Your Goal in Life is to work as little as possible

I am going to give you some profound management advice immediately at the beginning of this episode. Your goal in life is to work as little as possible. This flies in the face of current wisdom and the cult of busyness we seem to worship in companies today. Go ask someone how work is going, what are they going to tell you… Oh, I am so busy. Man, I am swamped. But when you walk by their cube you can see they are shopping on Amazon. I saw this first hand with a director I worked with who always seemed to act like he was super busy. What he didn’t know was he was actually sharing his calendar and upon inspection, he had a grand total of 4 meetings a week. We are absolutely terrified at the possibility that someone would know we have free time at work. We make this crazy assumption that people who are not busy must be slackers. We as a society have learned to equate hours with productivity. So you have the people who are pretending to work a ton of hours then you have the people who are actually putting in these insane hours because they feel that is what is expected. That is what is necessary to be successful. And the numbers bear this out

“A 2014 national Gallup poll put the average number at 47 hours per week, or 9.4 hours per day, with many saying they work 50 hours per week.

In demanding, competitive industries like tech and finance, professionals work in excess of 60 hours a week as a rule, and are available constantly by smartphone.”

With our smartphone we are always available. You are expected to answer 24×7. You see your boss send an email at 3AM. And wow they are busy… I knew a guy at work who scheduled his emails to send in the middle of the night so it looked like he was working. We feel this intense pressure to always be working.

Research that attempts to quantify the relationship between hours worked and productivity found that employee output falls sharply after a 50-hour work-week, and falls off a cliff after 55 hours—so much so that according to a study published by Stanford University. someone who puts in 70 hours produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours, And people who are not working these long hours just straight up pretend to be working because they feel that is what is necessary to survive.

How many hours should you be working? Let’s give a quick history lesson on the 40 hour work week. Most of this came about due to manufacturing due to workers strikes and union negotiations.

“1938: Political pressure continues to mount. On June 25, Congress passes the Fair Labor Standards Act, which limits the workweek to 44 hours, or 8.8 hours per day.

1940: On June 26, Congress amends the Fair Labor Standards Act, further limiting the workweek to 40 hours. A few months later, on October 24, the law goes into effect.”

But since the 40’s everything has changed again. We are no longer an industrial economy we are a knowledge economy. With smartphones, and contract workers, salary positions companies have been slowly pulling more and more hours out of us. And who can blame them that is really their job, to keep pushing the envelope to see how much time they can get out of an employee out of a team with as little pay as possible. The most amazing thing in the world they have convinced us it is a good thing!!! We wear those number of hours worked as a badge of honor, Aw man I put in 80 hours this week. So much so that the lies build up so everyone is one upping the other one. We even put it in our performance reviews. It is now considered our commitment to the company which is insane. It is workday inflation. It is a fundamental disease we need to put a stop to right now…

Let me tell you Why?

Because Losers measure input…. Winners measure their output. I do not care how many hours my team puts in, I care that they get the job done. Whether it takes 20 or 50. Get the job done.

Let’s ask Michael Scott what he thinks about one of his employees

“Jim Halpert. Pros: Smart, cool, good-looking. Remind you of anybody you know? Cons: Not a hard worker. I can spend all day on a project, and he will finish the same project in half an hour. So that should tell you something.”

This is a humorous but great example for some reason we have decided that we need to measure inputs but at the end of the day OUTPUT, your results are the ONLY thing that matters. You have to manage yourself this way AND you have to manage your team the same way. You are responsible for shaping the culture of your team to be results oriented. It doesn’t matter what your company is doing or other groups. You are in charge of your team’s success. And if you keep them results oriented you can change how they view their work.

The first way to do this is you have to model it yourself, you do that by protecting YOUR time first! How many times have you come home at the end of the day worked a full day, attending meetings and conference calls answered 100’s of emails only to realize you didn’t actually accomplish Anything!.  Your input was 8 hours your output was 0. Which number do you think matters more in your life.

Here is what I want you to do. When you get to work before you open email before you chit chat with your co-workers get a pen and paper… Yes, it has to be a paper. Write down your minimum viable day. What that means are what are the things I have to accomplish today to make it a success? Ideally it should be no more than 5 items at most. 3 is the perfect number. If you write down everything you have to do it will completely overwhelm you. You will never finish your to-do list and so you will come home depressed every single day. What is the minimum viable day… Got it written down good… Don’t do anything else until you have made progress on those tasks. Get them moving in a forward direction.

The next thing you need to do is make sure you set aside dedicated time blocks to work on your tasks. Some of the things on that list cannot be completed quickly so block out time on your calendar to do nothing but that no meetings, no phone calls, nothing… Shut off your phone notification and email notifications. Focused time is the only way to be successful. We have this weird itch that needs to be scratched to check our email and respond as soon as something come in. We are so attached to our phones that it has actually re-wired our brain. I am not kidding. There is a diagnosis known as Phantom vibration syndrome. You feel your phone vibrating or ringing when it doesn’t. It is called a syndrome but is better characterised as a tactile hallucination since the brain perceives a sensation that is not actually present. We are in a constant state of distraction train your mind to focus with time blocks Quit it and go cold turkey.

