Is workaholism the path to greatness (a.k.a. the 10,000 hours to expertise), or is it time poorly spent? We don’t praise workaholism outright, but we sure do hint at it.
Through the email newsletter The Bookshelf, we recently discussed the book Rework, one of my favorite books in recent years that talks about work and creativity habits. They cover quite a bit in that book, but one of the topics that really stuck out to me was their approach to workaholism.
If you just talk to the average person about whether workaholism is a good idea, they’ll probably say “no.” After all, how can anyone think that any word with “-holism” could indicate a healthy behavior? And yet, our culture praises the idea all the same. I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, the book that popularized the idea of the 10,000 hours required in order to become truly an expert at anything. (Read the book, and you’ll find that there are many more obstacles that just sheer man hours, but that’s a post for another time.) But some of the most successful people of our time spent untold hours perfecting their craft. How can we possibly say that you shouldn’t be practicing and working all the time?
Unfortunately, this “always on” mentality doesn’t always lead to our best efforts. Here’s what the authors of Rework had to say, “Workaholics miss the point, too. They try to fix problems by throwing sheer hours at them. They try to make up for intellectual laziness with brute force. This results in inelegant solutions.”
Yes, there are times when more actually equals more. Manual labor and the kinds of tasks that don’t involve complex thinking or creativity benefit from sheer effort. But there are several types of work and creation that require your best effort every time you pick up the chisel, the guitar, or the pen. In these cases, more does not equal better.
The Delusion of More
I know that I’ve found this to be true for myself. 2012 was a year of more. Here’s another idea and another. If I just kept working hard enough, I knew I’d turn out something I could really be proud of. All I had to do was just keep going.
Unfortunately, the process didn’t do much for my health, my sleep, my relationships, or my art.
In the middle of the sheer productivity phase, people will try to remind you that workaholism isn’t a virtue to be extolled. And maybe you’ll even recognize the wisdom of their words, but you’ll feel for some reason that you can’t stop now. You can’t stop when you’re so close. When you finally do get a chance to finish the project or close your eyes for just a moment, that’s when you’ll have the chance to actually consider the value of your current approach. At least, that’s how it happened for me.
“Showing up” is important, but it’s not everything. You have to sleep some time.
What About You?
Have you found yourself having to pull back from too much time on your projects? More specifically, have you found yourself needing to pull back from “inelegant solutions”?