Episode: Using the Double Win to Beat Back Work That’s Out of Control
Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.
Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.
Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast designed to help you win at work and succeed at life. Speaking of work, that’s what we’re going to talk about today. We’re going to talk about work and why for so many people it’s out of control.
Megan: I’m really excited about this topic. You and I have been talking a lot about it lately because we have a brand-new book out called Win At Work and Succeed At Life, all about how to beat back this thing called the cult of overwork. We’re really going to dig into that today. What is it? What’s going on? What’s making us all work way too much all the time? Etcetera, etcetera. I’m really excited to dig into this. I think a lot of you guys listening can relate to this in your lives.
Michael: Let’s start at the very beginning and start by saying that work is a gift. In fact, I believe it’s a gift from God, but like all gifts, it can become an idol and destroy us. For a lot of people, that’s kind of the truth. I’m going to pick on Elon Musk for a second. We pick on him in the book. I don’t intend to judge him, but he has kind of held himself up as this celebrity entrepreneur who’s advising and influencing millions of young entrepreneurs.
One of the things he says is that you need to be working like 100 hours a week. I mean, literally, we have a quote in the book to that effect, that he says you need to work 100 hours a week, and if you do work 100 hours a week, then you’ll be able to smoke your competition because they won’t be able to keep up. Guess what? You won’t be able to keep up either.
In fact, as it turns out, Elon Musk can’t keep up. He has been married several times now. He has five sons who won’t talk to him, by his own admission. This is not the outcome that, for sure, Megan, you and I are looking for, but this is not the outcome our audience is looking for. I don’t think any of us want to wake up one day and suddenly discover we’ve sacrificed our health or our most important relationships on the altar of our own ambition.
Okay. Apparently, if you’re going to accomplish huge things like Elon Musk is out to do, including going to Mars… That seems to be his passion in life. The only problem is that when he gets there he might find himself alone. None of us want that.
Megan: That’s kind of the big “hot mess” example in celebrity culture, and there, of course, are many others, but this gets lived out all the time, whether in your own life or people you know closely. We talk about it in the book as something we call the hustle fallacy. It’s basically that idea, that little conversation in our heads that goes something like, “Oh man. I’ve just got to double down for a little while.
I’ve just got to put in some extra hours for the next few months or maybe for the next year until I get this business off the ground or this ministry off the ground or until this project is done or until this product launches,” whatever it is for you. “But it’ll be worth it, because then I’ll be set.” The problem is (I think we know this intuitively) that temporary kind of deal with the Devil we’re making ends up becoming not temporary; it becomes permanent, and that’s where the problems set in.
Michael: That’s exactly right. If it’s not the hustle fallacy… Because people are facing this thing we call in the book the impossible choice, where you can win at work or succeed at life but you can’t have both, they pick either the hustle fallacy, which you just described, or the alternative to that is the ambition brake, where you pump the brakes on your own ambition, on your own career, on your own dreams for your vocation, and just say, “Look. I’m not going to sacrifice my health. I’m not going to sacrifice my family; therefore, I’m going to sacrifice my career.”
We think, and we argue in the book, that’s a false dichotomy. It’s not either/or. It can be both/and, but, again, I think we have to dig in and understand why it is we work and why it’s so detrimental when it’s done in excess.
Megan: Before we get to that, let’s talk about some of these characteristics of that thing in the book we call the cult of overwork so people can recognize these in their own lives.
Michael: There are five basic features or five attributes of this hustle fallacy. First of all, work provides the primary orientation for life. In other words, work is the primary thing. Everything else is kind of the fringe or on the edge of work. We’re either working or we’re preparing to work or we’re trying to recover from work, but pretty much life is total work. Anything else is in the service of our work.
Megan: You can see right away, if you’ve done this or watched somebody do this in their own life, this becomes a big problem really fast. As we talk about in the book, there are actually 10 domains of life, of which your vocation is only one. So what about all of those other domains? What about the people in your life who are important? What about your health? What about your spiritual life? Etcetera, etcetera. This is a real setup that’s building for a big problem.
