A Man's Life, On Virtue, The Virtuous Life

The Virtuous Life: Industry

This is the sixth in a series of posts on Ben Franklin’s 13 virtues.

industry.jpg
Photo by Lewis Hine

Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.

If you spend any time on the web, you probably have heard of Tim Ferris‘ book “The Four Hour Work Week.” In the book, Mr. Ferris sets out to show people how they can spend far less time working and thus have the freedom to design the lifestyle of their dreams.

Basically, what this entails is outsourcing as many menial tasks as you can to some person in India so you can have time to travel the world pursuing your passion. While I think Mr. Ferris makes some good points about being more effective during your time at work, his premise that people should seek to avoid work completely through lifestyle design never sat well with me. Here are five of my beefs with “The Four Hour Work Week:”

1. How can leisure have any meaning in the absence of work? Oftentimes I crave a break from work, and when it finally comes, the first week of relaxation is fantastic. The second week is also enjoyable, but after that it gets a bit old and boring; I start to feel antsy and once more want to be engaged in doing something useful. By being industrious, when you actually get a break, it feels fantastic. You can’t have the sweet without the bitter.

2. Who will do the work when everyone wants to live the “Four Hour Work Week?” The idea of avoiding work just isn’t tenable. Sure, right now it’s possible to outsource work to some worker in India, but what happens when that guy in India wants to outsource his work so he can “lifestyle design?” Perhaps he will outsource his work to someone in Vietnam. But what happens when that person in Vietnam reaches a level of prosperity that allows him to live the dream? And meanwhile here at home, who will be our teachers, doctors, and lawyers? Who will fly the plane when we want to go gallivanting around the world? Oh yes, those poor souls who never bought the book.

The whole idea of shifting all your work to someone else is elitist and undemocratic. The implication is that the only people who will work are those who are not clever enough to have escaped from it. Why is work beneath you, but okay for other people?

3. Hard, and sometimes unpleasant work refines your character. If you outsource every unpleasant job to someone else, how will you develop the virtues of persistence, endurance, and self-discipline? Every arduous task that you complete strengthens your ability to deal with hardships in the future. If someone close to you dies, you won’t be able to outsource your grieving, and if you become sick, you can’t outsource the will to get better. If you have spent your life avoiding hard work, will you have the mental and emotional strength to deal with a crisis you can’t pawn off on someone else?

4. Work encourages personal responsibility. When you choose to do things yourself, you take ownership of the task at hand and thus the results of that effort. If you outsource your work to someone else, you may avoid having to take the blame if something goes wrong, but you also rob yourself of the joy and pride of success when things go well.

5. “The Four Hour Work Week” sets a bad example for your children. What does it teach your kids if they see that every time dad has an unpleasant job to do, he makes someone else do it? Outsourcing your work sends the message to them that every time you are faced with an arduous task, you should give up and let someone else do it for you. If you’re running for class president, why bother coming up with a campaign and making posters? You can just get someone else to do it. Being harassed by a bully? Don’t face him down….just hire someone to kick his ass for you.

The Case for Industriousness

Develops self-respect. Putting in an honest days work lets you look at yourself in the mirror without feeling ashamed. Think back to the last time you wasted an entire day playing video games. Sure, it was fun while you were kicking ass at Halo, but when you finally turned off the machine at 4 AM, how did you feel? If you’re like me, you probably felt like a useless bum. You realize that you spent an entire day doing something that didn’t contribute to making you or the world around you better. You have certain gifts and talents that should be shared with others. But when you waste the gift of time, you show that you are content to dwell in selfish mediocrity. Fulfill your true potential and make every hour of your existence count.

Do not live useless and die contemptible. ~ John Witherspoon

Fights Depression. Idleness may not be the devil’s playground, but it is quite possibly depression’s romper room. Have you ever known a man who was unemployed for a long period of time? Chances are he sank into a depressed funk. Men are wired to want to feel useful, to make and provide things for others. Deprived of work, men often feel lost because it robs of them of a sense of identity and purpose. Work provides a reason to get up each day and a sense of accomplishment.

