The Case for 14-Hour Workdays — Why New Entrepreneurs Should Embrace the Hustle Before Seeking Work-Life Balance

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There’s a lot of talk in the entrepreneurship space about work-life balance and the value of protecting your personal time to avoid burning out — for good reason!

Despite that narrative, I also believe there’s value in going all-in on your business in the early stages of growth. Think of it like planting seeds in a garden. You’re putting in extra effort upfront to reap the rewards later.

For bootstrapped businesses where every dollar (and hour) counts, committing to a fast-tracked schedule can be valuable. Elon Musk put it this way: “You just have to put in 80- to 100-hour weeks every week … if other people are putting in 40-hour work weeks and you’re putting in 100-hour work weeks, then even if you’re doing the same thing, you know that you will achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve.”

Here’s my take on 14-hour workdays as a founder, why long days have value when you’re first getting started and how to scale down your workload as your business grows.

Related: 5 Entrepreneurs On What They Gave Up To Get Their Business Off the Ground

The work-life balance myth for founders

Work-life balance is undeniably important, but it’s not always practical in the early days of starting a business. Certain phases of a business demand longer hours, while others allow for more flexibility and personal time.

As an entrepreneur, you have the freedom to choose how and when you work, but you also bear the ultimate responsibility for your success. When your livelihood and your business’s future are at stake, embracing the hustle can provide the necessary momentum for early growth.

In the first year or so of Lemonlight’s life, my typical workday looked something like this:

  • 6 a.m. – 10 a.m.: Quiet project-focused work from home

  • 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.: Meetings, team time and other office priorities

  • 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.: Break, eat dinner and take some personal time

  • 6 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Closing out the day’s tasks, planning for the next day

Of course, I realize this schedule isn’t feasible for everyone. I was in my twenties and free from major responsibilities when I founded Lemonlight, which made it easier to give work my full attention.

Additionally, much of my “work” at the time involved brainstorming and planning with my co-founders — activities that I honestly enjoyed. This overlap of work and fun kept me energized along the way.

Benefits of 14-hour workdays

Considering marathon workdays for your budding business? Here are a few of the key benefits to consider.

1. Accelerated progress and profitability

Let’s start with the most obvious benefit: Working extended hours lets you get things done faster. Progressing more quickly allows you to learn about your business, implement those learnings to boost results and ultimately reach profitability sooner.

If you need to reach a viable business model ASAP — as most businesses do — committing to the hustle is often worth the effort.

2. Cost savings

In the early stages of entrepreneurship, funds are often limited. By taking on more work yourself, you can save on hiring costs. As a bonus, you’ll have firsthand experience across many areas of your business when you do start hiring.

3. Leveraging early excitement and energy

When you first start a new venture, your excitement is a powerful motivator. Take advantage of that early fuel while you have it, then allow yourself to slow down as your ambition ebbs and flows over time.

Related: No Pain, No Gain in Startups: Short-term Suffering Leads to Lasting Rewards

How to scale down

If you choose to embrace 14-hour workdays for your business, remember that you’ll have to pull back eventually. As your business grows, maintaining the hustle will naturally start to feel less sustainable.

When the time comes, here’s how you can gradually reduce your workload without the business taking a hit.

1. Delegate one department or team at a time

Start by delegating responsibilities to trusted team members, but focus on one department or team at a time. Delegating tasks often involves a bit of a learning curve for both you and your team members, so take it slow for a smoother transition.

2. Focus on a top goal

14-hour workdays can be especially effective at helping you prioritize a variety of business goals at once. When you scale down, you’ll likely have no choice but to narrow your focus.

To get ahead of this constraint, identify one “top goal” for your business and concentrate your efforts on achieving it. This singular focus will help streamline your tasks and reduce the need for long hours.

3. Keep a clear to-do list

When you can’t just churn through your tasks day in and day out, you’ll probably encounter a backlog. Find a to-do list system that works for you, and keep up with it at all costs. I like the Eisenhower Matrix to help me prioritize based on urgency and importance.

4. Invest in team autonomy

Finally, focus on developing your team’s skills and capabilities to operate more independently. Investing in their growth and autonomy will make it easier for you to step back without compromising the business’s performance.

Related: Bill Gates Says Startup Founders Should Not Take Weekends or Vacations in the Early Days of Building a Company

While I no longer work regular 14-hour days, I don’t regret the time I invested during Lemonlight’s early stages. Those long hours laid the foundation for our success and provided invaluable lessons.

If you’re in the early stages of your business and working extended hours, remember that this phase won’t last forever. You’re not wrong for temporarily sacrificing work-life balance for the sake of your business!

I think of 14-hour workdays as a temporary, but often necessary, phase in the entrepreneurial journey. They’re a powerful tool to get your startup off the ground, and with careful planning and delegation, you can transition to a more balanced lifestyle as your business matures. Embrace the hustle now, and your future self — and business — will thank you.

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