Our culture promotes and celebrates work. In fact, it’s a badge of honor for one to work long, hard hours and success is too often measured by time worked versus what’s produced. I recently read biographies on the late Steve Jobs, CEO and co-founder of Apple, and Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla. Both men are known for their superhuman work ethic and inhumane workload that they expect of themselves and of those that work for them. However, I contend that this is not the way to long-term and robust success.
There’s ample examples of the meteoric rise of young entrepreneurs that worked insanely hard and achieved fame, financial success and received the accolades that come with such success, but is it sustainable? Is it worth the cost? There’s also tons of examples of cautionary tales on successful men and women who crash and burn after achieving profound success. For every great story on Steve Jobs’ impact on our world, there are an equal number of stories of broken relationships, bad health, and regret because of Jobs’ lifestyle. The same goes for Elon Musk.
I will be the first to admit that I struggle with this, in my current phase of life. I work hard and can find myself plugging away on weekends or during family time; however, I’m focused on improving in this area for I know it’s critical for my ultimate success.
What drives us to work long hours at the expense of our health and our relationships? Is it because of the money, the recognition, or because we don’t know better? I had a great discussion with my friend, Jack on this subject. He noted that the world consists of two types of people, consumers and producers.
Most of us are taught to consume. We are taught to pursue things and to consume them for our own edification. This consumer mentality requires us to work more so we can consume more. Producers; however, think differently. Producers don’t work so that they can consume, they work so that they may create and bring something meaningful into the world. Producers strive to bring value.
When I began to study producers, the ones that achieved long-term success, I was surprised that many of them didn’t work long hours, they focused on intense work over a few short hours, but did so on a consistent basis. Studies show that our energy and brain power is a finite resource that must be carefully considered when approaching each day. We only have four to five hours of daily peak performance available to us. So, as I consider my life and where I want to go I must ponder what some of the world’s greatest producers had in common. People like Edison, Einstein, Churchill, Kennedy, or Beethoven. They all were deliberate with how they invested their time.
I want to do more than consume my way through life. I have a strong desire to produce and bring value into the world, so as I study other great producers, I’ve discovered four common traits that’s worth considering:
1. Routine – The greats were maniacal about their routines. They had a rhythm to their days. Most started early, which allowed them to unleash a creativity that benefited the world. American President, John F. Kennedy, retired to his bedroom, at the White House, for a nap after lunch every day. Famed fiction author, Stephen King, breaks up his days in two parts. The first half he writes new material, the second half he rests, recreates and writes correspondence. Routines free our minds and remove the drain of making daily decisions so our minds can remain fresh to ponder the critical issues of the day.
2. Focused work – I was amazed to discover that many of the greatest producers didn’t work long arduous hours. Many focused on their most critical work around four to five hours a day, and then spent the rest of their day on less critical tasks. They protected those hours and didn’t allow the world to penetrate their psyche. Famed poet, Edgar Allen Poe, would lock himself up and separate himself from the world so he could remain creative and write great prose. We don’t have the benefit of an infinite amount of creative energy, so when we spend that energy, we must do so on the right tasks that will make a profound difference in our lives and on those that will benefit from our work.
3. Rest – Some of our greatest leaders made rest a priority. It was a skill they harnessed to ensure they could remain sharp. British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, would take two hour naps in the middle of the day, during WWII, even during Nazi Germany bombing raids on London. He recognized the need for rest and its impact on his mental health and energy during a critical time in history. Thomas Edison napped often, throughout the day, so he could recharge his batteries and continue his experiments. Rest is a critical element to creativity and must be respected as a vital tool for success.
4. Exercise – Long walks and other forms of exercise are paramount to rejuvenate the mind and spirit. Studies show that exercise allows the brain to continue to work on problems and to reformulate solutions on obstacles encountered throughout the day. Producers leverage the habit of exercise to help them remain creative and sharp. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and Facebook founder, is known for taking long walks and holding meetings with critical personnel or new hires during these walks. Many of the locals in Maine and Florida often spot Stephen King walking along the local roads while reading fiction and enjoying some fresh air. Exercise is a key tool for producers, because of its contribution to health and creativity.
I don’t believe anyone pursues life in search of insignificance, quite the contrary. I believe we all want to have an impact. None of us desires to reach the end of our life only to discover it meant nothing. To have an impact, we must become producers and create things that may help others. To be a producer, we need to tap into our inner creative spirit, that little gift that God bestowed us when He created us. Consider the four elements that many other great producers leveraged before us and we’ll have a shot at creating something that will outlast our days and will indeed have an impact on this world. Which of these four elements will you pursue today?