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I didn’t always have such a healthy work-life balance. I suffered from crippling burnout for years, which damaged my mental and physical health, affected my personal relationships and threatened to derail my business. At that point, I realised I needed to make some dramatic changes in my life.
By studying the habits of some of the world’s most successful people and learning about the psychology behind productivity, I worked out how to work less and achieve more, something I write about in my book, The Hard Work Myth.
Working long, antisocial hours is widely accepted to be a necessary component of success, especially in entrepreneurial circles. Few of us question this because, from our very first day at school, we are drilled by teachers and parents to accept that hard work is the best way to get ahead in life.
Fortunately, the tide is turning. Supported by both science and economics, many are coming around to the notion that overwork will take us further away from success, not closer to it. We know that every time we skip a break, power on late into the evening, or work weekends, we deplete those finite energy levels. Do it regularly and we risk mental, physical and emotional exhaustion.
But less is discussed about how to actually work less while achieving everything you set out to achieve. Most articles and books on burnout tend to focus only on prioritising rest, rather than effective action. Try these ideas for starters…
Most of us think organisation looks like a to-do list. But have you ever really scrutinised that piece of paper? How many items should have never made it onto that list in the first place?
When you reduce the number of hours you work every day, you’re forced to be much more selective about what you work on. You have to work out what things push your business or your project forward, and commit to doing only these tasks.
The remaining jobs should either be canned completely (you’d be surprised how many things on your to-do list you shouldn’t be wasting any time on), automated with software, or delegated if that’s an option for you.
Study high-achieving business folk and you’ll see their success has nothing to do with longer hours, and everything to do with working cleverly. Are you a morning person or a night owl? When do you tend to make your best decisions, and what time are you next-to-useless?
Greater self-awareness leads to more work completed in less time because your working week can be structured around your personal productivity highs and lows (and nine to five is totally irrelevant now we can work and communicate with our colleagues asynchronously).
So, start paying closer attention to the times of day you work best and worst, and the factors that can boost or damage your output e.g. dehydration, hunger, exercise, light, temperature and you’ll be able to optimise your days to get more done.
Goal setting focuses the mind and steers you, mentally, towards your target in a way that nothing else can.
Slowly but surely, your goals will help to shape the little decisions you make every day. You’ll start to look critically at what you’re devoting time to, and ask pertinent questions like: Should I really be doing this now? Who could do this for me and do it better? What would I be doing if I wasn’t doing this task? Am I allowing myself to be distracted?
Goals can also help you to refine your to-do list – giving you a much clearer picture of which tasks deserve to make the cut and which tasks are a waste of your time and energy.