make sense that our working hours are more inspired by the industrial age than the information age?
Every week we come across blog posts and essays from workers who have claimed to dramatically cut their hours. Metalab founder Andrew Wilkinson writes in Pando Daily about making the transition from working 80-hour days to less than 40:
Paradoxically, the more I let go, the more things seemed to take off. Short workdays forced me to focus on the important stuff instead of dicking around in my inbox, and I quickly learned to delegate the day-to-day. I started working smart instead of working hard.
Developer and entrepreneur Kyle Bragger wrote about a similar effect:
What did The Hustle™ accomplish? I gained weight. I wasn’t spending enough time with my (now) wife. I felt like shit. I began to resent my work, and the work I was producing clearly wasn’t my best. I started cutting corners. I went from a mindset of shipping with quality and integrity to “when is this going to be over?”
Nowadays, I’m working 4-day weeks, and doing no more than an hour or two of intense work at a time. I take a lot of walks. I’ve lost weight. I’m happier. My wife is happier. I’m more present. And most importantly:
I’m doing the best work of my life.
Yet we still come across other entrepreneurs or creatives that pride themselves as overworked. Not everyone who works long hours is a trail blazer. But it can seem like every trail blazer works long hours. A 2012 profile of Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk offers a glimpse into this mindset:
Freeing mankind from the scourge of carbon, not to mention its terrestrial shackles, has taken a toll on Musk’s personal life. In August he finalized his divorce from his second wife, the actress Talulah Riley. He’s had one vacation in four years. This summer he took his five boys—twins and triplets—to Maui with his family. “I think the time allocated to the businesses and the kids is going fine,” says Musk. “I would like to allocate more time to dating, though. I need to find a girlfriend. How much time does a woman want a week? Maybe 10 hours?”
To truly change the world do we need to put in vacation-less years like Musk? Or should we concentrate all of our work in 35-hour weeks like the developers above?
For many creatives, finding new clients can be challenging, and well, a real drag when all we want to do is work on our next masterpiece. Alex Mathers of Red Lemon Club developed a list of 50 ways for creative people to land clients. A creator himself, the list is both practical and creative-centric. Here are a few of his suggestions:
10. Shoot a behind the scenes film of your workspace and share it online.
15. Give a free talk on something that would truly benefit your target prospects and encourage people to connect with you at the end.
32. Create a free web-zine using collaborative writers on a topic of interest to prospects that generates leads for all of you.
34. Create a written tutorial on something you’re uniquely good at and share it online.
We have to face the facts: creatives, we’re also business people. Luckily, we have a unique advantage: creative energy that we can harness to land clients in innovative ways that align with our strengths. What better time than now to pick a new tactic from Mathers’ list and implement it with creative gusto?
Research over the last decade has shown that there are proven methods for sparking creative insights. If you want to be more creative, author and researcher Jonah Lehrer explains at The Wall Street Journal, you’ll simply need to coax your brain into it. Lehrer gives us 10 tips on how to do just that, here are some of our favorites:
Get Groggy: According to a study published last month, people at their least alert time of day—think of a night person early in the morning—performed far better on various creative puzzles, sometimes improving their success rate by 50%.
Daydream Away: Research led by Jonathan Schooler at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has found that people who daydream more score higher on various tests of creativity.
Think Like A Child: When subjects are told to imagine themselves as 7-year-olds, they score significantly higher on tests of divergent thinking, such as trying to invent alternative uses for an old car tire.
Laugh It Up: When people are exposed to a short video of stand-up comedy, they solve about 20% more insight puzzles.
While creativity has been viewed as magical concept for centuries, research like that Lehrer points to shows that it’s little more than a series of cognitive tools our brains use to solve problems. Learning how to hone those skills (as Lehrer explains) means we can spark it in ourselves and our work whenever we need it most.
In filmmaker Werner Herzog’s book A Guide for the Perplexed, he describes his ideation process and how he selects which concept to develop first:
The problem isn’t coming up with ideas, it is how to contain the invasion. My ideas are like uninvited guests. They don’t knock on the door; they climb in through the windows like burglars who show up in the middle of the night and make a racket in the kitchen as they raid the fridge. I don’t sit and ponder which one I should deal with first. The one to be wrestled to the floor before all others is the one coming at me with the most vehemence.
When Herzog is overwhelmed with ideas, he selects the concept most avid in his mind. From there he works it until completion before moving on. He describes finishing a project like having a weight lifted from his shoulders. It’s not necessarily happiness, but an ease of ending one thing before starting the next. However your ideas find you, make sure you finish through to completion – whether that means writing it down in a notebook or following it through to realization.
When we see the impressive work of others, it’s tempting to change our game plan to follow theirs in our fear of being left behind. However, Todd Henry, founder of Accidental Creative, has learned that due to unique passions, skills and experience, we each have our own path to follow. Henry advises embracing the motto of one of his runner friends:
…the most important mindset principle for success in competitive running, especially in endurance races, is twofold: stay focused on the ground immediately in front of you, and work your plan.
Don’t sacrifice your drive because you are comparing your work-in-progress with someone else’s finished product. As Henry states, “Run your race. Execute your plan. Do your work, not someone else’s.”
Over at LinkedIn, entrepreneur James Caan gives us five important traits to have if you want to stand out in your career, including:
There is an old saying that says if you’re standing still, you’re going backwards, and this is especially true in career terms. Are you somebody who is happy with your current skill set, or do you actively look to improve? If it is the latter, then you are exactly the sort of person most bosses look for…
There is nothing better for a manager than to see his or her employees actively taking ownership of projects. Equally, nobody wants to be seen as someone who passes the buck. If something falls under your remit, ensure you are the one who sees it through…
By having this ability to reflect – and sometimes criticize yourself – you are making sure lessons are learnt every step of the way.
What each of the traits Caan shares have in common is primarily related to personal drive. Those who are successful in their careers have the momentum to take full accountability and control of their efforts. Though, if they don’t have the momentum they need, they create it through self-reflection and focus.
Research indicates that we defer working on things based on how distant we perceive their deadlines. When we decide that something falls into the “future” category, we simply file it in our “someday” folder and eventually those goals are neglected. Unfortunately, that which is important is often inversely proportional to what’s urgent. To move priorities out of our “someday” folder, Amy Morin suggests imposing what she calls “now” deadlines:
Establish “now” deadlines. Even if your goal is something that will take a long time to reach – like saving enough money for retirement – you’re more likely to take action if you have time limits in the present. Create target dates to reach your objectives. Find something you can do this week to begin taking some type of action now. For example, decide “I will create a budget by Thursday,” or “I will lose two pounds in seven days.”