Michael: That’s right. Which leads us into the second attribute of the hustle fallacy or the cult of overwork: constraints stifle productivity. In other words, we don’t want any constraints. If I don’t finish my work this afternoon, I want to be able to go home, have a quick dinner with the family, crack open my laptop, and resume work. Or I want to be able to work on the weekends if I need to. Or if I need to drag a project into my vacation because I didn’t have time during my regular work hours to finish it, I want to be able to do that. So constraints seem to be the enemy of what we want.
Megan: I can remember times growing up when you would do this. Probably a lot of people can relate to this. You’re almost irritable that somebody would suggest otherwise. We both tell our own stories of accomplishing the double win and the journey to get there, so there’s a lot of self-revelation in the book that I think you guys will enjoy. I can remember, “You don’t really expect me to do this in the workday” was almost your attitude sometimes. Do you remember that?
Michael: Yeah. Totally. I think we justify this in a thousand ways, but the main way we justify it is we say, “You know, I’m doing this for my family.” That’s the rationale. The problem is preschoolers, in particular, but also older kids don’t understand that. They don’t make the correlation. The way they spell love is T-I-M-E, and if you’re not spending time with them, they create all kinds of narratives, like, “Dad must not love me” or “I must not be important to him. Something else is more important.” That’s the last thing we want to communicate, but that’s the exact thing we communicate.
Megan: Also, that’s what your spouse and friends think too. As it turns out, time is the currency of life, which is one of the premises of this book. It’s just a matter of what you’re going to spend it on. Okay. The next one is that work-life balance is a myth. That’s an easy thing to say. As I’ve been talking to people about the book, I think it’s for two reasons.
First, if you’re a super overachiever, it feels kind of soft and maybe something for people who aren’t serious. I’ve certainly thought that myself in the past. Or it’s because, honestly, we have been disappointed by trying to pursue this and failing, not really having a clear path to accomplishing it and being disappointed in ourselves, disappointed in the promise we were sold, so we develop this belief that work-life balance is a myth.
Michael: Absolutely. One of the things I hear oftentimes from people on social media, even in response to our promotion for the new book, is that work-life balance is a myth. What I find is that they create a straw man, and then they proceed to destroy the straw man. It’s a caricature of what we’re talking about, because when we’re talking about work-life balance, we’re not talking about giving equal time and attention to every domain of life.
The best example I could give of that is this morning I worked out for 45 minutes in the gym. Today (we have a six-hour workday at Michael Hyatt & Company) I will work six hours. I don’t need to work out at the gym for six hours for my life to be in balance. No. I just need to give the appropriate amount of attention. I’m not even going to spend six hours today with my wife. I don’t need to. She doesn’t want that much time from me, I don’t want that much time from her, but we want to give each other the appropriate time and attention. That’s what balance is.
The other thing about it, as I’m thinking about it, is it’s like when you’re walking across a balance beam bar if you’re a gymnast. I don’t have personal experience of this, but I’ve watched the Olympics, so I feel like I know. They’re in a constant state of imbalance. There’s this constant tension where you’re working to keep things in balance. It doesn’t mean you’re going to reach this zen-like state where it’s no longer a struggle, where it’s no longer work to stay in balance, because staying in balance takes work. It’s a constant realignment, constant readjustment.
Megan: I think that’s right. The next characteristic is that a person should always be busy. Man! I have found myself defaulting to this over the years. We’re just living in… Especially those of us in a Western context, we just have to be moving all the time. We have to be doing something. We have to accomplish something, because our identity is 100 percent in our achievements and nothing else. That’s how we measure our worth as people, really, if we’re honest (how much we have to do), and it gives us all of these bragging rights about… “How are you doing?” “Well, man, I’m so busy.” That is a humblebrag, really, as the kids say.
Michael: It’s really true. If you kind of dive into it, one of the things you realize is that not all work is created equal. Not all work advances your career or your business. Some of it’s just busywork. Some of it’s fake work. Some of it’s because there’s an expectation at work that we’re always busy or that we stay a certain number of hours, but there’s no correlation between either one of those and true productivity as measured by actually accomplishing something in the world.
