Why I Work 90 Hours Per Week

Derek Personal Stuff, Work & Travel 60 Comments


I’m not quite sure I can remember the last time I did what I did yesterday. To sum it all up, I did nothing at all. Honestly, up until 10:17pm last night, my day had not even existed.

After enjoying a deep, ten-hour sleep the night before, I awoke yesterday morning at 10:30am. I proceeded to take a shower and prepare myself for what has become my typical day as of late. Sitting down at the table, I turned my laptop on and began going over a mental list of things that needed to be done. However, before I even managed to log into my gmail account, something peculiar occurred. I inexplicably rose from my chair, walked over to my bed and collapsed onto the mattress.

For a few minutes, I just lay there staring at the ceiling, but eventually, and despite having just woken up from such a great sleep, I caved in and closed my eyes.

And then….I woke up at 7:15pm.

At that point, thinking that I surely had enough rest, I tried to stand up, but I failed, several times in a row, due to some slight dizziness and a complete lack of motivation to even walk. So I remained in bed for three more hours, unable to do anything but lay still.

Finally, a bit after 10:00pm, I managed to successfully rise to my feet, drink some iced tea and begin my day.

Am I ill? I don’t think so.

I’m quite sure that I was simply exhausted.

SPENDING ALL DAY WITH MY LAPTOP

Even though I’ve been living in Mexico for most of the past year, I have not spent my time here traveling around or exploring as much as I normally do. The idea of living here was to find a place where I could concentrate on my work for a while, work which involves maintaining a couple of streams of online income and attempting to create one or two more streams as well.

As a result, my daily schedule, especially during the past four weeks since my return to Mexico after a visit to the US, has involved little more than quality time with my laptop.

Working 12-16 hours per day has been the norm. Earning an online income is clearly not the result of waving a magic wand, and even after two years, I’m repeatedly shocked by how much constant effort, focus and learning is required. Nothing is ever finished, there is always more work to be done. And as soon as I think I can take a break, it’s time to write a blog post, which happens to be the activity that I love the most but which I have been able to spend the least amount of time on as of late. Couple that with the increasing number of other blogs that I love to read and sometimes I wonder how I’m even managing to find four hours to sleep each night!

Over these past four weeks, I’ve barely exercised, barely stepped foot on the beach, barely done much of anything that hasn’t been work-related. I work at home in the mornings, then I move to an air-conditioned cafe to avoid the mid-day heat and I return to my apartment once the cooler night time air arrives. I then repeat the process over and over again, seven days a week.

SHOULD I BE WORRIED?

Naturally, this style of work keeps me on the brink of complete exhaustion, which I am aware is not a healthy state of being. I know that when my arms start vibrating with electricity as if they have become an extension of my laptop, I should be a little worried. I know that when I try to fall asleep and all I can think about is html code and javascript for two hours, I should be concerned. And every time I forget to rinse the shampoo out of my hair because I was deep in thought about what color the text should be on page 76 of my new ebook, I’ll admit, I should take that as a sign to change my habits.

Yet, I continue this pattern, day in and day out…

To an extent, this method has worked well as I’ve accomplished an incredible amount over the past month – building websites, writing ebooks and generally improving my streams of income. With much of this work out of the way, I’ll be able to start concentrating more on Wandering Earl as well as my next adventure.

As a result, when I woke up yesterday morning and realized that my seemingly never-ending list of ‘work to be done’ has actually started to shrink, my mind and body decided it was finally time for me to rest. The final gate was opened and the intense exhaustion was allowed to drown the rest of me, forcing me to do nothing but lie down in bed and shut down.

WHY LIVE THIS WAY?

If any of you have ever wanted something so badly that you would sacrifice certain aspects of your life in order to achieve that one goal, you’ll understand. I live and breath travel, to the point where just hearing a foreign language or using a foreign currency  is enough to bring a smile to my face. For me, the highest of highs comes from opening my door and walking out into a street so culturally different from where I grew up that my senses are instantly heightened and my mind is mesmerized, as if I were a child discovering the world for the first time.

