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The Strange Art of Achieving More by Doing Less

If you feel like you are working too hard, or working too many hours, this might give you some hope for a solution.

I’m not saying it would work for everyone, but it has certainly given me a new perspective on my own business.

Over the summer I achieved something I thought was unlikely at best, and potentially damaging at worst.

I went down from working 7 long days a week, to working only 3. At most. The best part? Even though I worked much fewer hours … My income stayed roughly the same.

  • Without hiring a virtual assistant.
  • While still handling my own email, telephone calls, social media, etc.
  • Still with my advice-based business, NOT mythical “push-button passive-income” systems!

Could I have gone further? Maybe, but I didn’t want to comprise on delivering on my promises, obligations, and longer term business growth. Much as I would have loved the dream of a “four hour work week”, I know just with coaching alone I have much more on my plate than that would allow. I was pretty happy with how this experiment turned out!

How did I manage to earn the same income while doing much less work?

  • Non-negotiable criteria – I HAD to earn the same level of income – My outgoings actually increased in that time and my reserve funds were depleted after moving country. There was no way to cut back, the budget was already as lean as it was going to get. And, besides, I like my lifestyle! There was no choice but to make it work.
  • Motivation – I really wanted to work less hours – The whole plan was based on spending more time with my family over summer. My daughter got much more summer vacation time, and we were still settling in after our move so it was very important. So important that family time took priority over anything else.
  • Waste – I knew I said “yes” too much out of fear of being the “bad guy”. I had done a lot of work with myself in that area so I went from “saying no more” to “No, by default”.
  • Organisation – My clients were given open slots in which to book coaching time. Of course I had some flexibility, I am not an ogre, but 99% of the time they found time that worked. I outsourced a little (still working on my control freakishness), but mainly it was down to strict time management and not doing wasteful stuff and allowing myself to be distracted. A pleasant side effect is I could arrange my time so that my “social battery” didn’t run so low I couldn’t get anything else done (a hazard of being an introvert is talking to people can be draining and I have to recharge).
  • 80-20% rule – My business was reduced down to the 20% of effort that brought 80% of the results. I had been working on my authority business processes for a while, essentially all I needed to do was be very strict and only work on the crucial parts. This “critical path” of my business was the real engine of what I do and while there was some friction and pressures around not dropping some balls, it worked out really well.

5 Steps to reduce your workload while growing your business

  1. What can you not change? Work out what you absolutely must not compromise on. You will want to keep up quality, ethics, customer service, and likely want to grow your income – what else?
  2. Why? Where is your motivation coming from? Don’t work less out of laziness because we are talking about a more focused effort not sipping chilled drinks on tropical islands while money shoots out of your computer ;) Knowing why you are motivated will help keep clarity when you are pushed into hard decisions.
  3. Can you say NO more? What are you currently saying “yes” to that distracts you from your goals or adds clutter to your day?
  4. How can you organise your time so you can give customers the attention they need without taking too much of your schedule or energy? What can you safely outsource if you need to, while not compromising your relationships with contacts, customers, suppliers and colleagues? Can you batch similar work so you have less set up time? Take it in increments – I started by not working weekends, then stopped working past 6pm on weekdays, then started taking Monday off, etc.
  5. What is the 20% in your business? Where does the majority of your results come from? How does your business generate the best leads for least time and effort? How can you shorten the conversion process? How can you deliver the best customer experience in a focused way with less chance of random and scattered attention? I found I could cut the fat in many areas, I am sure you can too.

Bottom Line:

I am so glad I tried this, even though there was a danger. I did have the safety net of knowing I was not setting it as the rule long term, but actually I really haven’t reverted back to the old routine hardly at all.

The outcome was we had a lot of great times as a family and I learned some valuable approaches that I will of course be passing along to clients. In terms of future prospects for the business, I now have two “extra” days in my week now my daughter is back in school to use for long term efforts such as business development and product and service creation.

It certainly was not easy. There were some stressful moments, and I don’t like turning away opportunities. It’s not nice saying no to everything, but it turned out with my hectic travel and house-moving logistics, I couldn’t have taken on the added stuff anyway!

For you it could come down to what you believe you should be doing versus what you really should be doing. “That’s just the way it is done around here” might be doubling your work load but making you less effective!

Even a small reduction in wasteful effort could be a huge energy boost and motivator for you, and at the very least bring some much-needed clarity to where you place your emphasis.

