Most of us work too hard for too little. We’re slowly being pushed to get more done with less. We spend more time at work with our co-workers than we do with our loved ones. Day-by-day, we’re asked to do more and more, while we’re compensated with less and less. Yet, oddly enough our productivity is actually decreasing. We’re not getting the right kind of work done. We’re not all that productive.
Sound familiar? No wonder we’re exhausted. Why would anyone want to triple their productivity in 30 days when they’re crushed under these work conditions?
Overwork: The hidden key to success?
The typical entrepreneur success story goes like this:
- Entrepreneur has an idea.
- Works harder than everyone else, day and night, to make it a reality.
Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? What’s worse, there are quite a few examples of entrepreneurs who did just that to achieve success.
- Bill Gates worked 80 – 120 hours a week and slept on a cot underneath his desk.
- Goldman Sachs recently limited its interns to 17 hours a day (some worked more).
- Martha Stewart reportedly sleeps four hours a night, says sleep and health aren’t the most important things.
- Elon Musk reportedly works 100 hours per week split between two companies.
If you want to be successful you’ll just have to suck it up and commit to being exhausted, overworked and unhealthy. Right?
Actually, No. Overwork, as it turns out, is not the key to success. There are two different predictors.
- Intelligence has two distinct subcategories: (1.) fluid intelligence – the ability to solve new/unseen problems and (2.) crystallized intelligence – the ability to use the skills, knowledge and experience you’ve accumulated over time. Fluid intelligence tends to decrease over time, while crystallized intelligence increases.
- Conscientiousness. The two facets of conscientiousness are: (1.) orderliness – a desire for order, symmetry, cleanliness and diligence and (2.) industriousness – hardworking, ambitious, diligent and devoted to a goal. Generally speaking, women tend to be orderly while men tend to be industrious, though both categories can be applied equally to any individual.
There are lots of other little details – practice, focus, grit, etc. But research shows intelligence and conscientiousness are the foundation of productivity, the results you achieve, the hallmarks of success.
Does being overworked mean you’re super conscientious?
Wouldn’t that mean you’re also waaay more productive? The surprising answer is, No. A recent study by Erin Reid, professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, found managers weren’t able to tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours per week and those who pretended to. Employees who worked 80 hours or more per week, didn’t have anything to show for it. Study after study shows more hours doesn’t automatically equal more work done.
Conscientiousness, it seems, has its limits
Throwing more hours at work doesn’t work, so how do you accomplish more with the little that you have? Exponential productivity requires letting go and doing less. As an entrepreneur, you’re probably forced to wear lots of hats, right? You’re in charge of payroll, you have to create marketing pieces, deal with insurance, taxes, products – it’s never-ending.
You can’t do it all
At some point you’ll have to make a decision. Continue doing everything yourself or get help and learn to let go. Fat chance. No one else can do anything as well as you. You’re the best at this, you know the most about that. Which is exactly the problem. You’re creating your own prison. Want to 3x your productivity in 30 days? You need a system. The right system multiplies your ability, access and resources exponentially. It gives you the ability to achieve far more in less time.
- 2+2 = 4 (by yourself)
- 2+2 = 40 (with systems)
If it duplicates your efforts, removes you from the process and/or saves you time you have a system. Your system could be the product of a person, tool, resource or relationship. It could be based on an inanimate object (money), an intangible item (trust, authority or prestige) or a physical object (software, audio books, blog posts). A good system typically falls into one or more of these categories.
- Feeders send you important must-have information, provide you with access and curate data. This could be helpful tools and resources like Owler, communities like Angel List, and databases like Mattermark.
- Organizers provide focus, clarity and structure. They limit demands on your time, resources or energy. They can be used to organize anything – money, people, information or time. A feeder without an organizer is overwhelming. It feels like you’re drinking from a fire hose. An organizer can be a fantastic administrative or virtual assistants, email filters and even something as simple as hours of availability.
- Unloaders relieve burdens. Unloading a mundane, unsuitable or repetitive task gives you more time and energy, enabling you to focus your attention where it’s needed the most. Unloaders could again be a virtual assistant, a software tool like IFTTT or Zapier, or teammates who are hired to take burdens off your plate.
- Dealers create opportunities. A dealer could be a sales team, joint venture or partnership agreements, a guest posting spot on a high traffic site, or a brilliant ad campaign. Dealers create opportunity and provide access – how you use it is up to you. Dealers work best in a quid pro quo relationship. Dealers are people and organizations you can partner with. Power brokers who seem to be connected with everyone. And people, organizations and platforms that have access to the customers you need.