You can sit at your desk 12 hours a day and not really accomplish anything. You can be totally distracted, checking social media, doing low-level busywork, and not really moving the needle on your business. So, we have to get away from that whole idea that busyness or fake work equals productivity. It doesn’t.
Megan: Yep. I totally agree with that. Okay. The last characteristic here is that rest wastes time that could otherwise go to work. Ooh! Guilty. I’ve certainly had that in my mind over the years.
Michael: Me too. I’ve been in a place where I’ve seen rest or sleep as the enemy. Sad to admit this, but back when I was the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, we published a book that advocated that people train themselves to get by on four hours of sleep a night. It’s like you shave five minutes off a night, and you just keep going until you get down to four hours.
The argument of the book was that if you do that (very similar to Elon Musk), then it will give you a leg up on the competition, because you will have reclaimed four hours they don’t have that you can reinvest in more work and you can be more productive. But that’s a false narrative. That’s a bad trade.
Megan: Also, we don’t win the results battle by brute force and just putting in hours. We win that battle by choosing high-leverage tasks and projects to focus on that we get a disproportionate return on investment for our investment of time. That’s true both in your professional life and in your personal life. We really want to be thinking about where we get leverage. It’s not just brute force. That’s the overly simplistic way of thinking that falls into this cult of overwork and causes people to have this perspective.
Michael: Just like we were saying that not all work is created equal, not all hours are created equal. If you’ve had a good night’s sleep, if you slept eight hours, which is what everything we’ve researched has said the average adult needs… If you sleep eight hours, you’re focused. You’re productive. You’re more creative.
On the other hand, if you have a tough night where you get four hours of sleep, you need to keep reading the same paragraph again and again. You can’t get your words out right. I mean, you’re just not as productive. You’re not as focused. So sleep is an integral part of being truly productive. But, again, it’s part of this cult of overwork to see sleep as the enemy. It’s really a demanding god.
Megan: It is. Okay. Before we move on, let me go through again these characteristics of the cult of overwork so they can be top of mind for you.
- Work provides the primary orientation for life.
- Constraints stifle productivity.
- Work-life balance is a myth.
- A person should always be busy.
- Rest wastes time that could otherwise go to work.
Man! It just sounds kind of oppressive going through that list again, doesn’t it?
Michael: Yeah. It really does. This kind of worldview has serious implications for our lives. It’s not like it’s bad if you do it but there are no consequences. There are real consequences. I want to talk briefly about a few of those that we point out in the book. Again, our new book is called Win At Work and Succeed At Life: Five Principles to Free Yourself From the Cult of Overwork.
One of the points we make in the book… One implication is that 8 in 10 workers, in the US at least, suffer from on-the-job stress. Not all stress is bad, but this kind of stress pretty much is. This backs up into your health. It backs up into your personal relationships. It backs up into your overall sense of well-being. So, this is not something we can just dismiss, because stress is going to show up in our body. It’s going to show up in disease. It’s going to show up in all kinds of things that are, shall we say, suboptimal.
Megan: Another consequence is that people who work more than 55 hours a week increase their risk of heart attack by 13 percent and stroke by 33 percent. I mean, if that’s not sobering, I don’t know what is. I mean, 55 hours in most professional cultures is considered normal. So we’re talking about a “normal” number of hours increasing our risk of stroke and heart attack by a significant percentage.
Michael: The other research we’ve shown in the book is that the difference between 40 and 55 hours is not that much more productivity. In fact, once you get past 55, it starts going backward. But between 40 and 55, there’s not that much additional productivity. You’re busy, yes, but what are you really accomplishing? You’re probably doing a lot of fake work or busywork that, again, doesn’t really count.
The last stat I want to point out is that 75 percent of US professionals say work-related stress undermines their personal connections. Well, of course. If you’re at work and you’re stressed and you bring that home, how attentive, how focused can you be on the people you’re trying to love? You can’t. You’re going to be distracted. That’s the problem with work-related stress.
We want to create the kind of lifestyle where we can work and kill it. We’re not saying you should settle for anything less than really winning at work, and in a big way. We believe in that in a big way, but at the point at which it becomes detrimental and backs up into the rest of your life… That’s not helpful either. In fact, it ultimately undermines your work effectiveness.