Over to you – do you think you are working too much? Do you have any questions? Please share in the comments …

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Comments

  1. I learned this philosophy a few years ago (because I’m a “few” years older than you!) and whew! what a blessing. The hardest part has been shutting out the negative voices of those who think I’m lazy and that there is some sort of virtue in working long hours, getting by on too little sleep (they brag about it!) and missing time with their loved ones. Now I’m very productive and really good at saying no.
    Excuse me, gotta go – time to go to the park with my son! :)

    • I think there are “work to live” types and “live to work” types. I am more of the former though I know a lot of the latter ;)

      What is the point of having a business if it kills us? :)

  2. Chis,

    You make an excellent point here. It reminds me of something similar David Sparks, form the Mac Power Users podcast, said about saying no. He has a very demanding job, young kids and still found time to write a book. He kept a log of everything he said No to so that he would have the time to write the book. I thought is was a very simple yet brilliant idea.

    Good stuff. Thanks.

    Bob

  3. Hey, Chris,
    Thanks for this post, I am just a sahm, trying to start a blog, and I needed to hear it.

    Because I’m home all the time, it’s easy to feel like there’s all the time in the world to do anything that presents itself. And then I realize it’s 3 days later.

    I too need to learn to say no to distractions — even just at home!

    I need to find that 20% of truly directed, productive activity that keeps things moving around here and in developing a blog.

    I’m new to your blog, have read a lot, got the KFContent… Great stuff. Thanks for sharing it.

    Jenny

  4. Hi Chris:
    You nailed it – that’s me – working way too many hours in the day, and days in the week!
    Some days I am totally focused and accomplish everything on my To Do list – and more. Other days, I am all over the place and every little “shiny object” catches and takes my attention.
    I don’t yet have enough clients to need to say ‘NO’ – would that I had that problem.
    Focusing on marketing myself is what I need to do, and cutting down on all the un-focused emails will be a huge start. I’ll look through your articles for appropriate ones to read.
    Glad to hear you are settling in! Lake Louise – (from a different angle)? Moraine? Spirit?

  5. How would we know what level we are capable of reaching unless we experiment.

    You experimented, you found a way.

    Is an experiment always successful?

    Ofcourse not but that doesn’t matter, as long as the experiment continues.

    Don’t settle!

    Thanks for sharing this Chris, Loved reading it :)

  6. Hi Chris,

    Loved the article. Learned a lot from it. I’ve been too caught up in my business these past few years that I haven’t had spent too much time with my family. Been thinking of ways on how to work less and still earn, if not more, the same level of income. Thanks, this article helped me alot.

  7. Great piece Chris. Until I read it I thought I was doing well by keeping evenings and weekends free for myself and the family! It’s too big a leap for me to even consider working a three day week at a time when I’m totally focussed on growing the business – sorry if that’s a classic example of limited thinking! However, I will use your 5 steps to reduce work-time wherever I can. Thanks, keep good articles like these coming. Dave

  8. Thanks Chris it just shows that we all are in charge of our own destiny! It sounds like you have taken time management and setting your priorities straight about what matter most in your life. Great Job!

  9. Great Article! Time Management is one of the important aspect while working. There is a deadline for each project. It is in our hands how to finish the project within given deadline.

    • Someone once showed how true the “student effect” is with deadlines (you know, working on it the last hour before the final due date!). Deadlines and time management are crucial :)

  10. I would love to work 3 days a week like you but It seems so far fetched I dont see how it would work unless I had some great business idea.

    • It’s not so much about going down to three days but working out what really moves the needles in your business and cutting out the stuff that just distracts you, wastes your time, or holds you back :)

  11. Chris:
    Thank you for this post. We were just discussing this very topic at a networking group I attended last night. I am taking the “What is the 20% in your business?” section and really savor, ponder and relish the impact. Then I am going to do it. A small business professor, Dr. Thomas Jones, instructed on having “gate keepers”. One of my “gate keepers” is Friday night. It is the time set aside to be with my family. Being together with my wife and family. This is been a great opportunity to just breathe, enjoy and slow down.

    Evaluating the 20% will result in more “gate keeper” time slots.

    Thanks again!
    Don Richardson

  12. My focus right now is building more income. So working more efficiently allows me to meet that goal. I don’t have children, and work from home, so I’ll be applying these tips to work smarter so I have a structure in place to take more time off when we do have children.