How To Conquer The Four Horsemen of Productivity Apocalypse
“We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in.” -Arianna Huffington
A lot of the top advice on “work-life balance” angers me and probably will anger you too.
Let me explain…
There’s a concept on work-life balance that every college student has heard. It goes something like this:
Your life has different parts you have to juggle. You HAVE to sacrifice at least one of these to succeed at the others:
- Career/School Success
- Sleep Time
- Social/Personal Life and Family Time
- Health and Fitness
There are different variations of this principle, like the Burners Theory, but it’s the same basic idea. I’ve coined my own really cool name for it: The Four Horsemen Principle (it references the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, implying an “apocalypse” if you don’t handle them well).
Now, here’s what pisses me off. It’s completely FALSE.
A lot of the most read articles and content on this topic simply tell you that you have to accept that you have to give up a part of your life. This idea is ingrained into American culture: “you have to work 15 hours a day and sacrifice your health, sleep, and family time to make it.”
Ask any Sillicon valley entrepreneur or Hollywood actor. Heck, just look around at your peers and you’ll find one who brags about their lack of sleep.
It perpetuates a needless cycle of self-harm.
If you think spending time with your daughter Sally is a part of your success, then are you really successful if you’ve made millions but haven’t seen her in the last two weeks?
People think taking time to sleep or exercise takes time away from succeeding in your career. But sometimes, it helps you succeed more in your career. Don’t take it from me, take it from this guy…
The youngest billionaire in the history of humankind and founder of Facebook and Asana wrote a post about this. The “too-long-didn’t-read” summary is that he argues he would’ve succeeded with Facebook even faster if he had slept more, exercised more, and ate less junk food. He said these bad habits lead to less productivity, needless fighting, emotional outbreaks, less energy, and less focus.
What is best way to solve these work-life balance hurdles? I’m not saying I have it solved, but here are some steps to master The Four Horsemen.
Note: You don’t need to do all the steps. Every step on its own helps.
Table of Contents
Step 1: Kill Multiple Birds With One Stone
My initial response to The Four Horseman Principle was to question everyone’s assumptions.
“Can I succeed and keep all four horsemen?” I pondered.
Here is how everyone else thought:
“Life is filled with compromises. If you want to excel in your work and social life, your health and family life will decline. If you want to be fit and a great parent, then you may be forced to kill your career potential. You are free to choose which four horsemen you want, but you have to realize that you will never reach your potential for all of them.”
So I thought, “Is there a life hack I can use to destroy this flawed belief?”
Perhaps I could fuse health and work or social or family time. “What if I exercised at work with a standing desk or treadmill? What if I joined social fitness groups like Crossfit?”
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Believing that you will be healthy with a little extra standing is like believing you are a smart because you bought a book and left it on a shelf. Plus, not everyone can convince their boss to do something like this.
You can get fit while keeping in touch with friends by choosing fitness activities. You can find an active event for your family to go to rather than one where you bond over junk food. There are ways of truly mastering two horsemen in the time it takes everyone else to master one.
Step 2: Outsource Career and Family/Social — Get Someone Else To Help You.
The billionaire Sir Richard Branson was asked when’s the last time he shopped for groceries. He said he hadn’t in years. He has an assistant do it.
If your time is worth $1,000 an hour, you’ve lost out on $1,000 you could have made AND an hour of your time if you spend it on a low-level task like grocery shopping. Instead, pay someone $20 to do it for you and you’ve just bought back some of your life AND set up an opportunity to make 1,000 more dollars.
Your parents (and mine too) don’t do this because they lived with a moderate salary and it was mathematically correct to do your own groceries, laundry, car repairs, and plumbing. You end up saving more by doing it yourself. But once you start making some serious cash (which you should strive to do if you aren’t), your level of thinking should evolve.
We outsource small parts of our problems already. We buy fast food and dinners from restaurants so we don’t have to make it. We pay to have our grass cut to save time. We get our oil changed so we don’t have to learn how to ourselves.
Outsourcing bits of your life lets you buy back time and use it better. Can you use the same concept on a horseman and use that extra time to better another horseman?
For a lot of us, your career is the biggest horseman. It’s where we spend most of our time and it’s the last horseman to get ignored. Anyone can outsource parts of the career horseman.
Tim Ferriss is one example of a CEO’s who built systems to let him live a 4 hour work week. He outsources the low level work of his business so he can focus on only the tasks he can do.
