“On a good week I work 80 hours, but last week it was more like 120. How many hours do you work a week?” He asked with a smirk.
This brief exchange took place a few weeks ago at a party — 3 minutes into meeting this guy for the first time.
“It’s been about 50 hours a week” I responded, looking around the room for someone else to talk to while half-anticipating his response.
“Oh, nice, so work’s been pretty easy then,” he replied. It was the classic I work more than anyone else claim that we’ve all heard so often.
But I never understood this — who cares? Where is the glamor in working hard for the sake of working hard? It seems like some students, interns, and recent graduates conflate working long hours with feeling proud and self important. In fact, sometimes even executives do this too!
Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo and ex-Google executive, said the following when reflecting on her time at Google:
“The other piece that gets overlooked in the Google story is the value of hard work.
Could you work 130 hours in a week? The answer is yes, if you’re strategic about when you sleep, when you shower, and how often you go to the bathroom. The nap rooms at Google were there because it was safer to stay in the office than walk to your car at 3 a.m. For my first five years, I did at least one all-nighter a week.” 1
While I agree that there is no substitute for a strong work ethic and hard work, I don’t think the vast majority of people would benefit by strategically scheduling bathroom breaks, pulling consistent all-nighters, and working 130 hours per week. Turns out, many people felt the same way — there was enormous backlash over her statement, and hundreds of articles like this popped up.
By bragging about long hours, people glamorize work cultures that optimize for the wrong measurement of progress. This phenomenon also happens in college, when students sometimes study for insane hours for the sake of working hard. In these situations, it’s important to question whether you are truly making progress with each incremental hour you invest.
Don’t mistake motion for progress.
Optimize for learning
Instead of optimizing for long work hours, I focus on a more direct measurement of my progress: learning. Each week I ask myself, “am I maximizing the opportunity I have to learn as much as possible?”
This concept may sound familiar, because I recently wrote about it in my article on compounded learning. In that article, I explained why the rate at which you learn (learning CAGR) is far more important than how much you know today. And by optimizing for learning each week, your learning CAGR will increase rapidly.
This seems like a much better measurement of progress than working an arbitrary number of hours. It also allows me to zoom out and think holistically about how I spend my time each week. In doing so, I realized I also need to invest in learning outside of work.
Each week, I aspire to invest 75% of my time learning at work, 15% learning by writing for 2 by 22, and 10% learning by reading or watching videos.
I believe a hunger to learn is the biggest asset for anyone in the professional world, and it’s never too early to get started. This week, think about how you can restructure your weekly schedule to maximize learning.