The Science That Proves Hustle Culture Is Literally Killing Us

“If you’re sitting in front of Netflix in the evenings and not growing your business, don’t come crying to me when you’re not a millionaire.” I’m paraphrasing Gary Vaynerchuck there, but you get the gist. I heard him say this whilst flicking through my phone in front of Netflix at the very beginning of my business journey. The TV went off and I started reading everything he and various other business gurus had ever written instead.

From then on, I started heading into the office at 6.30/7am and not leaving until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. Hands up if any of you have ever been in the same situation? I’m betting there’s quite a few of us. ‘Hustle Culture’ has become a huge thing in recent years, as the 24.1 million #Hustle posts on Instagram right now go to prove. And if you’re not hustling, putting in 20-hour days and (GOD FORBID) spending time with your friends or family then you’re gonna fail, right? 

Well, actually, there’s a whole lot of research that says otherwise…

Custom image by Abbie from Wildflower Illustrations

Firstly, are you actually working?

One of the things I started to notice when I was putting in these 12+ hour days in the office was the amount of work I was getting done. Sure, I was super productive in the morning (I am definitely a morning person), but by the time I’d done 7–8 hours in the office I was a bit of a mess. The last 4–5 hours I spent trapped in that office each day were quite possibly the least productive hours of my life. 

However, I needed everyone to know that I was hustling. When anyone saw the bags under my eyes and remarked, “Long day?” I could revel in the knowledge that I’d been WORKING for 12, 13, 14 hours… Yeah it’s been a long day! How successful am I?!

Except here’s the big problem. I wasn’t really working all those hours. I wasn’t being productive and the work I produced during those extra hours in the office was absolute trash. Turns out, I’m not alone. 

A study of UK office workers found that most people are productive for less than three hours a day. In Steve Glaveski’s HBR article, ‘The Case for the 6-Hour Workday,’ there’s even more research that backs up how unproductive we really are for long periods of time. 

So, while we may feel like we’re hustlin’ by putting in all the hours, chances are we’re doing the complete opposite. Not the healthiest or most productive way to live, right?

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Secondly, are you learning anything?

Do you know what some of the most successful and intelligent people in the world never stop doing? Learning. When I was studying some of the greatest entrepreneurs on the planet, I noticed that every single one of them spends so much time reading and learning. 

Bill Gates spent hours and hours learning how to program computers from a young age (I learnt that from a Netflix documentary, so boo you Gary Vee). Mark Zuckerberg was the same. Steve Jobs was a dab hand at electronics by the time he was ten. Warren Buffet read up to 1,000 pages of books every day while he was learning to invest. 

With the exception of the late Steve Jobs, every single one of these people will admit they still spend a lot of their time reading and learning. Bill Gates carries a bag of books around with him wherever he goes. Warren Buffett says he spends around 80% of his day reading. Mark Zuckerberg is still learning how not to turn the whole world against him — that’s a long process.

If you’re hustling and ‘working’ long days (I say ‘working’ as we know no one is really working that long now), then are you learning? Of course, we learn a lot through our experiences. As someone who didn’t really like the idea of education until much later in life, I was always in the camp that says, “Life will teach us the biggest lessons.” While that may be true, there are also a lot of lives that have lived before you that can teach you even more. 

Over the last few months, I’ve started reading a LOT more books. You know what I’ve found? I’ve become a LOT smarter when it comes to running my business. I’ve swapped those long days of not doing much in the office for finishing early and reading. A lot. Turns out, learning is good for your brain according to lots of really long words in this article.

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Finally, are you happy?

Ah, happiness. It’s a controversial topic in business, isn’t it? Why be happy when you could be rich? “Money doesn’t buy happiness but I’d rather cry in my Ferrari…” Am I right, guys?! However, there are so many problems with the ‘Hustle Culture’ mindset that actually we’ll probably just end up rich and dead if we carried on down this path. Sorry to be blunt.

You see, studies have shown that happier people are healthier people. One study of a group of nuns living practically identical lifestyles (aptly called the Nun Study) found that those who had more positive emotions lived longer

Another more recent study discovered that those who reported being less stressed recovered from a 4mm puncture wound quicker than those who reported high levels of stress. 

Finally, there are even studies that can predict your chance of getting coronary heart disease based on happiness data with surprising accuracy. Cheery!

So, when I say that ‘Hustle Culture’ could be killing you, I’m not lying. Unless you really are happy working long hours, not seeing your friends or loved ones, enjoying barely any downtime, and hoping your future self will thank you for that million in the bank to pay for your coronary heart disease treatment. But the truth is, money will never buy us as much happiness as time.

A hat tip here to one of my MBA lecturers, Nick Powdthavee, who has written an excellent book called The Happiness Equation that covers this in far more detail than I ever could!

So, let’s just look back at this ‘Hustle Culture’ thing one more time. We know some people love it and others hate it; there’s been a lot of talk about it over the years. But what if I told you that actually, you’re far more likely to be a ‘success’ (and live longer, too) if you focus on learning, being happy, and not working so many hours. Science certainly seems to agree with me… Do you?

P.S Don’t @ me Gary Vee.

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