There’s a prevailing idea when it comes to startups and building and running your own business.
The idea that to be successful, you need to work hard, put in long hours, and push your team to the limit as well.
Keeping up with the competition, trying to make your customers happy, your investors too, and trying everything you can to turn your business venture into a success, however that is defined.
Some companies even go as far as advertising it as normal that you can just take your work everywhere you go, to the park, to your kids’ soccer game, maybe even to the pub?
I’ve fallen into this trap, I’ve been putting in 10-12 hours per day, working from home, with my family around. The family is understanding, but that doesn’t justify these kinds of working hours.
As someone working on a product that’s used around the globe and at every hour of the day, I can relate to this idea. When production is broken, it’s handy to have something around to respond. When a customer is having troubles, I want to help them. I’m used to taking my computer with me, even during the weekends.
Adding to that, with customers only coming online when it’s the end of the business day in Europe, our support usually ramps up in the later hours, where customers come into our live chat and expect someone to help them with their problem.
Helping customers succeed is one of the most important purposes of a business, and we’re trying as best as we can to help them out.
But that thought drove me into a habit that’s hard to break free from. It’s the fear that there could be a new customer support issue every day, that there could be a new customer in the live chat that needs help.
This very habit has driven me to being on the computer from the morning to the evening hours, always waiting for someone to approach us with an issue.
It’s a habit that’s been having a very destructive effect on my work and my life, and the two are not the same.
A few weeks back, as our team grew more and more, I’ve come to the realization that working longer hours gives a bad example, not just for myself, but it sets an implicit expectation that others on the team work just as long. It’s poison for a team for even one person, in particular a manager, to work longer hours. It gives the impression that it’s normal and expected to work longer than what your contract says.
It wears people out, it’s worn me out, on multiple occasions.
We recently started doing support rotation, where everyone gets a dedicated day of doing customer support, escalating to others on the team where necessary. That gives the support person the freedom to only focus on customers for the entire day, and it gives the rest of the team the ability to focus on getting other work done.
It’s been effective for us, and it’s already improved our own tooling, our user interface and our documentation.
But I still can’t shake the habit of always wanting to help. You can say that it’s a noble habit to have, but its downsides are starting to show.
There’s a quote from Small Giants that stuck with me:
For all the extraordinary service and enlightened hospitality that the small giants offer, what really sets them apart is their belief that the customer comes second.
A company’s team is what sets it apart. That team needs to be well rested to make for happy customer.
The only way to get them to do that is to discourage long working hours.
In our company, that starts with me.
Success doesn’t depend on how much you work, it depends on where you focus your time in the best way possible.
Don’t work too hard.