In Real Leaders Don't Follow, author Steve Tobak explains how real entrepreneurs can start, build, and run successful companies in highly competitive global markets. He provides unique insights from an insider perspective to help you make better-informed business and leadership decisions. In this edited excerpt, Tobak offers his view on what it really takes to be as successful as you want.
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Somewhere between dreaming about Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek and the reality that you’re becoming a 24/7 workaholic is an elusive concept called "work-life balance."
In a world where everyone feels so overworked, overwhelmed, overcommitted, and overstressed, it’s only natural that we would want to work less and enjoy life more, right? But what if we’re not really as overworked as we think? What if we have just as much leisure time as we’ve always had? What if this seemingly elusive work-life balance is entirely within our control? What if it’s not an elusive concept at all but a simple matter of personal choice?
This will no doubt come as a shock, but the image of the overworked and overstretched American is a complete myth. We actually have far more leisure or spare time today than at any time in recorded history, according to a 2006 article in The Economist.
The problem is a combination of misguided priorities, addiction to instant gratification and distraction, and lack of focus and discipline. We simply spend way too much time doing what doesn’t matter and not nearly enough time focusing on what does. And that’s by choice.
We constantly complain about living in a world where we have to be on 24/7, but the truth is we stay connected because we want to. Nobody’s holding a gun to your head to answer a call or text when you’re supposed to be sleeping, playing with your kids, or having dinner with your better half. Nobody makes you reply to tweets and emails when you should be focused on getting something done. So why do you do it? You love the attention. It makes you feel important. It makes you feel special.
And guess what? Companies know that and leverage it, if they’re smart. By providing flexible work conditions, allowing people to work and conference from home, and buying them smartphones and notebook computers, they’re getting something in return: more of your time and attention when you’re not at work.
Sure, executives, professionals, and business leaders work long hours -- I always have -- but that’s a matter of choice. If you want to accomplish big things, you have to shoulder big responsibility, and that usually means working long and hard. That’s why they make the big bucks. That’s how it works.
Besides, folks like me have a tool set that seems to elude most people these days:
We’re disciplined about focusing on our priorities and shutting out the noise. We always do what needs to be done, but for everything else, we have a saying: “Tomorrow’s another day.”
Now, let’s talk about the real time wasters in our lives: social media and personal blogging. The vast majority of time we spend on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn is wasted. So is the time we spend blogging and reading all that useless user-generated online content. So are the hours of watching 200 cable channels and YouTube videos, playing with our game consoles and smartphone apps, and shopping for all the stuff everyone thinks they have to own these days.
Americans now spend an average of five hours a day online plus five hours a day watching TV. If you want to be far more successful than the average American, you simply can’t get away with that. If you want to make it big in this world, you’re going to have to be disciplined about focusing on your priorities.
For every successful entrepreneur and executive I know, work comes first. It’s what they live for. Granted, they don’t work all the time, but they never think about work-life balance because they know what their goals and priorities are, and they know what they have to do and what they have to sacrifice to achieve them.
In thirtysomething years, I’ve never known a single person -- entrepreneur, executive, manager, engineer, small-business owner, you name it -- who made a good living working less than 40 or 50 hours a week. And I don’t know anyone who made it big working less than 50 or 60 hours a week. And many of them worked a whole lot more.
We all have our own peculiar ways of managing our work lives, but none of it will help you break the laws of physics or economics. By all means, work smart. But unless you figure out how to clone yourself, you’ve still got to do the work -- and a lot of it if you want a lot in return. You get out of life what you put in.
As for those who want to work less and enjoy their personal lives more, I don’t blame you, but I wouldn’t quit my day job just yet. And if you still think you can make it big as an entrepreneur without having to work hard, you can always come up with a catchy sound bite and market it to the gullible masses as the secret to success. That’s certainly worked before.
To summarize, here’s my theory on living a fulfilling life while avoiding a life full of regret: If you work too hard and completely miss out on life, you’ll be miserable. If you have too much fun and don’t make enough money, the result’s the same. Somewhere in between is an optimum point where you work hard enough, make enough money, and still have a good time. That point is different for everyone. It’s highly subjective, but it does exist. It mostly depends on your goals.
If your goal is to have a fulfilling career and a rich family life, you should be able to pull that off. If, on the other hand, you really want to make it big, you’re going to have to sacrifice on the personal side. And if your goal is to party hard, work as little as possible, and just skate by, that’s fine too, but don’t expect to park a Ferrari at your mansion.
Look at it this way. Life is full of tradeoffs, and, for the most part, you’re in control. If you focus on doing only what matters and are reasonably disciplined about your priorities, you should never have to concern yourself with nonsense like personal productivity.