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Debates about hustle culture miss the point

It’s hard to go a day on Twitter without finding another discussion about hustle culture, hard work, and the ethics of asking employees to go above and beyond.

There are generally two camps of opinion on this:

  • Pro-hustlers: Working super-long hours and putting in 110% effort is necessary to building anything valuable.
  • Anti-hustlers: Working super-long hours and putting in 110% effort is toxic, unhealthy, and leads to poor performance.

Would it surprise you if we said that neither are painting the real picture?

The “pro-hustlers” are wrong in the sense that most people’s brains are probably only capable of doing about 5 hours of focused knowledge work each day.

They’re missing the fact that it’s intense focus that makes great work, not long hours.

Four hours of intensely-focused work will often equal fourteen hours of unfocused work.

The anti-hustlers are partly right.

But, it’s still true that most founders work 12+ hours a day and many startup employees work 50–60+ hours per week.

Most successful people work long, difficult hours, at least to start—and the same can be said for many marketers.

So where does this leave us?

Insight: Most debate about hustle culture is meaningless, because it devolves into the same trappings that ruin most online discussion—oversimplification.

Sure, 12-hour days might be necessary for some people to succeed at some companies. Others might be raking in the dough working only four hours a day.

We focus on doing great work… or at least, what we consider to be great work.

Sometimes that means some extra “hustling.” Sometimes it’s more relaxed. But, in the end, it’s not about hustling at all; it’s about doing focused work.