Pay the Danegeld, Never Be Rid of the Danes

I barely read any productivity blogs any more, but once in a while, in the context of something else, this unwelcome sentiment will pop up:

“There are more than 8 productive hours in the day! Why aren’t you using them?”

Words cannot express how dangerous I find this idea. For starters you are not a machine. There’s simply no way to maintain total productivity across a full day. And even if you could, it’s inefficient.

The Dangers of Drone Work

What do I mean by that? Well, okay, you have a finite amount of mental and creative energy in a day. So if you work past the point when that mental energy is used up, you’ve got to do drone work. By that I mean like the small, administrative or maintenance details. You’re going to do things like answer emails, dust your desk, put away your stuff, play on social media.

None of those things are bad, per se. I’m not going to argue that you should spend your most productive hours on that.

But if you have more than an hour of that kind of drone work a day, you’re most likely doing busywork.

Work for the sake of working, just to satisfy some kind of Puritan work ethic is COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE. Drone work is neither rest nor play and after a certain point, it has no benefit for your business, either.

Unsustainable Effort is Still Unsustainable

The second short-sighted thing a lot of people will do is double-down on their commitments. They’ll decide it’s worth working 12 or 15 hours a day “for a little while” if “that’s what it takes to get traction.” It’s not that this doesn’t work– it does. But it leaves a legacy of problems in its wake.

For starters, the one thing I’m always wary of is drumming up business before certain things get in place. If you’re unsuccessful, you wasted time that would have been better spent putting the proper infrastructure in place. If you’re successful, you now have a ton of work, and when, exactly are you going to put that infrastructure in? And what’s going to fall through the cracks because the infrastructure isn’t there?

There’s only two reasons to do this: One is if you need the cash immediately. The second is if you need a deadline to light a fire under your ass to implement this infrastructure. (No shame. We’ve all been there).

The second legacy is that after working long hours, you’ll need a rest. Do you have plans for said rest? Set in stone, non-refundable reservations plans? Because sooner or later, your body is going to make you rest. And before that happens, your productuvity is going to take a nose dive.

The third legacy is the hardest to shake. “Pay the Danegeld, never be rid of the Dane,” is an old saying about the dangers of appeasement and avoiding the tough decisions. If you deal with your commitments by working harder, longer hours, or sacrificing more important things in favor of the loud and immediate, you are in danger of paying the Danegeld. And once you start paying the Danegeld, the status quo is even harder to shake because you are already impoverished by it. Make the hard decisions now and cut back.

Your Choice Is The Hard Decision Now, or the Harder Decision Later When You’re Tapped Out

This idea that you should make disadvantageous trade-offs of intangibles in return for mediocre tangibles is sick, sick, sick. It embodies what’s wrong with Westernized business. It’s certainly true that what gets measured gets managed, though, which is why you should check in with yourself and pay good attention to the mental background noise of your life. Are you happy? Fulfilled? Engaged? What’s working? What isn’t? What’s the plan? These conversations with yourself are crucial. If you don’t have them, suddenly paying the Danegeld feels like the rational and reasonable thing to do–

When have you been tempted to pay the Danegeld? How did you talk yourself out of it?


9 thoughts on “Pay the Danegeld, Never Be Rid of the Danes”

  1. I’m fighting with this on a daily basis. I routinely work beyond my max productive hours and end up mindlessly poking around social media or something. I’ve been trying — and am gradually gaining traction with — capping my “work day” and deliberately giving myself things of a different flavor to do in my “off” hours. One of the luxuries of not trying to fit my own business in around a day job…

  2. Somehow, my chronic overachiever syndrome has been on break for the last year or two. When I was doing that big event earlier this year, I had this idea of “paying the Dannegeld” by working really long days so I’d have some time to spend on my business… but I never did it because I just needed the sleep too much. So maybe it’s “lack of discipline” but this isn’t a problem I’m overly worried about. In the context of this article though, I feel like this is a great thing. 🙂 Thanks, Shanna!

  3. I used to be one of those 12-15 hour days or more and take work home with me. Yeah.. I can get obsessive about work. Since I started writing I’ve calmed down a lot though. I’ve actually learned to be satisfied with 4 hours of real work per day. I guess I just figure if I’m making progress that’s good enough and over time, it is.

  4. I’ve been staying up an extra hour to two hours a couple of times a week over the past two months. The reason? To do more work to gain the traction I need to get my business to the point where I can continue it (or have this wonderful experiment potentially shut down by the realities of life).
    I fought really hard against this for about 16 months and finally decided to give in, ya know, “temporarily.” I’ll be forced to stop not when the sleep deficit catches up with me, but rather by a second son coming into this world within the next two months. Yet, I’ve already seen the dangers creeping in of working more and sleeping less just for a “little while.” I’ve made a conscious decision and I’m working on (pun intended) making sure this additional work doesn’t snowball into even more. That’s the vicious cycle we can get stuck in, huh?

  5. michaelwroberts

    This is always a source of struggle for me. I always think I can push hard enough to make something amazing happen, yet it never works out. It’s the steady work that adds up to something decent. And even though I know that to be true, I’m still tempted to spend just a few more hours.
    Between all the posts I’m reading this week, I’m definitely getting the message on prioritizing. And I’m glad. I always need the reminders.

  6. I play many roles and at one point in my life I elected my role as Treadmill Guy to be the President of My Life. His rule: When in doubt, work harder. I love working 16 hours a day. (I think of conversation, tennis, cooking, design, client calls, teaching, writing, reading, gardening, and singing as work so I’m always working. Yum.) Treadmill Guy is super handy when it comes time to meet a deadline, but I fired his as President, and his rule has been banished.

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