At the same time, there’s no way I’m going to keep doing this for an extended period of time. I have a lot of work right now but at some point, there will be a dip, I’ll re-organize some things and I’ll end up with a more sane working/living routine. And then I’ll get back into a healthier lifestyle where I’ll be more efficient with my work.

After all, being a digital nomad and having travel as part of my work should keep me more motivated to do things right than if I was back home in an office. It’s why some companies take extended tropical retreats, inviting their entire workforce to spend time and work on a different tropical island every year. How can one not be extra motivated and efficient when work is mixed with travel?

And that’s why, if such an intense month of work every now and then can help me extend my global adventure, even for an extra week or two, if it can help me continue traveling and learning and exploring this world first-hand, than I’m willing to carry on for now. I might have exhausted myself to the point of near collapse today, but I do so in order that tomorrow I will be able to return to India, to explore the Middle East, to continue doing what I want more than anything during my short time on this planet.

Photo: Orphan Jones

Does this sound crazy or does it make a little sense? Do you make certain sacrifices in order to have an opportunity to pursue your goals in life?

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Comments 60

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  3. HajraHur

    Hey Earl, I heard about you from a friend i met while i was travelling a few months ago, it is only now that i started reading about your travels. Im from Pakistan. I fell into the backpacking-travelling world accidently. It was a goal-oriented travel and after meeting a lot of backpackers in South east asia i decide to travel/research.
    Its been 4 months that im back home, started working, same mundane routine but extremely itchy feet. My folks call me an idealist whenever i talk about travelling, a big no no in their dictionary. Reading about your custom’s incident after your Af/Pak visit could just be an example of how Pakistani citizens are treated at the border every time we travel. But one-day i know ill start doing it again. Keep the blogs coming, they are very informational and travelers can relate very well to everything you say.

    1. Earl

      @HajraHur – I have no doubt you’ll get back into the backpacking soon enough! If that’s what you truly want to be doing, then there is no reason why you can’t figure out a way to make it happen. The opportunities exist, we just need to go out there and find them. I appreciate the comment!

  4. TAE40110

    It’s good to know I’m not the only one!

    I’m taking steps to deligate more and hire contractors/staff to assist.

    It takes a major load off your shoulders when you find the right person to help you in your business.

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    1. Earl

      Hey Anil – I’m working on the workaholism! I often find that with earning income online, there is a never ending list of seemingly important goals and so it’s hard to find some time to actually fit in some rest. But of course, none of these goals are as important as taking care of our bodies, which I’m now well aware of….

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  7. Maria Staal

    Hey Earl, it’s been a few days since you wrote your post and I hope you have caught up on your sleep a bit.
    It’s truly amazing how much time earning money online and keeping up with all the interesting blogs cost. I totally recognise it.
    I have the ‘luxury’ of working a ‘proper’ job three days a week, which usually means I don’t spend any time on my laptop during those days. But it does mean that I have to catch up on the four days that I don’t work. This can be exausting, so every now and then I just ignore my laptop and do nothing for a few days. It helps me getting focussed for my next four days off, when I usually manage to do a lot more.
    So there is no shame it doing nothing for a while. I think we all need it and it helps us.

    1. Earl

      You’re absolutely right Maria. Taking time away from the laptop helps us work better when we finally do sit down in front of it again. When we’re on the laptop all day, every day, it’s difficult to keep the mind fresh and motivated. It’s also interesting how a ‘proper’ job can keep help keep things balanced for you. Few people look at it that way, but it makes sense!

      I have been catching up on sleep the past few days and spending a much greater portion of each day outside, away from my computer. And it’s made a huge difference so far!

