You Can’t Work 168 Hours a Week

It's impossible to work 100+ hours a week. At some point, you need to outsource the work you do so you can focus on gaining time back. Here's when to do it.

A cornerstone of the Afford Anything philosophy is that every choice you make is a trade-off, and that applies equally to your time and your money.

What works should you do yourself? What should you outsource?

So what do you do about outsourcing? On one hand, the more you outsource, the more you trade money for the most valuable possession on earth: time. That itself is a pretty strong argument for outsourcing as much as you can.

On the other hand, your money is limited, and if you want to Afford Anything, you have to trim back from spending on things that aren’t your Big Priorities.

So how do you decide what to outsource and what to do yourself? Here are couple of questions to ask yourself before you pull the spending trigger:

#1: What Else Would I Do With This Time?

If you’re a freelancer or consultant who charges $80 an hour for your services, it doesn’t make sense to wash your own dishes … until, of course, you consider the fact that you can’t work 168 hours a week.

At most, you can work 40-60 hours per week of sustained, focused effort. (I’d argue that the number is closer to 40.) The more excess time you spend at work, the less productive you become. You’re better off spending fewer, more focused hours working. Then go home and unwind by grocery shopping, cooking dinner, washing the dishes, reading a bedtime story to your kids, and doing all of those other “mundane” tasks.

Yes, you could send someone to buy your groceries for you, at a rate of perhaps $15 an hour. So if you earn $80/hr at your job, the math doesn’t make sense … until you accept that the human mind is limited. Our focus and concentration is finite. We’re not robots. We’re better off spending fewer hours at the office.

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time you give it. Spend fewer hours working, and you’ll be able to do more in less time.

#2: How Much Will Slowness Cost?

Buying a rental house? Every month the property sits vacant, you’re losing money. If doing-it-yourself takes five months and outsourcing it takes only two months, you’ve “paid” three months’ rent by refusing to delegate. That’s a lost opportunity cost.

On the other hand, if you want to fix part of your own personal house, and there’s NO financial benefit from getting the job done fast, there’s a stronger argument for doing-it-yourself and taking your leisurely time.

#3: How Much Will Sloppiness Cost?

If you’re dealing with something technical or complex, and fixing your mistakes will be costly, you may want to enlist an expert.

Why do you think I bought my house at such a steep discount? In part, because the previous owner insisted on doing a lot of fix-it work himself. I’m sure he Googled “How to …. XYZ.” But he lacked experience, and his shoddy work made the house worse, not better.

His self-inflicted DIY damage brought down the price of his house. Lose-lose situation for him.

#4: Does This Drain My Energy? Or Re-Fuel Me?

There’s a very strong argument for outsourcing the massive drudgery that tires us down rather than re-fuels our energy. At a certain point, scrubbing the baseboards behind your toilet is a waste of your time. If you can live a more satisfying life by outsourcing that task and spending the extra hours with friends/family/volunteering, do it. Your life is valuable. Don’t waste it scrubbing toilets.

(Important! ONLY outsource this if you’re already financially stable. That means you’re free from consumer debt and you’re investing massive heaps of your money towards buying your way to financial freedom.)

#5: Can I Earn More By Outsourcing This?

If there’s one area in your life where I’d argue that you should outsource the most, it’s at work. After all, your mental bandwidth is limited. Hire people to execute your tasks so that you can focus on top-level growth. It’s a fantastic way to spend money.

Wealth is built by teams. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t say, “You know, I can build Facebook by myself. I’ll personally answer every customer email. Just imagine the money I’ll save by not hiring an assistant!”

Steve Jobs never said, “Who needs developers? I know how to program.”

“But Paula,” you say, “my company isn’t as big as Apple or Facebook! I just run a little design/writing/marketing business!”

Yeah, and your company will always be little if you insisting on doing every last iota of your work in-house. You realistically cannot work more than X number of hours per week.

Once you have even a little bit of income coming in, reinvest that money into buying more hours in which you can grow your business. And don’t feel guilty about going home at 5 pm.

A lot of people try to circumvent this by working insane hours. “I can work 100+ hour weeks!,” people tell themselves. “I’ll never see my family, never exercise, and only eat bowls of cereal at my desk. But I won’t be outsourcing anything!”

