Do you work all the time and put your life on hold thinking there will be plenty of time to play later? Do you think that work is never ending and that if you’re not working all the time, you’re slacking off? Do you wear the long hours you work as a badge of honor? If this is how you think and do things, you’re certainly not alone.
Despite the riches we acquire, we only end up as slaves to our work while we lead lives of quiet desperation. Our work is supposed to work for us, but we end up working for it. The irony is the more well off we are financially, the more time we spend at work. We become “successful” and unhappy. Even when we do get the results we want (at work), it’s at the cost of our relationships, which is never worth the sacrifice. If you can’t make your work work for you, then what’s the point?
Real wealth is not defined in monetary terms. Rather, real wealth comes in the form of how much discretionary time you have available. I first learned about this from Alan Weiss. It is the ability to do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want. Money is only a means to an end (or it should be), while true wealth is having discretionary time. The more discretionary time we have to spend with our loved ones and doing the things we want to do (other than work, which we also like), the more true wealth we possess.
Let’s say your kid has a football match on a week day. Can you skip work to attend the match? With discretionary time, you have that choice.
If you are working 12 hours a day chasing money, you’re eroding your wealth. If your job can’t be done in 40 hours per week, there is something wrong either with you or with the job. If you work long hours, you are the problem, not your employer.
Working beyond a certain threshold (say, 40 hours) causes your performance to decrease. Plus, you end up procrastinating. It is not about the number of hours you work, but the quality of those few hours you work combined with the level of intensity with which you work.
Our time is a non-renewable resource. It is infinitely more valuable than money because we can always make another buck, but we can’t make more time. Let me share another example. Peter works 40 hours a week and makes $50,000 a year and is still wealthier than Wolfgang, who works 80 hours a week and makes $100,000 in the same time. While they both make the same $25 per hour, Wolfgang will have almost no life outside of work and will likely undermine himself both in terms of work performance as well as his relationships. Peter will be able to work and play effectively. That is to say he will get both results and relationships without either of them at the cost of the other. And that is sustainable in the long run. Not only will Peter spend less time at work (and getting work done), but he will also have more discretionary time for himself, which is invaluable.
Work smart (not hard). Most organizations pay you for showing up at work (compliance), not for results. Spend less time at work, and more time getting results. Negotiate. When you spend less time at work, you are more focused on results, which gives you more time for play and better work performance. There is no downside here. Everybody wins. For more on this, read Output.
If you work in an organization, work no more than 40 hours a week. Take the weekends off. Any extra work you do beyond that is when you’re likely working for free. Create boundaries between your work and personal life. Learn to say no to your colleagues about working on the weekends. That also means any work-related communication should be off limits.
If you have your own business, you have to be even more careful of not spending too much time at work and ensure you have enough time for yourself. Ironically, it’s the guilt-free play that enables you to work better the following day. Focus on results. Plan your weeks in terms of results and relationships. Make your business work for you. Attract clients instead of chasing them. Also, don’t invent work for work’s sake. Just because it’s a Wednesday afternoon doesn’t mean you have to work when there is nothing to work on.
We put our lives on hold by working all of the time. This is not sustainable and only leads to burnout and stress. Instead, make your work work for you. Your work should be a means to an end. This is not to say that you don’t enjoy your work. But if you end up working all time, ironically, it will affect your work performance, relationships, and personal life.
Understand that real wealth comes from having enough discretionary time for yourself. The more time you have, the more things you can do (besides working).
Ultimately, time (not money) is the real equalizer. If we think of time as true wealth, we are all born equally rich. We all get paid the same 24 hours every day. How we spend that time is what differentiates us from each other.