Years ago, when I was in college, we had a guest speaker come to our department, a man who had become successful after starting his own firm.
One of the points the speaker stressed was that working long hours had been necessary for him to achieve the success he wanted.
As a soon-to-be college graduate, I was not enamored with the thought that my future career would require toiling for long hours to achieve success. Certainly, there must be another alternative? Could I not work smarter, be more productive and efficient, and still achieve a desired level of success, while also having time for a life outside of work?
Thirty years have now passed, and I look back on my career, and the hours I have spent working, whether at the office, on the road, or some other location. And yes, there have been periods of time where I have worked long hours, often for extended periods of time.
The question remains however, are long hours required for success? Is it necessary for young professionals to accept the fact that they must dedicate themselves to many more than 40 hours a week to achieve a high level of success?
From my perspective, the answer is yes. At times long hours will be required, and at times, not. Working a consistent 40 hours or less a week will probably not provide the best results. However, neither will consistently working 80 hours per week.
I’ve developed a list of tips to better manage busy work weeks and avoid burnout.
1. Find meaning/enjoyment in what you do:
The key is to enjoy the work, so that when the work requires a few long days, it does not become drudgery. Your work takes up most of your day so it’s crucial you enjoy the process. These are often the times when people become fully engaged in the tasks at hand, seeking to accomplish the challenges before them, and therefore finding the greatest level of satisfaction.
If the work is challenging, and brings a level of satisfaction, then spending a few long days at work is not always a negative.
2. Incorporate an exercise routine:
Schedule time out of your day to exercise just as you would schedule a meeting, even if it’s only for 30 minutes. Keeping my body in shape has absolutely worked in my favor for my business and myself. When my brain is recharged and my mind is clear, I’m able to communicate better and be more productive. I also walk to work a lot. It’s a great time for me to reflect on the day ahead while moving my body.
3. Make time for family and friends:
It’s important to detach from work and make time for relationships. Having relationships outside of work can bring a needed emotional support and fulfillment. Most people tend to isolate themselves when their work becomes too much, which is a big mistake. Talking to others helps reduce stress and calm your nervous system. They may not know how to fix the situation, but they can listen and provide support and a sense of community. Studies also show that social support is necessary for maintaining good physical and mental health. Try to schedule a time for friends and family like you would with an exercise routine.
4. Start each day with a to-do list:
Every morning before I start my day, I write down a list of everything I want to accomplish. I then look at the list and choose the things that absolutely need to get done today. I then rewrite a list with those things at the top and the others below. That way, if I don’t get to everything on my list, I can be at ease knowing I accomplished what I needed to, and I can complete the others another day. Writing down lists is also a way to bring structure into your life. This is especially helpful for freelancers and people who work from home.
Even today, as the owner of multiple businesses and investments with a number of employees, I continue to find myself spending a good amount of time working. As I continue to experience more demands upon my time, and more that needs to be done, it is common for my day to start early in the morning, and not end until late in the evening.
However, my days are a lot more manageable when I incorporate these tips. It’s easy to look at the work week ahead and become overwhelmed. The key is to practice balance.
Brian T. King is the founder and owner of multiple firms encompassing design, construction, real estate, and manufacturing, and currently president of the integrated Design-Build firm A M King. Brian shares his passion for mentoring young professionals, rising managers and entrepreneurs at speaking engagements around the country, on podcasts and via his blog.