Once upon a time, when I was right out of college, I sold insurance. I was essentially a technologically enhanced door-to-door salesman. Email and cellphones gave me a slight leg up on Willy Loman. Although, if you can’t already tell, I didn’t particularly enjoy the job, I did learn quite a lot from it.
A direct commission worker, like an insurance salesman, doesn’t get paid for his time in an office, he gets paid for production. We weren’t ever supposed to be in the office. “The money is out on the road” they said. Since we had no defined hours nor defined salary, most new reps like myself tried to work as many hours as possible. I’d start my work day at 7:30 to get ahead of everyone else and keep working till 7 or 8 at night. In fact, we’d often brag to each other how much we worked. “I was hustling 60 hours last week,” “That’s nothing. Last week I put in 85 including Saturday and Sunday.” Then about a month into the job we had a regional conference where one of the top managers dropped a line that changed the way I looked at work forever:
I don’t care how much you work!
You put in an 80 hour week? That doesn’t impress me. You know what impresses me? The guy who can produce as much in only 20 hours. The effort you put in doesn’t benefit anyone. What matters is the value you put out.
In our culture we mistakenly value suffering. “Oh hey look at that guy sweating at his desk. There’s a huge stack of papers in front of him and his phone won’t stop ringing, he must be an integral part of this company” OR “Look at her schedule, pilates, work, kids’ ballet, makes dinner, takes night classes,” she must be so awesome. There certainly is value in effort. You don’t get any output with out input. Because of this, many of us think that as long as we’re busy, we’re productive. That’s not true. In his 2010 TED talk, Jason Fried spoke of how relatively little work get’s done at work. Don’t be busy for busy sake. That doesn’t benefit anyone. What matters is the value you put out.