      1. Maria Staal

        I’mm glad you have found a bit of a balance this last week in work and relaxation!
        Sometimes I find my proper job annoying, as it keeps me from getting on with what I really want to do, which is writing. But then I realise that it is more healthy for me to be forced out of the house every now and then and interact with people and concentrate on someting else for a while. Luckily I do like my proper job, but as it requires concentration and intelegence, I can’t zone-out and think about writing while doing it. This in turn frustrates me a bit, so I can say that I have a love-hate relationship with my proper job. 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Sandra – Thanks so much for your comments and I can definitely see how continuing such a pace would lead me down a dangerous path. This past month was probably the most intense month of work I’ve ever had. However, I have slowed down now and I don’t plan on returning to that sort of pace at all. It’s been hard to re-group after only 1 month, so I can’t imagine how difficult it would be if I carried on like that for a longer period of time! And I don’t want to find out!

  8. Fabian | The Friendly Anarchist

    90 hours per week… wow. I think it’s probably a question of preference, when it comes to online work, isn’t it? If I get you right, you prefer doing a 90 hour week now and then relax for a couple of months in India tomorrow. On the other hand, someone else could put in just 20 hours a week permanently, and avoid the extremes, if he was happier wiht that. Or wouldn’t that work with your business?
    .-= Fabian | The Friendly Anarchist´s last blog ..Good Reads- Countryside Edition =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Fabian – That’s exactly it. Normally, over the past 2 years, I’ll spend a couple months working extremely hard so that I can ease up quite a bit and enjoy my travels for a while. I much prefer that method as the less work I have to do while traveling, the less my head is filled with html and other stuff that takes away from my travel experiences. But of course, everyone is different and everyone should choose a method that works best for them.

      My websites don’t require constant work, but if I want to continually improve them, as well as the products, and try to promote them as much as possible, a true break from work is virtually impossible…

  9. Brandon Pearce

    It sure does take a lot of dedication an persistence to reach goals like this and I totally understand because I worked every spare moment I had on my on-line business, too. I’m pleased to say that it’s worth every effort, though. I’m now working 5-10 hours a week on my business and have plenty of money for my desired lifestyle. It’s awesome!! At some point you might want to look into outsourcing some of your work, or you may always find yourself this busy. 🙂
    .-= Brandon Pearce´s last blog ..A week in Jaco =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Brandon – I certainly hope to get to that point of less hours overall, as that has been my goal. At the moment, I do put in all of this intense effort for 1-3 months at a time and then typically I am able to do some traveling for 2-4 months while only having to work about 5-10 hours as well. So it doesn’t stay like this every single month…the past year has been an exception as I’ve been working on a few new projects.

      I have done some outsourcing as well but I when it comes to writing new material for an ebook or building a website, I prefer to do it on my own. Smaller tasks I will definitely begin outsourcing once I have these next couple of projects all set up….

      Thanks for your great comment!

  10. Jennifer Barry

    Hi Earl, I admire your honesty about how hard the online thing can be. I didn’t comment at first because I’m not the type to give adults advice. However, I am worried about the pace you are on. I worked a lot in my 20s and now I couldn’t even do a 90 hour week if I tried because my immune system can’t handle it anymore.

    I am glad to see you are catching up on your sleep. Maybe now that you are making headway on your tasks you will have time to go outside and really enjoy Mexico. With the amount of work you are doing, you could be on your computer in a Mexican restaurant here in Dallas and have almost the same experience!
    .-= Jennifer Barry´s last blog ..Exploring Uruguay =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Jennifer – Very true, I could be in a Mexican restaurant in Dallas. That’s a ‘good’ way to look at it and a good reminder that I should change my habits a bit.

      And trust me, your advice is always welcome. Everyone has had their own experiences in life and I’m definitely open to learning from what others have been through or the knowledge they’ve gained. You’re absolutely right, I doubt I could maintain this pace for too long and I don’t want to try and see how long I can do it for either.

      But the last couple of days have been excellent and I think I’ve snapped out of that super-intense work mode, now that some of my major tasks have been completed. It is indeed time to some more exploring down here!

  11. Alan

    “I live and breath travel, to the point where just hearing a foreign language or using a foreign currency is enough to bring a smile to my face. For me, the highest of highs comes from opening my door and walking out into a street so culturally different from where I grew up that my senses are instantly heightened and my mind is mesmerized, as if I were a child discovering the world for the first time.”