Megan: In fact, entrepreneurs suffer considerably higher divorce rates than others, which is also true for CEOs.
Michael: I hate that.
Megan: This rubber meets the road at a pretty key point that we have to pay attention to. This is a big deal.
Michael: Okay. This begs the question…Why do we overwork? In other words, if we’re going to solve this problem… Again, we try to solve the problem in the book, and I think we do a good job, but we have to understand (we unpack this in the book): Why do we overwork? What’s driving this? Where is it coming from?
Megan: It’s funny, because I think, normally, the answer… If you were just to ask somebody, “Hey, why do you think you overwork?” most people would say, “Well, because I have to.” Like it’s all external pressure.
Michael: “I have so much to do.”
Megan: Right. What we’ve found is that that is not the case, that the reasons are actually much more complex than they seem at face value.
Michael: Okay. I think we have to ask people to do something. When you’re listening to this, you might find yourself feeling defensive, like, “I do have so much to do. And who are you? How dare you challenge me? It must be nice for you to have the kind of lifestyle you have, but you don’t understand my world.” We’ll come back to that in a minute.
What I want to ask you to do as you’re listening to this podcast episode is to suspend disbelief, that you ask yourself if any of what Megan and I are about to share is true of your life. Honestly, we had to take a long look in the mirror ourselves and ask what was driving us, because we’re very driven people. What’s driving us? What is at the root of this? Once you peel back the onion past that, “Well, I just have a lot to do,” what’s underneath that? What’s the part of the iceberg you can’t see? That’s what we want to drill into now.
Megan: The first one is that technology makes it possible. After all, we didn’t always have a computer in our pocket. There was a time when you had to go to the office to work in many ways. If you were going to access your computer, for example, that was at work. You didn’t have a computer at home. Now, not only do we have probably multiple computers at home, but we have this device in our pocket that, literally, you can work anywhere on the planet, any hour of the day. You have every app you need right there, and it is not concerned with your personal margin or your other priorities outside of work.
Michael: It’s so true. The promise that was sold to us, what we were sold was basically that technology is going to make it possible for us to be more effective, more organized, and we’ll be able to work less. No. Actually, what it has allowed us to do is work all the time. There are a lot of people who fear that in the future they’re going to plant a chip in their brains. Well, the truth is they packed an enormously powerful chip in our pocket in our smartphone, and we’re tethered to it via addiction. It’s as much a part of us as if it were implanted in our physical body.
So, technology is not the answer. It can be. I mean, it can be a wonderful servant, but it’s a terrible master. For many of us, it has become that. We’ve all sat in those dinner meetings… You’re with an associate, and you’re trying to have a conversation, and they’re constantly looking at their phone. You feel like, “I don’t really have their full attention. I don’t have their full focus.”
Or even worse, being at home when you’re doing that to your family. I’ve had, on more than one occasion, somebody who loves me take my phone away from me at the dinner table or turn it upside down or say, “Can’t you turn that off?” It’s terrible what it communicates, and it’s terrible how that impacts our lives and crowds into every nook and cranny of our lives.
The second one… We have to admit this. For a lot of us who have the privilege (and it is a privilege) of being able to do work we love, work is fun. I meet entrepreneurs, people in our coaching program, when they first come in that I ask, “What’s your hobby?” and they say, “Well, my work is my hobby. I can’t imagine having a hobby I love more than my work.” They’re giving 24/7, basically, to it. So, work is fun, and it’s enormously rewarding for a lot of other reasons.
Megan: If you think about it, in many cases, you get to pick the people you work with or you like the people who were already picked on your team. It’s work you are uniquely designed to do if you’re fortunate. You get to be creative. There’s a start point and an end point. We’ll talk more about that in a minute. So many things about work are fun. I think we need to be honest about that. It is fun, but like anything that’s fun, it needs to be fun in moderation. There are plenty of other fun things to do, like go on vacation, that if you did all the time would be a real problem. That’s true for work also.
