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Work Hard, Recover Hard: Getting Shit Done Without Working Yourselves To Death

Intensity. Whatever you do, do it with Intensity.

Dominik Nitsch
6 min read
Work Hard, Recover Hard: Getting Shit Done Without Working Yourselves To Death
Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

Work Hard, Recover Hard: Grinding It Out Without Burning Out

Great location to figure out your next steps.

We’ve just finished our Kickoff Weekend at Entrepreneur First, which was great. It’s a program in which you have 8 weeks to find your future co-founder among 50–60 others, with whom you then develop a business together. Pretty cool, honestly.

One of the messages that kept coming up was: “You’re going to work a lot.” 60 hour workweeks are normal for founders, and if it’s 70 or 80, that can happen too.

You just gotta grind it out. If you’re working hard, work harder. Work more. Work longer hours. Put in the effort. Never stop grinding.

As an athlete, I’ve heard this message before: Put in the work. Work out every day. Train as hard as you can, as often as you can. If you want it as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.

Hustle porn is the new normal on social media, especially among entrepreneurs. “Look, it’s 2am and I’m still grinding it out”.

I’ll tell you what: yes, you are, but you’re also jeopardizing tomorrow’s and potentially next week’s productivity, while making tons of mistakes. That’s not cool.

Most professional athletes (barring gymnasts and high level endurance athletes) train for 3–4 hours a day. The rest of their time is spent recovering — getting treatments, stretching, rolling out their muscles, taking ice baths, hydrating, and sleeping, to make sure that they’re ready for the next practice or game.

If they worked out for 10 hours every day, all of them would be injured, exhausted, and definitely not ready to play.

Why do we assume, then, that it’s beneficial for us to work super long hours? Shouldn’t we treat our brain the same way we treat our body? Especially in a period in which burnout is at an all-time high?

Because that’s what you do if you’re an entrepreneur. Because that’s what you do if you’re a consultant. Because that’s what you do if you’re a leader.

Well, when was the last time that “because that’s what you do” was a good explanation?

I’ve played around with a lot of things to maximize productivity. I’ve tried different schedules (working early vs. working late, taking breaks in between, working 6 days, working 4 days), different productivity hacks (pomodoro technique, blocking out deep work sessions, using focus-enhancing sounds, …), time management techniques (automatically declining meetings, heavily structuring meetings if I have to have them, planning out your days and weeks before, …), and by far the biggest leverage point on my productivity was …

… leaving the office at 6pm.

Let me explain.

How I structure my workday

I’m a morning person, so most of my productive work gets done in the morning, ideally starting from 8:30. I try to block the first three hours to “eat the frog”, meaning to tackle the most difficult and urgent tasks of the day (which I’ve planned out the day before). After that, I check my email for the first time, do my first meeting, and eat lunch at 1pm.

Lunch is socializing & networking time, so ideally it’s spent with your colleagues (and ALWAYS AWAY FROM THE DESK), with friends or people who I want to connect with. At 2pm, it’s back to work, usually with another meeting, and it’s perfectly fine if the rest of the afternoon is packed with meetings as well. I’m a manager, after all. From 5 to 6, I wrap up all the things I still need to get done, figure out what I’m doing tomorrow and that’s it.

Everything I do after 6pm offers diminishing returns. I manage to do less and less, and at some point it tips the scale to negative returns — I start making mistakes that I have to deal with the day after. In a way, it’s like overtraining your body, where you train so hard that you lose muscle instead of gaining it.

Doesn’t sound like a lot of work time, does it? Here’s how I do it:

1. Working with Intensity

Let’s take another trip to the world of athletes. In fitness, there is a concept called “time under tension”. When performing a lift for five sets with five repetitions and a 3010 tempo (meaning that you spend 3 seconds doing the eccentric movement, e.g. going down when squatting, and 1 second doing the concentric movement, e.g. pushing the weight up), you have a total of 20 seconds of time under tension per set.

When building muscle mass, my coach puts emphasis on maximizing time under tension, meaning the percentage of time spent under tension of the total time spent in the gym.

A similar concept can be applied to the working world: what matters is your output (e.g. the time under tension), not your input (e.g. the time spent at the gym). Just because you’re working long hours doesn’t mean you’re actually producing output.

The key to producing output is intensity. Whenever I work, I try to work intensely, maximizing my productive time vs. total time spent at the office — just as I would in the gym.

Yes, this comes with a few drawbacks. You can’t have chats with your co-workers all the time. You cannot look at your phone. You cannot have 27 different tabs open. Yes, your Slack has to be on mute. No, you can’t check your email every 10 minutes.

By setting a hard deadline at 6pm, I know I absolutely have to get everything done by then. This is enhanced by having social or fitness commitments — my most productive days are the ones where I have to be at practice at 8pm sharp. I don’t want to let my teammates down. I don’t want to miss a minute of it. So I gotta get my stuff done in time.

On days where I have no plans in the evening and give myself the slack to work longer, I’m not nearly as productive — because, well, I can always do it later.

We’re always more productive when facing a deadline. Why not use that in our everyday working life?

Photo by Alexander Possingham on Unsplash

2. Recovering with intensity

As mentioned above, athletes spend the vast majority of their time recovering. Why aren’t we doing it?

“But, they’re professionals.”

So are we! And we’re not just any professionals, but as entrepreneurs arguably the people who will change the world the most. We’re in the pro leagues of office workers. Actually, everyone who is in a leadership position plays in the pro leagues of office workers.

Instead of spending all your time at the office, spend your time recovering and making sure that when you’re asked to perform again the next day (when you’re at the office), you’re 100% ready.

This includes:

  • moving your body by training, stretching, running, whatever you need to do to feel good
  • eating well (which usually requires careful planning of grocery shopping and cooking yourself)
  • sleeping well (ideally 7–8 hours a day, with a 40+% spent in REM and short-wave sleep)
  • making sure your mind is healthy (could be meditating, or taking a relaxing bath, maybe drinking a glass of wine — just making sure you’re relaxed)
  • reflecting on your job, your relationships, your life — I do this by journaling, but it could also be a conversation with a friend, or just deep thinking
  • expanding your knowledge (knowing more always helps with becoming a better performer on the job) — I do this by reading 10–15 minutes every day and listening to audiobooks or podcasts whenever I perform a mundane activity
  • and, finally, having fun! Laughing and socializing is among the best things you can do for your health :)

How are you going to do all these things when you’re working 60 hours per week?!

That’s right: you’re not going to. Recovery takes time, and it takes commitment.

But if you do recover well, you’ll be ready to perform with intensity every single day.

Just like a professional athlete would be.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’ll learn over the next months that putting in the work is absolutely necessary.

But I doubt it. It’s worked well in the past, and it may very well work in the future.

All that being said, I’m very much aware that sometimes you just have to grind it out. Sometimes a game goes to overtime, and sometimes you have a deadline that you have to meet. That’s okay, and by working & recovering with intensity you will be ready for these moments.

You just can’t grind it out all the time.

Hey, if you’ve read this far, chances are this somehow resonated with you. Try it for a month, and watch the magic happen.

It might just change your life.

Thanks for reading! If you like what you read, feel free to subscribe to my newsletter. On a not-so-regular basis, I send out emails with cool stuff I’ve read or written, and other inspiring stories I come across. Subscribe here.

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