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Want to be More Productive? Try Working Less

Everyone likes to brag about how many hours they worked. “Dude, you wouldn’t believe the hours I’m putting in right now. I must’ve worked at least 100 hours last week.” Good job, bro. The question is: how much did you accomplish? Results, not time, is what really matters. And to get more results and be more productive, focus on working less.

My Personal Experience

During my career, I’ve implemented dozens of processes and metrics that are still used today, built people up to be excellent employees, and aided in acquiring more than 20 companies. In my first 5 years of working, I was promoted 4 times because of these results. I did all of this while simultaneously refusing to work more than 40 hours a week.

100 hour guy stayed at the same position for 5 years, making little to no contribution to the long-term success of the company.

There’s no denying that 100 hour guy worked so much harder than me. He did. His problem was not working on the right things. Instead of working on things to save time, he just accepted his working hours and settled in. What he didn’t realize is that hours worked doesn’t mean jack.

Why Do We Care About Hours Worked?

People wear their hours on their sleeve like a badge of honor, but no one talks about their results. Why is that? I have a couple theories.

Bragging Rights

It might be that results are harder to compare. People have this innate desire to be better than their peers, and time can be easily compared. How else would you compare a lumberjack and a chemical engineer? Since results aren’t consistent across fields, we compare the only thing these two positions have in common: time.

But, what is the point of all this? A lumberjack is not better or worse than a chemical engineer. Trying to compare these two is a pointless exercise rooted in ego. These thoughts and conversations do nothing to improve the world. It doesn’t matter what other people are doing.

God-Fearing Puritan History

Another reason time might be compared, at least in the United States, is due to our history. The United States of America: a nation built on the backs of people who worked harder and longer than anyone else. A place where any common man can pull themselves up by their bootstraps to accomplish great things. At least, that’s what they tell us.

Also rooted in American history is innovation. The U.S. is the birthplace of the light bulb, the computer, the internet, and Google. Were these inventions created because the inventors worked so much harder than everyone else?

Nope. So why were these inventors so successful?

Why Working Hours Doesn’t Matter

The inventors were successful because they knew exactly what to work on. Doing the right things leads you to results, and results matter most. How do I know that? Let me ask a question. How long did it take Larry Page and Sergey Brin to create the Google search engine?

Does it really matter? What matters is they created Google. Whether it took 20 minutes or 20 years is irrelevant. The end result is a staple of the internet today and the second most valuable brand in the world, according to Forbes.

FYI, the real answer is nearly 2.5 years. Sergey and Larry met at Stanford in August 1995, and Google was incorporated in January 1998. If you want to get technical, Google was actually created in just a few months. The driving force of Google–the PageRank algorithm–was developed in January 1996, only 5 months after the dynamic duo first met.

So if results are the most important things, how can you get more and better results?

How to Focus on Getting Results

If you’re currently employed, you already know how to get results. How do I know? Because you still have a job. You must be doing something right. But are you doing everything right? Could you be getting the same results with less time invested? To be more productive, you need three things:

  1. Thinking
  2. Tracking
  3. Communicating

Thinking

Thinking is always number one. Think before you do, and think about what you are doing. Think about what results are desired and how you can achieve those results. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Does this task need to be done?
  2. Can someone else do it?
  3. Can I automate it?

Answer these questions for each one of your responsibilities and record the results. If you answered “no” to the first question, get rid of that task. No point in doing something that doesn’t have to be done. If you answered “yes”, keep on reading.

If you answered “yes” to question 2, give yourself a break and delegate that task. You won’t miss it, I promise. If you said “no” to question 2 and “yes” to question 3, move onto the next section.

Tracking

Now that you have a list of tasks that can be automated, you can start making your life a little easier. But where to start?

My recommendation is to keep track of your time. Record how much time is spent on each task for 2-4 weeks, and compare these times to the list from above.

Out of the tasks you said could be automated, which one takes the most time to complete? This should be your first priority. After that, move on to the second most time-intensive. Then, the third. Keep going down this list until you are done. By the time you are finished, you’ll have more free time than you can imagine.

Communicating

After all your qualifying tasks are automated, all you should have left is the “yes, no, no” tasks. Tasks that need to be done, can’t be delegated, and can’t be automated. These tasks, for the most part, will have to remain. But you may be able to make them easier for yourself. That’s where communication comes in.

Talk to your boss about his/her expectations for each one of these tasks. Hell, talk to him/her about all of your tasks. Perhaps one of those that you labeled under the “automate” category can just be eliminated altogether.

Conclusion

The goal here is to make your life as easy as possible–to the point of being lazy–while still getting your job done. Don’t do anything that doesn’t provide value, and automate or delegate everything you can. Put in a little more work now, and soon you’ll have plenty of free time.

My recommendation: use that time to invest in yourself and improve your company. One leads to more personal success and the other leads to more financial success. It’s a win-win either way. If your focus turns to working less, you will automatically become more productive.

Featured photo source: Chen Mizrach on Unsplash

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