The modern entrepreneur's vocabulary is filled with statements like these.
"Rise and grind."
"Hustle like you mean it."
"Your dreams only work as hard as you do."
We've even said a couple of those to you guys. And while there's a lot of truth there, there's a lot of danger too.
One of the reasons we started working for ourselves was because we were tired of other people deciding what we were worth. Michelle was putting 70 hours a week into teaching, planning lessons, and grading. One year, she was even honored as Teacher of the Year.
She got a plaque.
No bonus, no raise, no pizza party. Just a plaque, and some snot-nosed students asking, "how come she got Teacher of the Year?"
She got paid the same for busting her ass as she would have if she just had the kids watch videos and fill out worksheets every day.
After I got laid off, she decided she was going to bust her ass for herself, and put in her notice.
And friends, we hustled.
We took odd jobs, rushed between craft fairs, worked on boosting our web presence. Our dreams weren't taking a day off, so we weren't going to either.
But a funny thing happens when you're on that grind 24/7. You get tired. And when you get tired, you get uninspired. When you get uninspired, you start to resent the very dreams you're working for. Resentment leads to burnout, and burnout leads to collapse.
No matter how hard you hustle, you have to build margin into your life.
We discovered the importance of margin a few years ago, and it's changed our lives. Too often, people rush from one thing to another without ceasing. We jump from meetings to lunch appointments to soccer practice to parties one right after another until we collapse in our beds and scroll social media for hours.
And entrepreneurs are often the worst at this. Work-life balance doesn't really exist in a world where you are your business. Often, we feel like taking a break isn't even an option. We can't afford to stop working for one second.
But in fact, we can't afford not to take breaks.
The most obvious reason is one of health. We all know that constant stress is unhealthy. We've all heard the stories of overworked Japanese businessmen dropping dead at their desks.
But did you know that taking regular breaks can make you more productive?
Counterintuitive, I know. But the science supports it.
Thinking too hard or too long about something can lead to something called "decision fatigue." Your brain starts losing its capacity for critical thinking.
But if you take a break and do something else, your brain is still mulling those problems in your subconscious. As your thoughts drift to other unrelated topics, your brain connects those tangents to your work. If you've ever had an "aha" moment in the shower or while taking a walk, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
But if you ask me, there's an even more important thing at stake than your productivity...
We weren't made just to work every day until the day we die. Even if you're making a living doing your favorite thing in the world, we need to take some time away.
We need times of quiet. We need times where we waste time. We need to take time to do things that we love without worrying about how much money we could make if we were working instead.
And more than anything, we need times when we disconnect from all the fires and crises that spring up in our businesses and try to demand all of our time.
When Michelle and I are trying to enjoy our day off, but work things keep nagging for our attention, there's a question we like to ask ourselves.
"Will anybody die?"
Nothing is so urgent that needs to take priority over your own wellness. No one will die if they have to wait another 24 hours for a response about a commission. But if you keep pushing yourself past your breaking point, you might.
It might not be a swift, dramatic death like those Japanese businessmen. Rather, it might be the slow, painful death of waking up and realizing that you hate the things that used to bring you life.
And no one can afford that.
So here's the challenge: this week sometime, take a day off.
Resist the urge to catch up on housework or other maintenance tasks. Instead, just rest. Do something you enjoy—walk to the park, play some video games, read a book—whatever non-productive tasks make your life worth living.
It will require some retraining. We've been trying to get real intentional about taking Mondays off, but I still sometimes find myself talking shop in the work chat. And yes—it will require some rearranging of your schedule. You'll probably have to work more on the other days to make sure you get everything done that you need to.
But I encourage you to try it. And not just this week, but every week. Make it a habit. If your experience is anything like ours, you'll never dream of going back.
Try it, and let us know how it goes.
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