    Amen brother. Great post. Keep up the good work. All your hard work will pay off!
    .-= Alan´s last blog ..Creating Iconic Guides with Dr Benedict Davies =-.

  12. Shannon OD

    I hope you are feeling better now! That kind of exhaustion can really take a toll on you and you dont even realize how close you are until it’s there. I remember I missed a hugely, enormously important class I was TA-ing in college because I had taken on to much – a job waiting tables, PA work on a film, my full class load, and then agreed to teach a class one morning. I fell asleep in the parking lot for hours and missed the class….but I also learned that sometimes no matter how much I am trying to accomplish that there are limits and I need to find the little ways to relax and still get it all done.

    I admire that you are working so hard for your goal of staying on the road and that you’re honest about just how much goes into all of this internet business! 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Shannon – You fell asleep in the parking lot? That’s exhaustion alright, but understandable with that jam-packed schedule you were trying to keep up with. I like what you said about making sure we find ways to fit in some relaxation because even one 30-minute break can help us re-energize and avoid a meltdown.

      So I guess the point is, when you get to Bali next week, don’t spend every waking hour of your time surfing! Make sure you take a break every now and then 🙂

  13. Audrey

    No matter how hard we try, our bodies will eventually just shut down and get the rest it needs when we push it too much. I actually find that a bit comforting – nature still trumps all.

    When people hear about what we’re doing or what other digital nomads are doing, I often here “Oh, you mean the 4-hour work week.” That image is so far from the truth. Most people I know in the business of making money online put in a lot of hours…and there are no guarantees that those hours will return in lots of money. There’s always a risk that it won’t. I find your honesty about how many hours you work to keep doing what you love very refreshing.

    Hope you’re feeling better and are chipping away again at that to do list!
    .-= Audrey´s last blog ..GPS Data Logger Review- Geotagging Photos- A Hardware Update =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Audrey – That is a comforting thought actually. Although it’s probably not such a good idea to test nature too often, so I think I’ll try not to reach that level of exhaustion again anytime soon!

      And thank you for bringing up the risk factor involved with such online endeavors. That’s another aspect of the reality that doesn’t seem to get mentioned as often as it should. It’s quite easy to work yourself to the point of exhaustion for weeks or months and then not see a single positive result of your efforts. It’s all part of it, and anyone looking for that instant 4-hour work week lifestyle should definitely consider these risks before get started.

      I am feeling better now by the way! Just needed two good nights of sleep and a walk on the beach 🙂

  14. Gray

    I can so relate to this. I’m working FT and blogging on the side, but I literally work from the moment I get up in the morning until I force myself to go to bed at night, 24/7. This is the reality of trying to make a living online. There’s nothing “passive” about it.
    .-= Gray´s last blog ..7 Things About Travel That Stress Me Out =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Gray – That’s an intense schedule you have, although I’m glad you’re able to force yourself to go to bed each night. Sometimes I do the old, “just five more minutes and then I’ll sleep” until half the night goes by. And I fully agree that earning “passive” income takes an incredibly non-passive amount of effort, something that seems to be left out quite often when such opportunities are discussed.

  15. Kirsty

    When I first read the title of this post I was thinking ‘hrm… I wonder what Earl does for work? Investment banker? Lawyer?’ and then I read the first paragraph and realised that you do the exact same thing as me! And then I realised that I put in crazy hours too, without even knowing it!

    I just took stock of my last few weeks here in Kigali where I’ve stopped for awhile to catch up on work and it looks like I’m up around the 12 to 16 hour days as well. It’s crazy that it took this post for me to realise that.

    I can totally relate to you. It’s a lot of work but it’s something I love to do and, like you, I think of the payoff of being able to do what I want, when I want. For now for both of us that’s travelling but even down the road if the feet stop being so itchy, being able to devote my time to whatever I want with a passive income machine chugging away in the background is a powerful motivator.

