I have been a workaholic. When I wasn't so self-aware, I used to believe with pride it was because of my impeccable work ethics, high level of commitment to my work and passion for what I am doing. After enormous inner work, I came face to face with an ugly truth that I was a workaholic because of instant gratification that I receive at work for completing a task, because of a sense of achievement I feel at ticking off an item from my checklist. The real truth was that I was nicely enmeshed in the Activity Trap without even being aware of it. The real truth was also that it is emotionally easier to be working than to be dealing with emotionally difficult issues at home, it is easier to work on a task than dealing with relationships and one's own limiting habits which come in the way of personal mastery. So, I had worked myself to burn-out much before I was 40 that hopped off the corporate bandwagon on an entrepreneurial journey in search of a profitable, repeatable, scalable Business Model. That search forced me to go on an inner journey of self-discovery and growth because whether we like it or not, our businesses end up becoming a mirror of who we are as human beings. That is why, an entrepreneur is on a Hero's journey in search of greatness outside and inside. Without connecting to the Light within, a great business will not get built.
I learnt massively in my journey as an entrepreneur in the last 10 years. Here are some of the learnings regarding getting work done more efficiently:
1. Work less hours to produce more value and impact: I am more productive, creative, effective and efficient if I work for 6 hours with focus, instead of 12 hours. If I am working for 6 hours, I can write an article in 2 hours; while if I have a 12 hour schedule, I end up creating a similar article with lesser impact in 6 hours. And, if I have spent 5 minutes drawing out the outline of the article during planning stage, I get done much earlier. This seems to show up irrespective of the nature of work - meetings get wrapped up faster with quicker and more creative solutioning, problem solving is quicker, lesser mistakes while creating any artefacts.
I interviewed Andrew Barnes, Founder and Managing Director, Perpetual Guardian, New Zealand because I was curious about the 4-day work week he had implemented in his company. In February 2018, Barnes announced that Perpetual Guardian would be doing a trial of four-day work week, with staff receiving an extra day off work, on full pay, each week. Staff were not required to work additional hours on their four working days. In July 2018, at the completion of the trial, the trial had been a resounding success with productivity up 20%, staff stress levels down, customer engagement levels up more than 30%, revenue remaining stable and costs decreasing, therefore resulting in increased profitability. Staff engagement and work-life balance also improved.
Productivity graph between productivity on the y-axis and number of working hours on the x-axis is an A curve. You will increase your productivity by increasing your number of hours in the beginning; but after a point (lets, call that point - Point of Zero Returns), productivity, efficiency, effectiveness and creativity falls sharply.
For me, the Point of Zero Returns is around 6 hours. So, I work from 6 am to 1:30 pm with 2 half an hour breaks in the middle.
Pioneering researcher Nathan Kleitman discovered that our bodies operate in 90 minutes rhythm (Ultradian Rhythm) not only during the night but also during the day when we move from higher alertness to lower alertness.
In his renowned 1993 study of young violinists, performance researcher Anders Ericsson found that the best ones all practiced the same way: in the morning, in three increments of no more than 90 minutes each, with a break between each one. Ericsson discovered the same pattern among other musicians, athletes, chess players and writers.
You could experiment to find your Point of Zero Returns and scheduling your day in slots of 90 minutes interspersed with breaks.
2. The Anti-Routine: In conversations with most CEOs, I am almost hit by a palpable energy of stress and tension, even over a Zoom call, that they are vibrating with. Unfortunately, most times, they are not even conscious of this anxiety in the background present at every moment. This background continual hum of anxiety is a huge drain on creativity, effectiveness, efficiency and productivity. Since they all are High Performers, they are able to deliver massive results even with this huge drain on their system but it comes at a tremendous personal cost. I continually hear the desire to retire to give back to society, to contribute, to leave a legacy. I am left with a deep sense of loss because their highest contribution would be by staying on in the job much beyond retirement and lead their businesses from good to great. Their real legacy is the transformation they can be at the source of in the world through their businesses; transforming what it means to do business, what it means to lead and work, and inside of that what it means to be a human being. This can only happen with an inner shift form being a Fighter High Performer to a Peaceful Warrior Super Performer. And, one of the first things to let go is unsustainable long working hours to create time for what I call The Anti-Routine.
The Routine is the work schedule. The Anti-Routine is the play schedule reserved for family fun time, nourishing nurturing self through exercising, meditating and various other growth habits, playing a sport, learning a creative art and the one that usually gets missed - learning continually about self in search of blind spots.
Einstein credits his breakthrough scientific discoveries to his playing the violin. I can relate to what he is saying because all my major business breakthroughs haven't come when I was working. They all came when I was either meditating, playing golf, learning piano, exercising or on a vacation. It's only when we step outside the painting of our business can we turn around to see the full picture and discover which colours and lines need to be added or deleted to make our business our masterpiece work of art.
All human beings have a masculine (courage, strength, independence, assertiveness, driven to win) and a feminine (empathy, intuition, vulnerability, caring, nurturing) element. It's by bringing the two in balance inside of us do we rise up to our greatest self and become a great leader. Sports is a great way to strengthen the masculine element in us; while learning and investing in a creative art (painting, singing, learning a musical instrument, dancing etc.) strengthens our feminine element.
