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Sustainable Productivity

I used to have a print on the wall in my office that said, "Hustle, darling!"

I cringe now when I think of that print. Although it was a cute print, and I thought it was a great antithesis to the hustle culture historically dominated by men, I now realize that slapping lipstick on a pig with "darling" written in a modern cursive font did nothing to address the actual systemic issues inherent in hustle culture.

A recent post on Twitter by Hadi Partovi highlighted some of these issues. What started as what I can only imagine he hoped would be a motivational story about how an organization like Microsoft could move at the speed of a start-up by sharing his experience working on the team that launched Internet Explorer 3.0, it very quickly devolved in two successive tweets—fewer than 360 characters:

"Sadly, there were divorces and broken families and bad things that came out of that." but, hey, we got to play foosball at 2am and get free meals!


If that's what hustling is all about (and, as some would argue, for a pretty subpar product, to boot), I'm not buying what he's selling, even if it is in a pretty cursive font.

Never mind the major blows to diversity this mentality produces (i.e., by requiring work sprints that regularly sees staff working through the night, this excludes those with dependents, for instance), hustle culture is a death knell to all those involved.

And ready for this truth bomb: it doesn't even lead to increased productivity.

Read that again.

It doesn't even lead to increased productivity!

In fact, after 60 hours of work per week, productivity actually decreases by as much as 25%.

Yup, those who put in 50% more time than those who work 40 hour weeks might really only be 12 or 13% more productive.

But if you're looking for big increases, here's where you might find them:

  • Blood pressure

  • Depression

  • Work and family conflict

  • Alcohol consumption

  • Weight gain

  • Safety risks

  • Absenteeism

  • Turnover

Hustle culture leads to burnout culture.

I don't know about you, but as a leader, I would look at the above and argue there's a business case for encouraging rest—it allows not only sustainable productivity, but it also provides opportunities to re-energize, refocus, and reconnect. All three are instrumental to innovation and creativity.

Not sold on the business case just yet? Or maybe you're the one telling everyone else how important it is to resist the temptation to hustle hard and then find yourself writing articles at midnight (I'm definitely not talking about myself. Definitely not.)?

Here's the other thing about hustle culture—working faster and smarter won't make the work go away. I dare say it brings on more work with no end in sight. How many times have you cleared your inbox only to see new messages arriving at an even faster rate?

I recently started reading the book 'Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals' by Oliver Burkeman and this paragraph instantly stuck out to me:

"American anthropologist, Edward T. Hall once pointed out, time feels like an unstoppable conveyor belt, bringing us new tasks as fast as we can dispatch the old ones; and becoming "more productive" just seems to cause the belt to speed up. Or else, eventually, to break down."

After reading this, I instantly envisioned Lucy and Ethel from 'I Love Lucy' (I know, I know, I'm totally dating myself here) working in the chocolate factory and desperately stuffing chocolates in their mouths and down their shirts as the conveyor belt speeds up and more and more chocolates sail down the belt. Why were we laughing? Because we knew it was going to end badly.

As Lucy says to Ethel, "I think we're fighting a losing game."

So how can you win the game?

Here's a good start.

First, watch the 'I Love Lucy' chocolate factory clip because, well, we all need a good laugh from one of our most beloved comedians.

Next, read the counterpoint to Partovi's tweets from Aaron Boodman, a developer who worked on the Chrome browser.

Finally, here's a great article from Mint on learning to set boundaries at work before the hustle and, ultimately, burnout takes over.

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