The last time I went camping, I took a hike along a beautiful stream. I noticed that the parts of the stream where the water moved the fastest ran pure and clean. The parts of the stream where the current slowed and stalled were stagnant and cloudy. It is the same with life; to keep ourselves happy and motivated, we must always keep moving. Otherwise we will languish and become depressed.

More time for family and civic engagement. I have a friend at law school who has three kids. He’s always working and makes use of every minute he’s at school. I asked him once how he does it and he told me, “Every minute I waste here at school is one minute less that I’ll have time to spend with my kids when I get home.” By getting his work done at school, my friend is able to focus himself completely on his family when he gets home.

In addition to having more time for family, by being industrious you’ll have time to devote to your community. Developing the virtue of industriousness not only frees more time for civic involvement, but it also helps develop the work ethic needed to contribute to the public welfare. Community projects don’t get done by a bunch of lazy bums. It requires people who are proactive and on the move.

How to be Industrious

Plan. Before you go to bed, sit down and plan the next day. One reason people flounder around and waste time during the day is because they don’t know what they should be doing. You can avoid this by scheduling your day out. Find a system that works for you. Some people like to schedule every minute of the day, while others just like to have a list of tasks that need to be completed. Some people like online or digital planners, while others like paper based planning systems. Personally, I use a paper based planner that I designed myself using Excel. I like to plan exactly what I’ll be doing at each hour of the day. It helps keep me focused and on task.

It’s amazing how much you can get done if you’re always doing. ~ Thomas Jefferson

Eliminate distractions. While I don’t agree with Tim Ferris’s call to outsource every unpleasant chore in your life, I do like his suggestions on eliminating needless distractions. One suggestion of his that I like in particular is batching your email. Instead of incessantly checking your email hundreds of times throughout the day, pick two times during the day to check and respond to email.

If surfing the web is a major time sucker for you, turn off your Wi-Fi or disconnect your Ethernet cable while you’re working. If you have Firefox, you can block certain websites for a set period of time with Leech Block.

Have a worthy goal. You will always naturally spend your time focused on what your goals are at the time. Think about it. Why do some men spend hours a day playing video games? Their goal is to either beat the game or beat other players. They play nonstop until they accomplish their goal.

Imagine if these men had more lofty goals. Instead of wasting their time trying rack up more kills on a video game, they could be out improving their fitness through exercise or learning a new skill that will help advance their career.

Set worthy goals for yourself. A worthy goal is one that will make you or the world around you better. After you have written your goals down, carry them with you at all times. I have a section on my daily planning pages where I write down my goals each day. You don’t need a planner to do this. Just write your goals down on a 3×5 index card.

Every time you make a decision on how you’re going to spend your time, stop and ask yourself, “Will this action bring me closer to my goal?” If not, don’t do it. This will take some work and discipline in the beginning, but after a while it will become natural. Instead of wasting your precious time in frivolous pursuits, you’ll be focused on the things that will make you more productive and industrious.

Implement the 48/12 rule. Being industrious is good, but if you’re a human being, you’re going to need breaks to avoid a mental breakdown. One way to ensure that you get the breaks your mind and body needs is to implement the 48/12 rule in your life. Under the 48/12 rule, you work nonstop for 48 minutes. All your focus is on the task at hand for those 48 minutes. When the 48 minutes is up, take a break for 12. Surf the web or get up and go for quick stroll outside. As soon as the 12 minutes are up, get back to work. You’ll be surprised how much you can get done in a day by implementing this rule.

Find ways to be industrious, even in leisure. When you have time away from the work that earns you a living, make use of your leisure time by pursuing activities that will make you a better man. True recreation is an activity that leaves you energized and ready to take on the coming week. Instead of spending time sacked out in front of the TV watching the VH1 “I Love the 90s” marathon, find activities during your leisure time that will rejuvenate you.

The idea is to stay busy, but at much more relaxed pace. Remember that the longer you sit around and do nothing, the harder it is to get yourself motivated when you actually have to work. Avoid the rut by staying busy with relaxing, yet constructive recreational activities.

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