80 hours now, 40 hours later?

Probably not. Habits die hard.

When I talk about 40 hours being plenty of time to get great work done, I’ll often get pushback from people starting new businesses.

“40 hours may be fine when you’ve been in business for 10 years, but when you’re starting something new you have to bust your ass for as long as it takes. If it takes 80 hour weeks, then it takes 80 hours weeks.”

I’m calling bullshit.

First, this defense often comes from people who haven’t run a previous business for 10 years. So they don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re imagining a future of leisure — that once a business is sailing, it just keeps going. It’ll just get easier, right?

It actually gets harder. Staying in business is harder than starting a business. If it wasn’t, there’d be a whole heck of a lot more companies out there. But most barely last a few years.

The second argument is that there’s simply more work to do when you’re just getting started. Not true. There’s actually not more work to do when you’re just getting started. It’s just different work. The work changes, it doesn’t go away.

Established businesses have to do everything startups have to do, but they also have more customers to keep happy, more staff to manage (which means more personalities to manage), more expenses to cover, more competition to fend off, more legacy to drag along and navigate around, more mass to maneuver.

More mouths to feed is always harder than fewer mouths to feed.

Ask anyone with a big business if they’d like to be even bigger, or if they long for the days when they were a little smaller. Most will opt for smaller. Fewer demands, more flexibility, easier decision making, less overall organizational complexity.

So people who get used to working 80 hours don’t cut back. Until life cuts them down. Relationships falter, friends go missing, family is a quick kiss as you’re sprinting out the door, and life happens in the margins.

The habits you form early on carry with you. If you think success requires 80 hours when you get started, you’ll hold on to that mentality. You don’t get used to working 40 when you attribute your success to 80. It’s just not how habits work. We continue doing what we get used to.

When you say “whatever it takes” you’ll always be able to find work to fill whatever space you’ll give it. It isn’t hard to fill 80 hours and convince yourself it’s all required time. As Parkinson’s law accurately states, “work expands to fill the time available”.

Instead of whatever it takes, it’s time to start thinking about what it doesn’t take. There’s so much manufactured busyness in those 80 hours that the real gains come from cutting things out, not adding in more.

Ask people in their 30s or 40s who are still putting in long hours why they haven’t been able to cut back. See what they say. Ask them why a few times and get to the root of it.

Most of the habits we form were formed when we were children. When we didn’t have a chance to reflect on what we were doing and set the correct course. As adults starting business we have the capacity to consider the consequences. We should know better. We can do better.

Don’t buy into the myth of a lot now so you can do a little later. It just doesn’t work that way.