That’s insane. It’s not sustainable. You’ll burn out. And I bet you’ll spend at least 20% of your time putzing around on Facebook or Twitter or e-mail, pretending to be productive while you’re secretly stressed and procrastinating. (Ask me how I know!)

Limit your hours, outsource at work, and value your time.

The key to Affording Anything is recognizing that outsourcing is an investment, just as much as buying stocks or houses is an investment. But you have to be strategic about it. Otherwise, you’re not getting a good return on your investment.

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  1. says

    Great thoughts… and very helpful criteria for deciding when to outsource and when not to. While some push to outsource everything possible and others push the other direction, this seems to describe a healthy middle ground. Thanks!

  2. says

    Totally agree: we did a kitchen reno on our rental house and thought we could get it done ourselves for about 1/2 the cost of hiring it out. Unfortunately, I didn’t figure in my husband’s busy work schedule + recreational activities and it didn’t get done for 6 weeks costing us that much in rent. If we had hired it out, it would have been done in 1 week and rented immediately. Lesson learned!

  3. says

    My average work year is about 6 months. Some years I work more than 6, some less, the average is always 6.

    I don’t outsource anything — I sew what I can by hand, do my own dishes, cook, clean, grocery shop… because instead of looking at my time as a “lost investment” if I am not working, I understand two things

    1. I’m not a robot
    2. I enjoy doing mundane tasks because they give me pleasure and I have time

    If always thinking about my time is a problem and I would rather work than spend it with my family or friends, then I shouldn’t even be reading your blog, on the internet, emailing, going out to see people, and I DEFINITELY should take on 2 more jobs in the interim.

    I really hate it when people give blanket statements like: “My time is worth more, I’m going to outsource it, and work instead and you should too” — without thinking about what that really means as each person has a different situation.

  4. says

    I think these are some very good points. I hire out work on my rentals, that I am very qualified to do. I would never do that on my own home, for reasons stated above.

  5. says

    I hear so many people say that they outsource their cleaning because their time is so valuable. Its only valuable if you otherwise would be doing something useful with it! Great point about outsourcing when you’re trying to grow your business.

  6. says

    Timely article!

    I finally broke down and decided to outsource a couple of articles I’ve been procrastinating about to write. I’m trying out this outsourcing company on a trial basis after reading a few good reviews about them. I’m hoping my first experience is a good one!


  7. says

    There’s also the perspective of how much will learning this skill aid me in the future. Mr. PoP hates toilets (working on them). But he started with the ones in our house, learning how to make repairs as needed, and now between our house and the rental properties we own (and others we look after), Mr. PoP is in charge of 11 toilets. There was definitely a cost in investing the time to learn the skill, but it’s one that will pay dividends for many years.

  8. says

    I received this piece of advice from a wise friend that I never forgot: Someone can take your money from you, but nobody can ever take away your skills.

    It was a light bulb moment for me and from then on I always focused on acquiring more skills.

  9. says

    Just this afternoon I turned over a big chunk of my lead gen tasks over to an Elance contractor. Now that I’ve done it I’m wondering why it took me so long – it’s simple, routine work that sucks up a bunch of my time and took almost no time to pass over to someone else.

  10. says

    Number 2 is an extremely valid point… I know too many people who buy rental properties and waste months and months of potential rent by ‘saving money’ doing it themselves!!

    • says

      @Savvy Scot — I made this mistake with the first Foreclosure Property I bought. We did some of the work ourselves, but of course we were limited to evenings and weekends, which meant it took us a LONG time to get the house rent-ready. Did we actually save a dime? Probably not, once vacancy is taken into account.

  11. says

    I’ve been thinking a lot about outsourcing lately. I’d really like someone other than myself to clean the baseboards. 😉 I just don’t have the time or energy to do it when I could be doing something productive!

  12. says

    I just came back and re-read the post, but with a different slant. You can’t work 168hours a week, you can’t even work 40 hours a week, forever.

    At some point in all our lives (and I mean ALL) we have to trade our primary source of income from what we do (labor) to what we own (investments).

    And so part of all the money we make from our work (or business) has to be invested in order that some day there will be enough that the income from those investments will be sufficient to provide for us…

    Great post!

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