Family is another example. Working mothers can outsource the family horseman by paying for a nanny. Calling it “outsourcing” might sound too corporate, but people don’t worry -it’s natural. People do this already.
Other than the obvious, think outside the box. If you’re making a lot of money, for example, but don’t have time to spend with your family, you can pay for a Fast Pass to skip the lines when all of you visit Disney World. Or pay extra to go to a less crowded area to have higher quality one-on-one time.
The benefit of outsourcing is you keep a horseman alive without using your time. But removing yourself completely has a downside. In the book Rework, the author brings up a great point: most people will end up feeling bored and without purpose after several months of sitting on a beach or playing golf all day.
Also every parent I know would rather spend time with their child than outsource it completely to a babysitter.
So what’s the lesson?
Career is the main horseman you want to outsource. Family is the one usually you don’t want to outsource too much. Partially outsourcing it is the way to go. 100% is almost always too much.
Step 3: Make the Most of Your Time
One of the most tragic things I see is that most people never reach their potential. It can be easy to make the excuse, “If only I had more time, I could get rich or get jacked or spend more time with Sally.”
One way to tackle this issue is to change your focus from wishing you had more time to optimizing the time you have. In other words, acknowledge your constraints. The question to ask yourself is, “Assuming a time limit, how can I be as efficient as possible?”
Assuming I can only work 8 hours a day, how can I make the most money possible?
Assuming I can only exercise for 30 minutes a day, how can I exhaust my muscles more in that time?
Assuming I can only spend 1 hour a week with friends, how can I make it the best experience?
This type of questioning pulls your focus towards something positive (getting everything you can out of all you’ve got) rather than something negative and unproductive (complaining about not having time).
All throughout my life, I’ve always met someone who’s bragged about getting zero sleep.
They’ll say, “I did another all-nighter to study for the test.” Or they’ll say, “I only slept 2 hours last night. I’m the CEO.”
We’ve gotten to a point in society where it’s literally glorified and looked at as impressive.
I’ve had a full college course schedule, while working a part-time job, an internship, running a high-traffic website, sitting on a few extra business courses, and still had time to sleep at least 8 hours a day and play video games. Not because I’m super human. I just did what needed to be done quickly.
I did an all nighter once just to try it out and it was a complete waste of time. Every hour that past, I got more and more unproductive as my mind turned to mush until I wasn’t doing a thing.
You don’t have to do that.
We’re all guilty of stretching out time we don’t need with long deadlines and flashy tactics. There was probably a school essay you had to write where you ended up doing the whole thing the night before. You didn’t need the 6 month window.
For me, it’s the Fitness Horseman. I’m guilty of stretching out a workout to take over an hour when it should only take 15 minutes.The fitness YouTube AthleanX (over 1 million subscribers) says that “if you work out right, you can’t work out long.” This is because it doesn’t take long to do exhaust your muscles if you do it right.
Step 4: Have Different Seasons
Break your time into seasons. We naturally do this already, but being aware of it can make you better at it.
What if, instead of chasing a perfect work-life balance, you divided your life into seasons that focused on a particular horseman?
Think 100% success at 2 horsemen and 80% success at the other two.
The importance of your horsemen may change throughout life. When you are in your 20s or 30s, it can be easier to exercise and develop your career. The health and career horsemen are galloping. The sleep horse is dying (literally) because maybe you’re building a visionary business and have hard-working competitors.
A decade later, you might have a baby and suddenly, the fitness horseman slows down a bit while your family horseman starts sprinting. Another decade passes and you visit old friends you put off. The Social horseman starts trotting. And the sleep horseman is a welcomed friend.
My whole point is that you can master all the horsemen. It’s not impossible. Therefore, don’t take this too far and start creating a season of 0% all horsemen but the Career horseman. That would negate the whole point I’m trying to disprove.
I am simply saying that there are moments in your life where compromise may be inevitable because you are doing something game-changing. Here are a few examples:
- Elon Musk sleeping 5 hours a day and working the other 19 because he’s building a tech start-up in a billion dollar industry against tough competitors in a fast-pacing industry.
- Will Smith working through lunch and the weekends to become one of the world’s most respected actors.
For average to above-average people, it’s totally possible to master all horses. For game-changers and visionaries, a season to life could be useful.
For people below average, a season can simply be an excuse.
We all know someone who is failing at every horseman because he’s staying up way too late to play the 5th hour of a video game and watch more Netflix.
