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Posted on by Mike

Are Entrepreneurs Workaholics?

Often the term “entrepreneur” and “workaholic” are considered synonymously.  Should they?  The short answer is, “no”.


I recently attended the Greenwich Village Chamber of Commerce monthly networking luncheon.  The room was filled with 42, very energetic entrepreneurs.  One of the gentlemen at my table described his work style as “always on”.  He described a sign in his dining room that said, “No Work Allowed”.  So he told me he simply takes his laptop and moves to the living room.  So while it might be easy to criticize this seemingly out of balance lifestyle, it’s important to look further.

I observed the wide-eyed enthusiasm, the passion and energy.  This guy was not exactly slaving under a heavy yoke.  He was jacked.  Also, he was not a “twenty something”.  He was in his early forties and had been doing this for more than 10 years.

So is he making a bad choice?  Hard to tell.  I thought about the artist that locks into his/her vision and works tirelessly and relentlessly.  Or the proprietors and shop keepers of times gone by.  Or the NGO doctors and nurses that don’t turn off.  Some of the non-stop workers take the position that they are engaged in a “life’s work” or a “labor of love”.  If this is true (not a self lie or rationalization), the choice is actually life giving.  The “work” in this case is less of a “job” and more of a “mission”.

I Live For Vacation

One of my clients owns a very successful professional practice.  He leaves home at 9:00AM arrives at the office at 10:00AM, does his work and leaves by 5:00PM to always be with his family at dinner.  He takes several vacations per year.  While this seems like an ideal working environment, a look deeper reveals significant dissatisfaction by this business owner.

So despite achieving business success this client has fallen out of love with what started as his “life’s work”.  Clearly, working long, hard hours would be a very poor choice that would increase his disillusion and possibly injure his health

Just 4 Hours?

I learned about Timothy Ferriss’s book, 4-Hour Workweek from another of my clients wishing to start a brand driven, products company.  His goal is to work as few hours as possible so he could maintain his current lifestyle.  He asked my opinion if this was possible.  Given his business ambitions, 4 hours per week would not cut it, regardless of how much he outsources.

This entrepreneurs is pursuing the other extreme, setting the bar as low as possible by attempting to work as few hours as possible.  His wishes remind me of most multi-level marketing schemes that promise great wealth and fail to deliver.

Mother of Four

Another client of mine focused on her start-up business knowing that the “sweat equity” required would require long hours at the start.  She understood that this would likely threaten her more important roll as “Mom-in-Chief”.  So while she was very driven and enthusiastic about her new business, we coached her to compensate for initial intense work sprints by asking the “Dad-in-Chief” to step up for extra family duty for the first 6 to 9 months of her new business launch.

This entrepreneur approached the challenge honestly and with the most balance.  We helped her compromise by slowing down her planned profits by hiring sooner than necessary so she could ease back on the “non-stop” approach.  This behavior would contribute to the sustainability of her business.  Also, as part of her business plan we asked her to sit down with her husband and children and tell them about her plans and actually ask them to accept the short term sacrifices she was asking them to make for her success.

One Size Does Not Fit All

These episodes are real.  The individuals described here are clients that MGG Consulting is currently serving.  How long or hard entrepreneurs work varies greatly and depends on their motivations, vision and goals.  I agree that with very young start-up business owners, the chance of them getting into non-stop mode without thinking is high.  When I see that, I’ll risk the facetious statement like, “We need to set up a special account for your new business”.  They ask, “What’s that?”  My response is, “We’ll need to set up an accrual account for the divorce attorney.”  They get the message.

So how many hours per week an entrepreneur choses or must work is very much up for grabs.  I believe that the answer really depends where the heart is.  That is, if one is passionate and “in love” with their work, sees it more of a mission than a job, then working “non stop” may well be the way to go, especially in the early stages of growth.

If, on the other hand, the entrepreneur is balancing other priorities or worst still is blindly driven by a “just get it done” mindset then “non stop” work will be destructive.

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