In today’s generation, there is so much pressure to “hustle” (what some people call Entrepreneurial Porn), that it is leading people to believe you need to be constantly busy in order to be successful.

However, this mindset is literally killing thousands of people each year, and is not actually helping them do their best work.

In this video, I show a simple technique to measure if your work and ideas are actually helping you get closer to your goal.

The curse of Busyness

Many startup incubators around the world love a word which has taken on a new meaning in the recent decades: hustle.

They take it to mean that entrepreneurs and innovators need to be constantly working to build their businesses, no matter what it takes. If that means sleeping under their desks, filling their bodies with energy drinks to work that extra hour into the night, and forego weekends in order to focus on building their dream, then it is just replicating what their martyrs like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Gary Vaynerchuck all did to get where they are now.

Startup accelerators and co-working spaces even bring this mindset of “you can sleep when you’re dead” into their branding. See below an example of what is carved into the cucumbers in a water dispenser at a WeWork office.

The issue here is not that young entrepreneurs want to be successful. The issue is that they are fetishizing a dangerous confusion behind working long hours and actually being productive.

The New York Times has a wonderful article entitled Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work?

Well worth a read.

As we have previously seen, most people are actually productive for less than 3 hours in a working day.

Even worse, people believe that if they don’t “work hard”, it will reflect negatively on themselves, and people will judge them as not trying everything, either to make their dreams come true, or in some cases, to just be doing enough.

In many Asian countries, there is an epidemic of people literally dying or committing suicide due to overwork. In some situations, people are working more than 150 hours a week (That is 21+ hours a day including weekends…). Japan even has a word for this: Karōshi

For many innovators, it may not necessarily come to that extreme, but they are foregoing some of the very things which may make their startup ideas successful: the creative ability to overcome challenges, and the mental health for ongoing wellbeing.

One of the most seminal pieces of research in recent years on the link between creativity and work was done by Theresa Ambile and her colleagues, and it found the positive correlation between happiness on one day, sleep, and coming up with good ideas the following day.

If you are literally working yourself to burnout, you will not be as creative as you think you are.

And that caffeine you think is helping your productivity? It may actually be doing more harm than good.

So what can you do to be both creative and productive?

I always advise a simple exercise with my clients:

  • List out the challenge you are trying to solve
  • List out which idea you will try to solve it
  • Try that idea on one day (or over several days)
  • If that idea didn’t work, note that down, and try a different idea!

Repeat the process until you have solved the challenge, but importantly, learn from each idea attempt, instead of trying the same idea over and over again.

After all, Einstein once said the following:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

So instead of just being busy, instead use your creativity to work towards making progress.

And don’t ever forgo your mental health. Sleep makes your work better and more creative. As does spending time with friends and family. Don’t forget that.

What do you think? Is hustle culture detrimental to people and their productivity, or necessary to inspire people to get off their asses and create something? Let me know in the comments below.

Did you know that scientific evidence shows your creativity decreases over time

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Creativity & Innovation expert: I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love. Chief Editor of and Founder / CEO of Improvides Innovation Consulting. Coach / Speaker / Author / TEDx Speaker / Voted as one of the most influential innovation bloggers.