How Hard Do I Actually Work?

Once in a while people who meet me give me the feedback that they’re surprised that I’m actually a real person who doesn’t just work 24/7. A challenge of being a public writer is balancing giving useful information versus giving an accurate picture.

I think a lot of the confusion comes from a post I wrote six years ago called Love Work. I just re-read the post and it brings me right back to that time in my life. I really was working about twelve hours a day and loving it. In some ways I miss those days. I remember being in my RV almost all day, eating the same food every day, and making huge progress on Sett.

That period of time was very important for me because before then I didn’t know if I could work hard or not. I thought that I could, but I had no proof, and I felt that in some key ways I was lagging behind my peers whom I admired. I also had a tremendous amount of work that needed to be done, so it felt great to cut right through it.

By the time we wound down Sett, I was burnt out. Not from hard work, but from working on something that I didn’t feel would succeed. I forced myself to do it for a while because I knew that it was important to cultivate the ability to work hard, and if I quit early I wouldn’t be able to know whether I quit because I couldn’t work hard or because I had made the right decision to stop working on something that was unlikely to succeed.

I often talk about things that are suboptimal in the short term, but optimal in the long term. Realistically I probably worked on Sett for almost a year longer than I should have. But by doing so I gained incontrovertible evidence that I could work at maximum output for an extended period of time on something. That was very valuable to me.

The lasting effect of those years is that now when it’s time to work, I just work. I don’t procrastinate, get distracted, quit early, or even negotiate with myself in my head. I just get things done. In the past when I would evaluate an idea, there would be a big question mark next to my ability to execute. Now I don’t even think about that part, as I know with certainty that I can perform at my best as much as is necessary.

After Sett wound down, my next focus was efficiency. I spent a long time automating nearly everything in my life (including most of my next business, CruiseSheet), building routines, and eliminating unnecessary obligations and responsibilities. And while many of those things, especially CruiseSheet, required weeks or months of extreme work, nothing has packed my schedule like Sett did.

My life situation has changed a lot in the six years since I wrote that post, too. At this point, due to businesses and investments doing well and fixing my life costs by investing in a condo, I don’t have to work any more. Even if I stopped coaching and putting on live events, I could live a comfortable middle class life (with a few upper-class oddities like the island) forever.

As a result, my motivation has changed a bit. Before I really wanted to “make it”. Now I just want to make sure my time is being spent well. Of course, I still love work, so I’m always hungry to get things done.

My challenges now are pushing my comfort zone and making sure I’m working on the right things. I was nervous to take on a large batch of coaching clients a year ago and was also nervous to throw my first event earlier this month. I intentionally restrict myself from taking on new projects because I want to give myself space to throw myself at the right project next. At this point constant work for work’s sake would serve primarily as a distraction.

So how hard do I work these days? I’m certainly not putting in twelve hour days anymore, at least not regularly. Every morning I make a list of stuff that needs to get done and I do it, generally first thing. My favorite days are days where I have a lot to do, especially if it’s programming. I think a lot about the output I want to produce and make sure I do what it takes to get it done.

My next priority after those necessary things is spending time with my friends. I just did an amazing weeklong tea trip with my friend Leo and we probably averaged 2-3 hours of work per day (but both got tons of stuff done). If I’m by myself I tend to spend my free time working on things that aren’t so important like random optimizations or house projects. I also spend a lot of time brainstorming on what I’ll do next. I have a few ideas and I explore them a bit on most days.

Five years ago it was important for me to work just for work’s sake. I needed desperately to build that skill, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Now I’m so comfortable working that working for work’s sake would be a convenient way for me to avoid the harder task of expanding my comfort zone and thinking long term about what comes next. If you have important work that needs to be done, my advice from many years past still applies. If you want to be a high performer, it’s critical to be able to comfortably work crazy hours without stress. If you’re already able to do that, your most important work may be on how to determine where to focus that energy.

So hopefully that all paints a clearer picture. Most days I have a few hours of very important work, which I always do quickly and efficiently. I then spend as much time as possible with people I’m close to. Most of the remainder of my time is spent on non-critical work. I also waste a little time reading reddit and hacker news and doing crosswords, but I feel like that’s a luxury I can afford now.

What’s right for me may not be right for you. I’d be surprised if anyone’s ideal life path didn’t include a period of intense work, but I’d also be surprised if it was right for anyone to do that forever. As always, the key is to evaluate one’s life with a critical eye and to do what’s right for you at the right time.

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Photo is the Chain Bridge at night in Budapest. I never get over how beautiful this city is!

I’m tentatively planning on doing another event this summer, maybe in June. I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from the attendees of the first one, so this one should be even better.

Marumoto in Budapest, the best Japanese tea house outside of Japan, is closing forever on Tuesday. I’ll be there early Monday with some friends for one last matcha. Come by and say hi!

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