Work Effectively, Not Excessively

The other day I came across a social media post from an email marketer who said you would outwork 90 percent of your competition just by showing up every day!

I nearly sprained my eyeballs from rolling them so hard.

If you can outwork your competition just by showing up, you are dealing with very different competitors from me, my friend.

My competitors show up every day. They work hard every day. They produce in ways that make me want to go lie down and take a nice nap.

My competitors work hard. Incredibly hard. It is ludicrous to suggest that I am going to find great success just by showing up.

Or that I am going to find great success by outworking them.

I mean, if you are twenty-two and have no hobbies, no outside interests, no spouse, no children, no parents, and no friends, then sure, feel free to pour your life down the drain of outworking everyone else.

But I have a daughter I want to spend time with, and friends whose jokes I need to hear, and forests that it’s time for me to walk in, and creative work that demands time and space, and, I don’t know, maybe I want to kiss a guy on the Charles Bridge some day.

I am in the middle of living a life, and my work facilitates that. Not the other way around.

I am all for doing consistent work over time. That is indeed important. My students expect me to show up to teach my classes, to respond to assignments before everyone has forgotten what they were about, to reply to emails within a day or two. My business requires ongoing maintenance: writing blog posts, maintaining a connection to potential clients over social media, dealing with technology snags. I wouldn’t be able to succeed if I ditched all that. So, sure, showing up is important.

But it doesn’t mean that merely showing up will naturally lead to success. It is a necessary requirement but not the only requirement.

Here is where people get snarled up. They think if showing up consistently is good, then showing up ALL THE TIME is even better.

It’s not.

Trying to outwork other people is a sure-fire recipe for burnout. If you have to work twelve hours a day, seven days a week just to keep the wheels of your business turning, you probably need to step back and rethink what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

You’re also probably not using those hours very wisely. Study after study shows that people get less done the more hours they work. Here are a couple of links about this phenomenon:

https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210819-the-case-for-a-shorter-workweek

https://hbr.org/2018/12/the-case-for-the-6-hour-workday

As a freelance editor, there is always more you could be doing. Always. Right now, next week, and twenty years from now, there will always be more you could be doing. So you have to figure out, early on, which tasks are the most important to accomplish. The goal isn’t to check things off a to-do list. The goal is to choose the right things to work on.

In other words, you don’t have to work yourself into an early grave to be successful. You have to work effectively to be successful. You have to know your priorities (these will change over time) and you have to accomplish those priorities. Then you need to shut off your laptop and go pet a dog.

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