Where are you right now?
Step 5: Decide When Enough is Enough For A Certain Horse
Set a specific number of dollars you should hit when enough is enough. For example, many travel hackers say that you can live like a king across many countries with $50,000 a year because of the low cost of living. Maybe that’s your magic number.
Without a definitive number, it can be an endless chase for money, fame, or awards.You never know when to get off the Career Horseman and spend some time on the others because enough is never enough.
Cara DeLevigne, Oprah Winfrey, Jessica Alba, Alicia Keys, and Lady Gaga are some of the most followed stars on Instagram and Twitter. They’ve all taken time out of their lives to speak to women about needless career exhaustion from chasing needless additional career success.
Cara’s speech emphasizes one of the biggest lessons I’m trying to spread: Modern society has made us think that wealth and fame will bring you happiness. Science has shown that it’s just a small part. Don’t kill yourself from exhaustion just chasing these while compromising on everything else.
There’s plenty of other successful celebrities who have come out with this revelation after learning the hard way, but this message doesn’t seem to spread. Most of the younger generation are still enamored by the idea that overwork is the only way to go.
Ask yourself if childhood memories are creating false beliefs you hold to.
If you had a lack of opportunities when you were young, that memory often pushes you to take on more opportunities than you can handle.
Cara is a great example. She used to have a very difficult time getting any opportunities until the world suddenly fell in love with her iconic eyebrows and she had more than she could handle. When her thighs started manifesting spots from exhaustion, her modeling agency shipped her off to a hospital for a quick-fix of needle injections (instead of letting her rest).
Maybe your childhood imprint is something different. It could be a chase to prove something to your parents that was (and never will be) satisfied.
These women all emphasize two big points that they had to learn the hard way:
- Be willing and comfortable to say “no” to requests.
- Modern society over-hypes the happiness and results that career, success, wealth, and fame will bring to you. Don’t sacrifice too much to chase more and more of this.
This doesn’t only hold true for the career horseman; it holds true for all of them.
The multi-millionaire behind Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington, wrote a book on sleep called The Sleep Revolution after she collapsed from exhaustion from overwork. In the book, she argues that everyone should get at least 7 hours of sleep a night for optimal performance.
As far as family time is concerned, I’ve realized that there is a clear threshold where relatives (teenagers especially) are tired of seeing you. In fact, they’re annoyed by your presence. You become the overbearing, embarrassing parent or sibling.
Sometimes adding more family time adds diminished returns because they’ve seen more than enough of you already.
Learn to dial it back to focus on other horsemen when it’s clear this horse is getting overfed. Does your child really need your fourth hour of “family time” for that day? Is three enough when you’ve been doing this everyday of the week for years?
Step 6: Make it A Priority and It Will Become One
Gary Vaynerchuk said in an interview that he never missed a game of the Jets even during the busiest time of his entire life. During that time, he was literally building a 100 million dollar wine company and working 12 hour days every day of the week. H
ow? He made Jets games a priority no matter what.
Ever hear a girl or guy you like say, “I didn’t have time to text back.” You knew instantly that it was a lie.
In the back of your mind, you said, “I don’t care if you’re falling off a cliff. If you really like someone, you will make time to text back.” We all know it.
It’s the same principle with each horseman. If you tell yourself “I will sleep 7 hours today no matter what”, you will. Making more money can wait.
And it truly can. You don’t need millions of dollar to pay for shelter and food. It can wait.
It is possible to master all four horseman of the work-life balance Apocalypse. There will be occasional times where you may have to compromise but that’s really for the hustlers who are trying to change the world.
We all know someone who sucks at all the horsemen: they stay up until 2am, aren’t doing well at their job, haven’t seen their family (or any friends) in months, and don’t know what a gym is.
We all know someone who is exhausting himself by working 13 hour days at work and assuming that’s the only way it can be.
Perhaps it’s not that simple. Maybe you can achieve the same results by working more intelligently.
Finally, I know people who seem to have most or all the horsemen mastered, like online entrepreneurs John Chow or Pat Flynn:
They drop their kids off at school everyday.
They can take hours off work every day if they want.
They make more money than 99% of people on earth.
They run 5+ miles a day.
They sleep like a baby.
This just proves that it’s not always a “this or that” situation.
If you make it a priority, it will happen. Rather than assume you have to kill a horseman, ask yourself if you can manage them better.