Michael: Good point. Here’s another thing about why we overwork. Work provides an opportunity for personal growth and a sense of identity. If we’re honest, we don’t always get that from our families. Usually, being at home as a young dad was where I felt the most incompetent, like I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I saw the least amount of progress. You know, you’re trying to invest in these little humans, and it’s three steps forward, two steps back, sometimes four steps back. You wonder sometimes.
One of the reasons my wife Gail and I like to say to you, Megan, and your sister Mindy, who between the two of you have nine of our grandkids… One of the things I love to say to you all is just encourage you in the work you’re doing as parents, because I know you can’t see it. I can see it because I’m not in it every day, but you can’t see it. But at work it’s totally the opposite. We get a sense of progress. We get a sense of identity. We feel that competence. It’s very rewarding.
Megan: You have a title. Right? I mean, you literally get a title, which tells you who you are, and you have a job description that tells you what you’re supposed to do, and you probably have professional development that happens in your company or your organization. That’s profound. When you think about human needs, that’s a big deal, and there would be a lot of incentive for any of us to get more and more of that and for that to get outsized in our lives.
Another reason is that work gives us the experience of flow, that thing that happens when you’re being creative. You almost feel like you’re outside of time a little bit. The ideas just come, and you’re just rocking and rolling. What a great feeling. As a mom of five kids… My youngest is 2, and she’s like a little tiny human tornado most of the time. She’s the cutest tornado you’ve ever seen, but a tornado nevertheless.
There’s not a lot of flow. When I’m at home, my time with my family gets chopped up into three- or five-minute increments. We’re reading a book, and then we’re eating a little snack, and then we’re going outside. It’s definitely not flow. I’m never losing track of time. I am very conscious of “How much longer until bedtime?” because I’m tired.
That is very different from the experience of being at work, and I know I have to be very conscious of valuing that time with my family in this season of our family life and not allowing myself to drift into overworking because I get that kind of hit, almost, that dopamine hit of flow.
Michael: It might sound like we’re trying to sell more work because we’re talking about all of the benefits on the side of the work, but I think this is something to be aware of so that when you don’t experience this at home you don’t think there’s something broken or something abnormal. That’s just the difference between the two. Again, I think we have to be honest as to why work is so attractive. Okay. The last one I want to nail is that work provides definable wins.
Megan: Yeah. Gosh, this is so important. If you have young kids at home or maybe you’re caring for elderly relatives or you have some other situation that’s really demanding outside of work that’s kind of a long-game situation, this is so critical to properly understand. If my expectations at home are the same for my “wins” as they are at work, that’s a setup to fail.
We’re in the long game of raising adults. That’s literally a lifetime project. We will be working on that project for 20-plus years. Day to day, we may not have any definable wins. It may feel like you said earlier, a lot of setbacks. I hear from other people we know who have been caring for relatives who are older or sick or whatever. It’s kind of the same thing.
Michael: Again, we’re just trying to be honest with why we overwork. The book is Win At Work and Succeed At Life. The book is very solution focused. We’ve talked about the problem, the cult of overwork, but like most problems in life, understanding them, awareness of them, will get you a long way toward actually fixing the problem. But if you’re caught in the web of overwork, if you’re caught in that cult, so often you can’t see it, and you can’t fix what you don’t perceive to be a problem. This whole podcast episode has been focused on that.
We want to encourage you to get the book. We have some amazing order specials right now. If you order the book right now and then go to winandsucceedbook.com, you can redeem your receipt for wherever you buy the book. Buy it on Amazon. Buy at Barnes & Noble. Better yet, buy it at your local book seller, but then bring the receipt to winandsucceedbook.com, and you can turn that in for $500 worth of free bonuses.
These are bonuses that are designed to help you get the double win. That’s what we call it. “Win at work and succeed at life.” We call that the double win. In the next episode, we’re going to be talking about some of the solutions we offer in the book, but we wanted to frame it up so you can understand along with us why this is a problem and the fact that we have to do something about it.
Megan: Okay, guys. Thanks so much for joining us today. Hey, go buy the book. This might just be the exact solution you have been looking for for a long time. I think you’re going to find that this book is a big breakthrough for you. So, go get the book, winandsucceedbook.com. Until next week, lead to win.