Discovering our blind spots is the piece of the Anti-Routine which mostly gets missed, and yet is the foundation on which everything else rests. A leader who knows it all, has answers to all questions, solutions to all problems and is already the greatest version of himself / herself is a leader who is not going to lead the business too far. Having a structure to continually look inside to discover places one doesn't want to go to and see things one doesn't want to see is ultimately what will lead us and our businesses from good to great.
3. The Perfectionist Trap: We all know the Pareto's principle and yet most of us don't apply it to reduce our work and increase our output. It has been statistically proven that 20% of the work we do gives us 80% output. and we spend 80% of the remaining time on finishing the remaining 20% work. I have personally experienced the Power of Pareto not only in my own work but also as I coached my clients to implement it in their own work.
Chase excellence, not perfection. Excellence is for the God inside of us, Perfection is for the fickle applause from the outside. At 80% output, assess if it is worthwhile to complete the remaining 20%. If you are reviewing product development, ensure your team co-creates with the customer instead of inside your Ivory Tower office. Such a co-creation will support you to stop at 80%. If you are reviewing sales, check if your sales team knows who their top 20% customers are. Figure out which 20% reviews will give you 80% leverage, mentoring which 20% stars will give you 80% growth, focussing on which 20% objectives will give you 80% velocity in your business. If you are chasing everything and everyone, nothing much may get created.
4. Intention Creation: I also discovered that articulating my 5-Years Intentions helps me to have clarity on the wins to be created in the first year, first quarter, current month, current week and the next day. Writing my intentions in the night for the next day work schedule gives me more horsepower to deliver on them with precision.
5. The Tough Nut: Looking at my task list for the next day as I sit down at the end of day to review and reflect on the day gone by and to create the next day, I use a simple method, which most of us know, and divide the list into 4 categories -
A - Important, Urgent
B - Important, Not Urgent as yet
C - Not Important, Urgent
D - Neither Important, Nor Urgent
I delegate C and cross out D from my list. I prioritize A and schedule it first thing in the morning, followed by B, which are my tough nuts to crack, before I open the doors to the rest of the world. If one is not being aware, what ends up happening is that we do C and D to get instant gratification and a sense of achievement in the first half of the day and push B so much down in the day that it gets missed out and becomes A the next day, leaving us forever in a firefight mode.
The above 5 may support you to get done faster and more efficiently through your work schedule. Yet , you may not be able to fully disconnect from work when you are not at work because you find yourself thinking about work when not at work. Then, even if you creatively force yourself to work less number of hours, you are still caught because your mind continues to stay at work though you have physically moved out. Here's How to Disconnect from Work when not Working:
1. First of all, make a commitment to stay in the present moment. This is a powerful first step because that brings you into awareness when you are not and acts as a positive force to shake you back into the present.
2. Second, practise Aana Paana meditation, the meditation technique Buddha taught for mind control. In this technique, you focus your attention on the triangular region of your nose and upper lip and observe your breath as it goes in and as it goes out. Practise with eyes closed daily and then begin practising it open-eyed so that even while you are listening to someone, you are present to your breath coming in and going out. This stops the chattering monkey called the mind from running in thousand different directions and gets engaged in the game of observing the breath. As the mind becomes still observing the breath, we experience being centred, grounded and present.
3. Have a solid Anti-Routine to immerse your body, mind, heart and soul - a hobby and a sport that you are in love with, along with an intense workout regime. The fact is that we are have far greater ability, expertise and wisdom to contribute, make a difference and live our purpose through our work at 50 than at 40, at 60 than at 50, at 70 than at 60, at 80 than at 70. Therefore, it is our responsibility towards ourselves and more importantly, towards the communities that we are a part of, to ensure that we have Olympic athlete fitness levels because only when we are at the highest level of health, fitness and well-being can we truly contribute, make a difference and live our purpose this lifetime through the work we do.
Retirement is an archaic concept which has no role to play in today's day and age. We are meant to have fun; live with passion, purpose and impact; and make a dent in the Universe through our work that we love, till the last breath of our life, whenever it may come.
4. Include an intense spiritual, emotional and mental work-out in your Anti-Routine to continuously be shown the mirror to your blind spots so that you remain agile not only physically but also spiritually, emotionally and mentally till the day it is time for you to transition to the next phase of your existence. Like one of my favourite wise people, Dr Wayne Dyer, said - We are not human beings in search of a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings immersed in a human experience. Leading a business from good to great can only happen inside of understanding this truth, as Sara Blakely, the youngest self-made woman billionaire at 41 years of age, found. She credits her business success to listening to Wayne Dyer and applying his principles from the age of 16 years.
5. Immerse yourself in reading books and listening to podcasts by masters in business for Business Excellence, in your domain for Craft Mastery and in the mystery of life for Leadership Depth during your Anti-Routine. This is a powerful way to ensure your mind is not idle, which is when it will have a tendency to brood and ruminate over and over again about work; not allowing you peace of mind even when you have physically disconnected from work. Not only will you find greater inner peace but also learn, grow and evolve with velocity. Warren Buffett, who is world's 4th richest man in the world reads 80% of the time. Bill Gates, who is world's 2nd richest man, reads one book a week.
Wishing you the joy of the journey.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.