Twitter is now the place I go when I need something to make me furious at everything. Today I read an entire thread of men arguing over why work/life balance is a myth, and marathon hours and working weekends are fundamentally necessary if you want to be a success.
Look at Elon Musk, they said. Look at Mozart.
Newsflash, fellas: you’re not Mozart. Your work is probably not that important. And even if it is, if you’re doing it 12 or 14 hours a day you’re probably doing it badly.
Go the fuck home and see your kids.
Human brains aren’t designed to do creative or complex work for 12 hours straight. Long before you burn out, you’re going to stop doing good work. And your wife probably hates you.
How do these attitudes come about? There’s a wealth of evidence that extra hours of work don’t add extra productivity. The eight-hour workday is even based on maximum productivity for a factory assembly line — I’d argue the maximum creative output in a day is closer to four or five hours (with some padding for admin and meetings and eating sushi).
Your brain needs to rest to work creatively. Work/life balance isn’t important just because, you know, life is your actual life, but because without downtime your brain can’t process information and make new connections and break down all the things you’ve fed it into delicious spontaneous idea-mulch.
It’s also a socially dangerous argument to have. If it’s necessary to abandon your personal life to succeed at work, you either can’t have a family, are fucked if you already do, or you’re assuming you can dump all of your real-life responsibilities onto your partner forever in order to do your work.
I know I’m very privileged to not have to work in a 9-5 at-the-desk office environment, but here’s how I do my best work:
- Do a couple of hours of focused work.
- Take a walk, do a load of washing, knit, stare at the shops, eat chips, etc.
- Do another couple of hours of focused work.
- Stop working and hang out with my family.
- Get in the shower in the morning and find a solution to whatever I was working on the day before waiting for me.
I’ve yet to find a work problem that wasn’t solved faster by going to sleep than by continuing to try and actively beat it into submission after doing so had already failed. My brain is a wonderful and amazing creature that will come up with solutions to things without my help — if I let it.
The more I do creative work the more I realise that the time I don’t spend working is as important as the time I do.
I might send you an email at 9pm, but it’s not because I kept working until 9 — it’s because I went and made dinner and put Nico to bed and then sat on the couch staring at The Get Down and suddenly my brain was like “HEY, I GOT THE ANSWER!” and I got up and wrote it down.
Or The Get Down finished and because I’d had a few hours off the thing suddenly wasn’t as hard as it had seemed at 4pm.
And in the meantime, I also got to live my actual life.
Sixtyproof limit how much we take on not just because we have small children and partners and we like to interact with them (and occasionally also our friends and pets and television sets) but because we do better work that way — you can have 25 quality hours of work out of me a week, or 50 terrible ones.
Anyway, this whole post is a nice way of letting my clients know I’m going to start charging them for showers and Netflix.