Do you think you can be successful without working all day, every day? If reports are to be believed, all successful businesspeople sleep five hours or less a night, are up at the crack of dawn, get more done by 10 a.m. than average folk do, take phone meetings while driving and continue to work late into the evening.
I recently read a profile of Charles Kabouth, a Toronto-area nightclub and restaurant impresario whose go-go-go work schedule lasts into the wee hours of the morning. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook is known for sending work emails beginning at 4:30 am. Legendary adman George Lois sleeps only three-and-a-half hours each day in two shifts.
But what if you’re not that kind of person? What if you’re willing to skip work to enjoy an unseasonably warm autumn day? Is there room in business for someone who prioritizes an evening with her husband over researching a few more potential sales leads? If I want to take my company from a part-time side project to a full-time income source, will I have to sacrifice the freedom and flexibility I currently enjoy? Will I have to work all the time?
While I am not a shining example of entrepreneurial success…yet, I don’t buy into the myth that I won’t get anywhere unless I’m willing to put my health and sanity at risk. Study after study shows that lack of sleep and chronic stress—both by-products of our busy work lives—can have adverse affects on our physical and mental well-being. Am I wrong to think that that is too high a price to pay for reaching the top? Am I naive in believing I can accomplish my business goals without making this sacrifice?
If you’re about to say yes, consider that I’m not the only one who questions the work-till-you-drop mentality that persists even in the face of all this medical research. In a recent episode of radio show and podcast After the Jump, host and design blogger Grace Bonney spoke about work-life balance as a business owner. She had to come up against some serious health issues of her own before taking a step back from her numerous projects. In June, author and cartoonist Tim Kreider called everyone out on their “I’m so busy” boasting in his op-ed piece in the New York Times. Overbooking yourself is a lifestyle choice that gives one a false sense of importance. Idleness, on the other hand, is a state of being that is ripe for coming up with big ideas. And isn’t the lifeblood of entrepreneurship the Big Idea?
But shunning a hectic schedule doesn’t mean you aren’t willing to work hard. Kreider says he is “the laziest ambitious person I know.” He could easily be describing me. I believe that no matter how much work you have or how tight your deadline, you should always take time away from your desk for lunch. I very, very rarely get less than seven or eight hours of sleep at night. And, like Kreider, I will happily ditch work to go for dinner with friends. I work hard—just not all day, every day.
My worry, of course, is that I am setting myself up for entrepreneurial disappointment. Except for Timothy Ferriss and his 4-Hour Workweek, you never hear stories of business owners who work less, play more and are still at the top of their industry. Maybe long hours are the key to success. I hope not, but ask me in five years.
Corinna vanGerwen is a creative gift-wrapping consultant, sole owner and only employee of her eponymous home-based startup, which provides gift-wrapping services, training and workshops, as well as packaging services for marketing and events. She blogs at Corinna Wraps.
More columns by Corinna vanGerwen