The Way We Count Our Time At Work Isn’t Working



Can you change the world while working 40 hours or fewer per week?

That’s the question I’ve been asking entrepreneurs and change-makers recently.

My favorite response came from Swedish social entrepreneur, Admir Lukacevic, who simply replied, “just give me one second–that will be enough for me!”

I love Lukacevic’s passion (and confidence) but most of us would agree we need a bit more time at work than that. The question, though, is how much?

The results of my informal study paint a very clear picture: 81 percent say that yes, you can change the world in this amount of time. Meanwhile, 19 percent say no.

Among those who say no, the most common responses are that to be the singular person driving a world-changing company or movement, you simply need more than 40 hours per week in the trenches, and there just aren’t enough examples to the contrary. But even in these responses, they recognize that perhaps the model of the lone entrepreneur changing the world by themselves is becoming outdated.

For my new book, Becoming a Changemaker, I spoke to one of my favorite leaders, Sid Espinosa. Sid was the first ever Latino mayor of Palo Alto, California (where he oversaw a community filled with entrepreneurs and innovators), and is currently head of Social Impact at GitHub. I was curious how he had achieved so much at such a young age already and wanted to hear his secrets. His advice totally surprised me.  

He talked about the changes required in startups, companies, and communities and said that we need to stop thinking of ourselves as individual sprinters and instead think of ourselves as runners in a relay race. Whether we have 10, 20, 30 or 50 years left in our career, it’s quite possible that we may never see all of the changes we want to create become realized during our careers or our lives. Our job, instead, is to advance the baton as far as we possibly can.

This means receiving the baton from those who came before us (whether decades, months, or days before), and doing all we can to move us forward, collectively. Then when it comes time to pass the baton on to the next recipients, our job is to do all we can to be good stewards–to set those who will come after us up for success through mentoring, advising, coaching, and more.

Espinosa’s advice applies equally well in startup settings as well as social change settings. We might be responsible for financial or other short-term goals staring us down in the short term. But remembering that we can take care of what needs to be done in front of us right now, all while thinking about how we can hand off the baton to others in the future can free us. We can take care of what needs to be done in the immediate time horizon, while not hurrying the crucial changes which quite possibly will take some time to realize. 

So perhaps the correct measure here isn’t maximizing how many hours we are working per week. Rather it’s how many weeks, months, years, and decades we are committing to consistently creating change, and how we effectively bring others along with us.  

As Matthew Kelly writes in his book, The Long View, “Most people overestimate what they can do in a day, and underestimate what they can do in a month. We overestimate what we can do in a year, and underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade.”

When we zoom out and think about decades, not weeks, it becomes much less important whether we work 35 or 45 hours in a given week. What matters is how many weeks we put in, month after month, year after year.  

The baton is there waiting for you. Will you grab it?  

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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