    Thanks also for highlighting the amount of work it takes to be successful at this. I think I might steal the idea and write a post of my own. I’ve got so much work to do that I don’t have the time to think of original blog posts! 😉

    I think I might go inquire about joining the gym and maybe tomorrow I’ll sleep in!
    .-= Kirsty´s last blog ..The Fine Line Between Bragging and Inspiring =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Kirsty – It’s amazing how we can work 12-16 hour days and not even realize it! It’s so easy to get drawn into the work, especially when the accomplishment of every task seems to lead to another 30 tasks that need to be done. There’s just never enough time to do everything we need to do. But I like the idea of joining the gym, or perhaps participating in some more hash house harrier runs!

      And if stealing the post idea will help you get some more work done, go for it! That’s hilarious, but I can relate and perhaps I’ll have to steal an idea from you in the future if I get overwhelmed again 🙂

    1. Earl

      Thanks Erica, I think your relaxing thoughts worked as I enjoyed another 11 hours of sleep last night!! I might ask you to send such thoughts my way again in the near future!!

  16. The Yakezie

    Earl, I think you just described what I’ve just gone through for the past 3 days in preparation for the launch of Yakezie.com!

    Damn, I’m exhausted! So much preparation and planning, and a lot of follow up work to do to make sure the wrinkles get ironed out.

    But, I realize that hard work is necessary in the beginning at least, and that’s not something I’m afraid of.

    Hope to read about your Yakezie Lifestyle Member Post at some point! The que has run into October 18th already, so you have a lot of time!

    Best,

    Sam

    The Yakezie

    1. Earl

      Hey Sam – Hopefully you get a chance to rest for a bit at this point. But of course the work doesn’t really stop, not if you want to achieve certain goals. I’m glad that you’re willing to put in the required effort though, and congratulations on launching the site!!

      I’ll get my post up there as soon as I can!

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    1. Earl

      Hey Nick – That last line is solid advice. With earning income online, it’s never-ending and so even though I may say “I’ll work on my projects for a year and then continue exploring the world”, there’s still work to be done after that year is over. So I do have to almost force myself to snap out of work mode and enjoy these beautiful corners of the planet that I find myself in lately!

  18. Randall

    It’s a great post about reality. Thanks for taking the time to make it real. Nothing worth while is easy and you have accomplished a lot.

    I am just beginning to learn how to make money online. Keep up the good work and thanks for keeping up the blog, I really enjoy it. I read the post when you were in Afganistan and couldn’t stop reading it! You have a great style.
    .-= Randall´s last blog ..I’m Homesick For a Philippines Fix =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Randall – I appreciate your comments and I’m thrilled that you’ve been enjoying the site. It seems like you already understand the challenge of making money online and if you understand that at the beginning, you’ll be much more prepared to stay focused and see it through until you reach your goals. And if you can make it happen, the effort is definitely worthwhile!

    1. Earl

      Thanks so much Mark. Sometimes I do wonder if it’s all worth it but every single time I end up reaching the same conclusion – it definitely is!

  19. Nate

    Agreed on a couple of the comments above. Definitely take care of yourself!! I definitely understand the hard work and I think it’s awesome that you enjoy what you do so much that most of the time it may not seem like work, but definitely listen to your body. Don’t be afraid to take a few days off, or take a break for a few hours in-between..hmmm, this kind of sounds like a lecture and I don’t want it to sound that way. So, it might be better to state that you’re an awesome person and I really like what you’re doing and I don’t want to see you literally pass out for a whole day from exhaustion. 🙂
    .-= Nate´s last blog ..Making Friends With Your Fears =-.

    1. Earl

      Hahaha Nate! Now that was an interesting lecture. I certainly didn’t expect it to end up where it did, but thanks! And I know where you were headed, which was to offer some more perfectly sound advice that I should heed immediately. I’d prefer to avoid passing out in the future as well…

      Now I really need another Vipassana retreat!

  20. Andi

    I totally understand your drive and I find it inspiring, but definitely don’t forget to take breaks and to take care of your health my friend! You should make it a priority to take a 20-30 minute walk along the beach every other day. Imagine what kind of blog posts you could think of while breathing in the ocean air. 🙂
    .-= Andi´s last blog ..Brasil- Day 1 Part 1 =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Andi – I took your advice today and went for a one hour walk on the beach and it made a huge difference for the rest of my day! Gracias amiga!

