10 Lessons I Learned Working 17 Hours a Day for 15 Months
How I debunked myths, discovered surprises, and broke things
I started making money online at 17, landed my first job at 20, bought land & built my family home from scratch at 24. This isn’t a post to flex and brag or glorify working twice as much as others. You’ll find that this is actually the opposite.
Our family home took about 2 years to fully complete. I didn’t win the lottery. I didn’t find million dollars buried in the ground. I didn’t land a $500K job. Everything was average except for hard work. I had $2,500 to my name when I started and a promise of a big cheque which never arrived.
1. You can go further than you think
We are our own biggest critics, the serial killers of our own dreams.
The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it. ― Jordan Belfort.
I always thought I was pushing my limits and giving my best. The problem was, I had no clue about my limits. Just like I had no clue when that check was going to show up. I started out with little money in hopes that my monthly salary will keep up with the costs.
I quickly learned I was wrong and money went like clouds on the wind. I needed more. So I started working more. At first, it was 10, then 12, and eventually 17 hours a day.
I took several freelancing projects on top of my job and worked like a machine. It was painful. Everything hurt all the time. But after about 2 weeks, I got used to it.
That was unexpected for me. I didn’t feel as lethargic anymore and my efficiency started going up. And that’s when I learned that no matter how hard and smart you’re working, there is always some way to get even more out of your time.
2. A loving family’s support is irreplaceable
Family… A group experience of love and support — Marianne Williamson
There is no way I could do it without my family. They were supporting me in every way. They prepared meals and my mother even hand-fed me while I was working to save me extra minutes. My brother took on all the external activities which saved me hours of mundane chores. They also continuously reminded me that it had been days since the last shower :D
If you are thinking about going all-in on something and you don’t have a support system, you won’t get far. A family’s love is irreplaceable.
3. Time management flourishes
Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort. — Paul J. Meyer
You don’t know how much time is being flushed down the drain until you start trying to make the most of your day. There are countless tiny hacks and bits, apps, and tools that can save you time, help you be more efficient, and overall push forward faster.
I learned that all the advice and tools in the world are worthless until the day you take action and start putting all the advice to action. Don’t worry about how something will become possible. Have some faith because you’ll find many ways to get more done when you really want to.
4. Things can break, including your health
When moving at a blazingly fast pace, things will break. You’ll have a hard time looking back a few months and believing how terrible your work can be. You’ll push code that will have bugs. You may end up spending more time fixing bugs than it took you to create the thing in the first place.
He who has health, has hope; and he who has hope, has everything. — Thomas Carlyle
The most important aspect of it all is your health. After COVID-19, it is far likely that if you are reading this, your work involves sitting behind a keyboard. When you are sitting for long hours and so doubling your risk of terribly breaking your health.
Health is the reason I never advise anyone to try to go further than 10 hours. I suffered the consequences and I don’t want the same for you. Only work the length that your body and brain can handle.
5. Busy and productive are separate things
I was always thinking about making more money to feed into the never-ending expenses whole of building a home. Hence, even when I wasn’t really producing anything, I tended to stay in front of the laptop. I kept pushing myself even when my body was screaming at me.
Work expands to fill the time available for its completion
It took me some time to realize that plenty of hours that I spent in front of a screen, weren't actually work. I implemented a time tracking approach and everything changed.
A time tracker allows you to see exactly how much time went where. This helps in cutting down or doubling down on the things as needed.
Another solution is to ask yourself: am I producing something or just being busy?
When you’re just being busy, take a break. Refresh yourself. Your body, mind, and work will thank you when you return with a fresher head.
6. Automate grunt work or suffer the consequences
There is always going to be grunt work. You may think “oh! it is just a few minutes here and there” but they add up in the long run. 15 minutes a day can seem innocent but it becomes 7.5 hours per month and 90 hours per year. Not so innocent now huh?
Where there is grunt work there are also ways to automate it or at least develop procedures that make it easier to go through that phase.
If you know how to code, automate your research, or publishing process. If you are a writer, create a template to jumpstart yourself without staring at a blank screen. If you are an artist or designer, have a catalog of stuff that inspires you. Start with the inspiration and move forward.
Remove the blank page step.
7. Paycheck to paycheck life is a nightmare
Salary is the strongest drug and keeps hooked even the smartest people. It gives us a false sense of safety. We feel like the money we get every month is going to keep coming no matter what. We buy stupid shit and spend money on stuff without a second thought.
“Oh! that’s fine. My salary is enough to cover it”.
Then before you know, all of it is gone before the end of the month and you sit wondering where it all went. That’s how it was for me but for a different reason. I bit far more than I could chew and now I had to keep up with it.
I had no filters in between. I clearly saw how terrible the idea of paycheck to paycheck was. I made a promise to myself to start saving right after I’m done building my home. I’d suggest you do the same. Save some money even if that is a little bit.
If you can’t save $10 or $20 now, you won’t be able to save anything even after you become a millionaire.
8. Sustainability is debatable
Hustle culture glorifies working all the time. It makes you want to be part of the new trendy norm. However, in reality, this isn’t for everyone. We’re all built different and not everyone has the capacity to go 18 hours a day. We might be able to do it for a short period of time but the overall sustainability of such an approach is highly debatable.
A better option is being consistent and patient and pushing forward at your own pace. You’ll have made more progress chipping away at something slowly but consistently compared to burning bright for two weeks and then burning out.
9. Effects stick afterward
After I had stopped working longer hours, I still hated opening up my laptop. I dreaded mornings and the idea of spending 8 hours sitting in my chair. Despite my effort to drag myself to my workspace, I wasn’t able to perform half-decent. I wanted to escape. My brain had enough.
This phase lasted for months afterward. It started to heal but slowly. I had to try different approaches like switch my work times a bit, change my work area, change what works on among other things to keep going.
Hence, if the thought of running high for 15+ hours crosses your mind and you ignore all the advice thinking you only plan to do this for a few months, keep this in mind. You may have to pay the price for months afterward.
If you want to work longer hours that’s your choice. I’d only implore you to ask yourself if you’re making this choice out of necessity or because it is cool or some guru called it a “must”? I’d also suggest that you make this choice with self-awareness of your physical health and mental stress handling capabilities.
I wish you all the best and hope you succeed in whatever good thing you decide to pursue in whatever way.