Joshua Krohn

Standards: Work to Live

Out of all the Core Standards at Focus Lab, “Work to Live” is my favorite but not for reasons you’d expect. Working to live means that while we’re at work, we work...HARD. In the office, we trade in our time, talent, and experience for hard-earned dollars. But when we leave the office, we leave work behind to play (and rest!) just as hard. This ensures we stay excited for work, staving off any hint of burnout.


That’s certainly a commendable standard, especially in the face of companies that expect and demand employees work more than 40 hours a week. (Side note: there’s plenty of data to support that working more than 40 hours a week is not only counterproductive, but often a waste of time. Dan Mall has a great article documenting these resources.) But this isn’t the reason why “Work to Live” is my favorite Core Standard.

This is my favorite standard because it’s the one I struggle with the most. Why do I favor a standard that’s hard to work on? Because I’m drawn towards processes that make me a better person in any way, especially if it’s something intangible like working to live. For me to improve at anything, there first has to be a struggle; a moment of weakness. Only after this point is it possible for me to get better. Embracing and addressing this weakness only serves to make me a more balanced person.

It’s true that to become better in your craft, you have to put in the hours and hard work. But don’t try to work those hours all at once. Be patient. Your skill will grow over time. By putting such focused intensity day after day into a specific craft, you’re bound to become better. That’s the easy part.

But I’ve found that working to live is much more difficult to achieve. And even when I’m doing it well, it’s a constant struggle. As a remote-working designer, it’s even harder to separate work and life. But by keeping these three things in mind, I’ve found it easier to keep work at work:

1. This may sound a bit morose but when I die, my family isn’t going to think, “Wow, we really saw too much of him. I wish he worked more.” I don’t want my legacy to be my work. I certainly want to be remembered as someone who worked hard but not so hard that I neglected my familial obligations. Time is a non-renewable resource and something you’ll never get back.

2. It’s easy to romanticize and celebrate working tons of extra hours but I have this quote memorized:

“Workaholics aren't heroes. They don't save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is home because she figured out a faster way.”

- Jason Fried

While it’s important to work hard, it’s even more important to work smarter.

3. Will the world end if I don’t answer a work email or text after hours? Certainly not. For this reason, I’ve been keeping my phone on my office desk at night to make sure that I’m present for my family.

With so many industries perpetuating a “live to work” mentality, it’s tough to keep in mind that our work does not define us. Our self-worth isn’t found in something external like work. It’s not a bad thing to work hard. But like most things in life, everything is better in moderation. Work hard, yes, but also play hard and rest hard.

Is the struggle to “work to live” real for you? How do you try to overcome it?

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