  21. Moon Hussain

    Earl,

    Your health comes before anything. Easier said than done, I know. Just when you think you’re done for now, there’s that blog post you need to write 😉 Though I enjoy writing for my blog.

    Make sure you allocate a day or two that you don’t touch the computer at all and you go out exploring. Don’t get sucked into working the whole day or sitting in front of that laptop…. it will suck the life out of you 🙁
    .-= Moon Hussain´s last blog ..A Personal Update- 2 Months After the Move and Then Some =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Moon – I absolutely love writing for this blog, so even if I’m exhausted, I don’t mind doing some writing at all. But you have an excellent point about spending a day or two away from my computer completely and focusing on the place where I am actually living. I’m sure that time away would also help me to be more efficient during the days when I sit down to work…

      Sounds like you’re speaking from experience! Glad to know you survived to talk about it!

  22. Jeremy B

    I can complete relate!! I can’t tell you how much sleep I have lost working my FT job and writing (which has also become full time). I’ve been up 24 straight hours before working and writing. My average night, I get about 5 hours of sleep lately. It’s tough to do but worth it.

    For me, it’s about the passion. That’s something I am writing about on my blog. It’s a series about job satisfaction and the process it has taken me to find it. So I can completely related to your work schedule. 🙂
    .-= Jeremy B´s last blog ..From humble beginnings to international travel entrepreneur – an interview with Andy Hayes =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Jeremy – I’m glad you can relate. 24-hour work stints are not the most enjoyable at all, but if you have your eye on a final goal, like you said, it can be worth it. It’s also great that you enjoy your writing so much. Being in that ‘groove’ can be a feeling like no other!

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  24. Bessie

    Now that’s an honest post. It’s funny when the “secrets behind it all” start to come out talking with other travel bloggers. It’s amazing how much time it can take, and that it’s not always glamorous. How do we balance travel & blogging & working. Well, sometimes we don’t, and yeah, I do live in all these dreamy places, but honest, I work, and it takes time.

    Thanks for putting it all out there, and kudos to you to working hard for what you care about!
    .-= Bessie´s last blog ..A Place to Call Home =-.

    1. Earl

      Sawatdee Kawp Bessie! You said it perfectly – “sometimes we don’t” balance it all. You’re right, sometimes it’s just too much and we need to take a couple of steps back to ensure we don’t hit the floor and never get back up. The amount of time required, for most of the long-time travelers I’ve met at least, is no joke at all. I’d hardly describe such a lifestyle as glamorous at all!

  25. Laura

    Wow, you must have been truly exhausted to sleep that much. 12- 16 hours a day staring at a computer screen can definitely do it. But I hope (and assume) it will all be worth it when your new projects are a success 🙂 Good luck!

    1. Earl

      Hey Laura – I’m quite certain that I was more exhausted than any other time I can remember the other day…I’ve now limited my time in front of the computer to about 5 hours per day for awhile just to regain my sanity. And thanks for the good wishes about my projects, I hope they work out well too!!

  26. Dave from The Longest Way Home

    Now there is an article and a half. Great way of putting online Earl.

    Yes, sometimes it can get the better of you. If you are in Mexico and your skin is loosing color, then something is not right.

    Yes, I know this feeling all too well.

    I broke my ass for years to get this far, and now it’s starting all over again.

    All I can say is, download a one hour podcast. And every morning go for a run, or walk or whatever. Somehow, fitness helps to set priories with the addiction of laptop lifestyle. As does getting up and turning off at the same time.

    It’s hard to do, I know, but it works.

    Dave
    .-= Dave from The Longest Way Home´s last blog ..Why did I spend 2 years in The Philippines =-.

    1. Earl

      Thanks so much for the advice Dave. I finally did get some exercise in today and plan to do so every day from this point on. As you know, remaining on the road can nearly break us at times, but there’s also a reason why we choose to continue traveling. I know it will work out in the end, just another obstacle to overcome for now!

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