Why Focusing on Time is Misguided

I’m writing to you from my new office. I’ve been away from my desk for most of the past week.

We moved — the day after the big snowstorm in NYC. Despite moving two people, a dog, and two offices, it was surprisingly easy. I only shed a quick tear when I dropped one of my favorite hand-made mugs on the floor, smashing its handle. Coordinating movers, finding homes for all my stuff, changing my address and all the rest of moving logistics, isn't what I consider fun so I pushed to get unpacked in four days. I’m back to work. I couldn’t be happier.

In the midst of my super-sized schedule, someone tweeted me this timely question:

“hey @suzanbond do you find that solopreneurs who hustle and sacrifice work/life balance are more successful? or vice versa?”

Everyone struggles with this question. No one more perhaps, than solopreneurs. When you work for yourself, there isn’t a boss who can take work off your plate. And since you don’t have paid vacation time, you have to learn to juggle client work and business building while taking care of yourself, and your personal life. The stakes are high which makes this even more perilous. How to be productive and successful consumed a whole bunch of head space in my early days. I don’t struggle with this question anymore but the way I handle it might surprise you.

You've probably guessed that I LOVE what I do. It's my favorite job ever. The biggest thing that gets out of my cozy bed (besides avocado toast) is helping people build a business that gives them the freedom and meaning they want. Having meaningful work I adore means I can sometimes get pretty darn focused on my work. Despite my penchant for laser focus on my work, in twelve years of working for myself, I’ve avoided burnout.
But I don't subscribe to either the hustle harder or work/life balance memes.

Often we think that being successful means there's an either/or binary equation we have to solve. That you can work really hard or you can have a life. I disagree. I pick option c: something else.

Even though I tend towards the hard work end of the spectrum, I don’t subscribe to the hustle harder meme. I don’t believe you have to always be hustling. And I don't count my hours. I don’t think there’s an overall number you need to work to be successful. While I work hard, the hustle meme feels too frenetic to me, like all your hours have to be focused on work. As you might guess, I also don’t subscribe to the work/life balance meme either. While having time away from your work is important, if you don’t have a clear business strategy so you know where to put your efforts, your work is less likely to be fruitful.

The problem with both of these memes is afocus on hours.

Time is not a proxy for value.

Time is a shallow metric. You can hustle really hard but without a solid strategy and tactics to suit, it doesn’t matter. You might work really hard and get nowhere because you’re focused on busy work rather than important work. And, employing this sort of mantra can twist you into a knot. The problem with the work/life balance meme is that it’s focused on time. Having time away is important, it’s just not the only thing. And, this meme says nothing about how you're spending that time.

In both cases, this focus on time is misguided. Time is just one axis on the success equation. There so many other axes like: business strategy, processes and systems, priorities and more.

Rather than worrying if I'm working enough or too many hours, I focus on:

  • Setting priorities
  • Crafting a solid business strategy
  • Having consistent business processes
  • Tracking the right right sorts of things (ahem, not hours)

Don’t worry that you always have to be hustling or, that you’re not working hard enough. Those are just shallow indicators. When you focus on other axes besides time, the future business state you want is an outgrowth. That’s how you become successful. And, without burning out working too much.

Identifying how to be productive consumes a ton of head space for independents. Here are a few more articles on this topic:


p.s. If you want to see some pics of my first real office — decorated exactly the way I want it, here's a peek