- Enforcers act as policemen. They work with organizers to protect your time, enforce your boundaries and uphold your values. Enforcers work best when they have some power behind them. The ability to say No, prestige and authority, a strong brand, a f*ck off fund – these are all examples of power. Gatekeepers, hidden contact info, filters and traffic managers.
A single solution can solve many problems. A tool like IFTTT can act as a feeder, organizer and unloader all at once.
Productivity is worthless if you can’t let go
Exponential productivity depends on your ability to let go. It’s the one part of this strategy that isn’t optional. You can’t do everything by yourself. You have to choose. It’s easy to say but difficult to do. The items on your to-do list are important and they need to be finished. But it’s pretty unlikely that you’re a master of all of them.
How are you supposed to choose?
You create a list. If you’re a brilliant engineer but you hate marketing, focus on engineering. If you’re a brilliant marketer but you don’t know a thing about writing code, focus on marketing. Outsource, delegate or hire those who can do the tasks you don’t want to do. Focus your attention on the two to three areas where you excel in your life.
Next, create a list of all the tasks you need to get done or the areas you need to cover. Then, make an estimate of the amount of time it would take you to do all of these tasks properly. Rough estimates are fine. It’s an estimate of the time you’ll gain if these tasks are managed somewhere else. Then, find a solution that gets the other 80 percent done for you. If you’re a product-focused entrepreneur, focus your attention on building a better product. Offload everything else to feeders, organizers unloaders, dealers or enforcers.
Ignore the naysayers telling you what you have to do.
Find the people, tools or resources you need to get the other 80 percent done. Your marketing, accounting, customer service, all of it, done.
Here’s an example using “ABC” software startup:
Areas of expertise: Engineering, sales and marketing.
ABC startup excels in these three areas so they’d probably outsource the other important areas of their business to those who can help them complete crucial tasks outside of their wheelhouse.
- Accounting: Bench.co + accountant + policies & procedures
- HR: Zenefits + IFTTT/Zapier
- Customer service: Influx + freelance quality assurance + IFTTT/Zapier
- Design: 99designs + nearshore providers
- Programming: Upwork + nearshore providers
- Business development: freelance-to-hire business development + revenue sharing
- Raising short term capital: Fundable + Kickstarter + Indiegogo + Prosper
See? There’s a mix of people, products, apps, services and policies here. Your list will obviously be different. If you have the resources you need it’s easier to simply pay for what you want.
What if you don’t have the money?
Use partnerships, bartering and low-cost alternatives to get the results you need. You’ll need something valuable to exchange, but the sky’s the limit.
What if you can’t let go?
If you’re like most people you feel afraid. “It’s too hard, adjusting will be a nightmare, what if I get it wrong?” This is the part where most people begin to ignore their intuitions. “Ignore those thoughts, it’ll be fine, just take the leap.” Don’t do it. If you’re afraid, own it. Make a list of every. single. thing that can go wrong. If you hate writing lists, pull out your smartphone. Open voice recorder and vent.
Get it all out in the open
Save anything new that crops up from time to time. But whatever you do, don’t ignore your objections. When they appear, face them. Next, take some time to think about your fears and objections. What would your perfect solution to these problems be? What would that look like?
Talk to yourself
Look for a solution to the problem. Reach out to LinkedIn contacts, tap your network for ideas and solutions. Make a request on social media. Check each solution against the list of categories I mentioned earlier. The solution you choose should be a fit. Wait a minute. Isn’t this creating overwork for others? It would be, if you were choosing to work with generalists. But it wouldn’t really make a whole lot of sense to rely on people who are kinda sorta good at their jobs, would it?
If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you’re focus is on affordable — a player specialists. When you work with specialists it’s a win/win. You spend little-to-no-time on the tasks that previously ate up a significant amount of your time. Specialists have mastered their craft so they’ve optimized their business to generate the greatest amount of results with the least amount of effort. With generalists it’s a lose/lose scenario.
Generalists are overworked, but they’re also inexperienced. Their lack of focus means they’ll learn on your dime. You’ll spend far more money on an inferior product or service. Most people work too hard for too little. As an entrepreneur, you don’t have to work yourself to death.
Overwork isn’t the key to success
Want to 3x your productivity in 30 days? You need a system and a willingness to let go. Use leverage and your productivity will skyrocket. Learn to let go and you’ll find you have freedom and focus. Use intelligence and conscientiousness and you’ll find…
Overwork is optional. It isn’t the key to success. Do your best to avoid this trap, and to help your employees avoid it too.