Theory 107… The Exaggeration Theory

“There’s no reason why the truth should get in the way of a good story”… I think that’s an old saying I once heard from my grandfather as he was talking about Paul H. Dunn.  Funny thing is that my late grandfather was a master story teller himself, who may have been guilty of an exaggeration or two. But don’t we all exaggerate?  The answer is  YES… and usually we exaggerate about the same things. Take for instance… HOURS WORKED PER WEEK.  It’s my theory that people, almost unknowingly, misstate their work hours more than any other thing in life… with the possible exception of their “actual weight” on their drivers license.  Brilliant and educated people will inflate HOURS WORKED PER WEEK by as much as 50% or more and not even realize that it takes almost superhuman stamina to work 80+ hours per week – even if you have an easy desk job.

A few years back I was having a casual discussion with some colleagues when this very topic arose. One guy immediately piped up and, without hesitation, claimed that he worked 90+ hours each week at his job. Two others claimed they worked more than 70 hours per week for their employer. I was the only scrub who worked 40 hours… and I actually felt like a lazy underachiever for a few moments until my internal BS meter started flashing as I added up the hours in my head.. Turns out, in order for my friend to be working 90 hours per week, he would have to be averaging nearly 13 hours of work every single day…including weekends. That means going into work at 8am and not coming home until after 10pm (if you take an hour for lunch). No Friday date night, No mowing the lawn on Saturday afternoon, No church on Sunday morning. SORRY – I DON’T BUY IT. Unless you’re being filmed for some reality TV show, and counting nearly every waking hour as work… you’re probably NOT averaging more than 13 hours per day, seven days per week (or anything close to it).  Just so happens, the very week I had this conversation… I spent about 5-6 hours with the guy who was claiming to work 90+… and he was neither working nor filming any sort of reality TV.

Truth is… most of us work somewhere between 35-50 hours per week and often exaggerate the number by 25% or more. The bureau of labor has actually done some analysis and discovered the more hours we work, the more we tend to exaggerate. Even those handful of notorious jobs with killer hours (such as investment banking, big legal, medical residency, etc.) may at times be 60 – 80 hour-per-week gigs… but not legitimately 100+ hours per week on a consistent basis. Often times these “killer” jobs involve being on-call or available at all hours of the day and night… but the workloads can fluctuate significantly. After all, are you really working if you’re watching a movie in the company lounge?  What about lunch or dinner with a co-worker or client? Or… my personal favorite… taking a nap on a flight… does that count as work?  The lines can get a bit fuzzy, but I maintain that unless you’ve somehow miraculously found a way to multitask as you eat, commute, shower, and shave…..  it’s pretty darn close to impossible to work a 100 hour week.  Yes… even I-bankers sleep in on Sunday morning!

Somewhat recently I worked a job where I was consistently averaging 48-50 hours per week. I found it to be a difficult and taxing job as I typically worked at least two, and sometimes three twelve-hour-days per week. Yes, it may have felt like I was working 60-70 hours per week, but when I added it up, it was always a bit less. I guess it’s just human nature to exaggerate… but I find it funny that HOURS PER WEEK is a statistic that’s so inflated by so many people.  I guess it’s just an easy and somewhat unverifiable number for us to speak macho about in a society where it’s unacceptable to brag about your income. But if you’re one of those folks that’s claiming you work 90 (or even 80 or 70) hours per week…  let this little blog post be a friendly reminder for you to either a) stop exaggerating or b) get back to work!