How long should you spend working to be successful?

Is how long you spend working directly related to how successful you’ll become, or how successful you are now? If you believe what you see on social media, you’d think that was, indeed, the case.

I have seen a lot of posts of late talking about work ethics, and how long some people say they spend working. It seems to be a badge of honour that the longer you work, the better you are at your job, the more committed you are and the more successful you’ll become.

The general gist of the posts is someone mentions they work ‘40 hours per week’, and someone else responds in a condescending manner to dismiss their efforts saying ‘they remember their first time job’.

Here are some examples of the images I’ve seen shared on Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn.

Now, this sort of thing has slightly enraged me as, while it is important to work hard (of course it is) the length of time you work is in no way related to how successful you’ll become. The most successful people in this world manage to balance their work and their life so they can get the most out of both. They don’t tie themselves to their working week, grind themselves into the dirt and then brag about how long they’ve spent working. They’re too busy living life for that.

The Gordon Gekko motto of ‘lunch is for wimps’ should be ‘lunch is for people who organise their working day sufficiently to make time for lunch’.

I have seen this in previous jobs time and time again. It’s as if the longer you spend at your desk, the better an employee you are. Quite frankly, if you’re unable to complete your daily work within the allotted time then either you’ve been given too much work or you’re just not very good at your job. You shouldn’t be getting in early and finishing late just to complete your daily tasks, and any business owner who does this in the misguided belief they’re being successful needs to reevaluate their productivity and how they delegate work.

This last point is a common problem with business owners, particularly those who are just making that transition from being self-employed to taking on their first employee. The concern I hear from people more than any other is they need to spend more time working ‘on’ their business as opposed to working ‘in’ the business. This requires procedures, delegation, trust and planning – the things many self-employed people struggle with.

How do you let your business, your clients and customers, be trusted to someone else? If you don’t do it, you’ll never grow. You’ll never expand. You’ll never be anything more than an employee, albeit working for yourself.

No, it’s not how long you spend working – it’s what you do that matters. As an example, if you’re a builder and you spend all of your day on site doing construction (either by yourself or with an apprentice) then you’re not a business owner. You’re your own employee and you only get paid when you work. If you’re sick, or want a holiday, your business stops and you lose money.

If, however, you’re a builder and you employ other builders to be on site for you and you spend your days pricing up new jobs, completing tenders, networking and meeting new contacts, then you’re a business owner. Your business will keep running if you take a day off, and you can even go on holiday without a loss of earnings.


Which would you rather do – tell people you work 60-hour weeks and have no time for yourself and your family, or work a 20-week and be able to take a holiday every now and then without any disruption to your business?

It’s this attitude towards hard work and longer working hours that prevents many people from being successful entrepreneurs. It runs right through society and is ingrained on us during school age.

How many people do you know at work who say the business falls apart when they go on holiday? They say they’re so invaluable to the company that they’re indispensable and nobody else can cover for them. Sound familiar? Do you think that actually makes them a good employee?

No, it does not. It makes them disorganised and unhelpful. A great employee is someone who can take time off and everyone else at the business knows exactly what they need to do to cover. They know where everything is, what needs doing and how it should be done. That’s what you, as a business owner, want from your employees – but few people are like that. Most think that by procedurising everything and allowing others to be able to cover for them so easily, that they’re making their own job dispensable. They like to ‘protect’ their position by keeping things to themselves, not training others and doing things their own way.

That’s bad for your business, and not the sort of attitude you want in an employee.

If we go back to the original question of this article ‘how long should you spend working to be successful’, we’ll see that it varies depending on the stages of your business. When you first decide to make that step into becoming your own boss, whatever the industry, you’ll find that the hours are indeed very long. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have some capital to launch your business, you’ll be doing everything yourself at first, and if you don’t do it, it won’t get done. This first stage could last a few months, or it could be more than a year (depending on how quickly you can grow), but it shouldn’t be a permanent situation.

Your first hire is critical, as it will free you up to do more strategic work on your business. Do NOT make the mistake of hiring someone and then continuing to do everything you were doing before.

Once you have a team working in your business, you should be free to work on your business. It’s at this stage the long hours, weekends and no holidays should be over.

You definitely shouldn’t be sharing images on social media telling people what long hours you work. That isn’t something to be proud of.

Get your work/life balance right.

Categories: Careers

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