This time block strategy works equally as well with your team and I have used it many times in the past. We had an issue where one of our software development projects was a full month behind schedule. So I made the call to sequester the entire team in a room. The goal is they would not have to attend any conference calls or status meetings and they didn’t even have to answer email. I called and emailed all the teams they worked with and let them know the entire team would be unavailable for that week and would not be attending meetings or reading emails.. If there was some emergency they felt they needed taken care of they could call me directly. I had each of their team members set an out of office the said the same thing, they were not checking emails that week and they put my cell phone number on their out of office and said call my boss. If it wasn’t important enough to call then it wasn’t really an emergency and could wait.. The crazy thing is the week before it was all these meetings and fire drills and we have all these emergencies. Then all the sudden nothing happened that week. Turns out nothing was really that important that couldn’t wait a week!! I have used this on a micro level as well. Where on Monday and Wed after lunch no one on the team is allowed to respond to email. Focused time is so important to productivity. Don’t neglect it.

At this point, you have gotten your tasks taken care of and you can move on to other peoples problems. It is important to remember every single time you answer an email or a phone call you are actually just helping other people cross of their own to-do list. Every company has there share of silly processes and overhead. The ones I have worked with are no exception. It would never fail several times a week I would get requests to fill out a spreadsheet or log in to a system and click some box to certify or approve something. The truth is none of these tasks moved me or my team closer to ANY of our goals. I knew who was sending those emails so I had an auto-filter rule setup to stick them in a folder called “Busy Work” and I wouldn’t even look at them until Friday at the earliest and only when I felt like I had accomplished what I needed to.” When something comes in that appears to require your attention ask yourself these 3 pointed questions.

  1. What would happen if I just didn’t do this?

Would there actually be any real repercussions if you did not complete this task? What is the worst thing that could happen if you didn’t do this? If there would be real consequences then you have no choice but to do it. You will be surprised how many tasks can get by this first question.  I have a pretty good example of this. Every week we were supposed to email in our status reports. Just a nice bullet email list of everything we are working on. We emailed it to one of the folks on another team they would compile it together build a little email newsletter and send it over to our Executive Director. It took me about an hour a week to put this together but I had the sneaking suspicion nobody was reading them. So I wondered what would happen if I just didn’t send in my update… so I didn’t… and Nothing Happened. I didn’t send them in for an entire year before someone said something. A year. I saved myself 52 hours. Because it couldn’t even get past the first question.

2. Could this be automated?

Is this a request of you that you will get more than once? Is it a powerpoint or report you could easily build into a macro? Think about creative ways to reduce the amount of time it takes to handle recurring requests on your time. The easiest example I can think of is we launched a new product people wanted all these stats about. The requests would come from a bunch of different groups but it would end up being the same information. So we built a quick script we could run to pull in the stats and spit out a nicely formatted report. Every time we got asked that question. We just pushed a button and done.

3.  Can this be delegated

Is there someone else on your team who could do an equal or better job than you? Trust your team with some of these assignments so you can focus on the larger issues at hand.  Your team is smarter than you and better at you at many tasks. It is important to note this 3rd question is not about dumping tasks you just don’t want to do on other people it is about understanding if someone could do a better job than you. If they can have a better output than you it takes then less time and has a better result that that is a more efficient use of resources.

If a task can pass these three questions then you know it is something you need to focus on. You can save yourself a huge amount of time over your career by examining the asks of your time. Go take a look at your current to-do list and ask these questions of each one. I am going to bet at least one of those items can be removed after reviewing this.

I will give credit to my cousin Paul Thompson who you can find over on his own podcast “Ready Investor One” for giving me these questions many years ago and changing up how I approach work.

If you don’t follow these 3 easy rules you will find you are putting in 50 hour weeks with very little output to show for it, because you are just working on other peoples work. Something always comes in to fill up your time if you let it. If you make yourself available for 50 hours. Guess what you can find 50 hours of work, or 60 or on and on.

A Lot of the tips I have given you so far have been applicable to you and how you manage your time. Let’s pretend you have that all figured out. You need to do the exact same thing with your team. How much time are they spending doing tasks for other teams VS what they are accomplishing. How much time is wasted focused on their input?  If you team is consistently working 50 hour weeks In my opinion you have failed as a manager. Because you have failed to set the correct priorities for them and guarded their time effectively. You have to guard your team’s time just as fiercely as you guard your own. Like I mentioned before there is a huge drop off in production with these extra hours. I personally do not believe 50 hours is sustainable long term. Short bursts sure. As a leader you had better know where your team’s time is going… We find yourself in the EXACT same trap. Your boss asks you about a project. What is your response. “My team is working as hard as they can” That’s the equivalent of passing in the hall and saying you are busy. You are justifying the input, which doesn’t matter. No one cares.

Let’s wrap this up…. Your goal in life is to work as little as possible. Your goal is not to focus on how much you work or how many hours you put in. It is to focus on your outcomes. At the end of the day you should be asking yourself and you team.. Not what did you do today or what are you working on. The question is WHAT WAS ACCOMPLISHED. Work for its own sake is worthless. You do this by protecting your time

  1. Define your minimum viable day – What
  2. Carve out focused time blocks for work
  3. Once you have finished your tasks worry about other people’s problems. And make sure every task passes the 3 question test.
    1. What happens if I just don’t do this
    2. Can this be automated
    3. Can this be delegated

If you do this and protect your time, and protect your team’s time they will start to focus on the more important thing and thus protect their outputs which is what you as a leader will be judged on. Not the amount of work you do but the amount of output you produce. Using these filters I have talked about will allow you to actually work less and produce more.  The truth is I worked less hours then several other of my peers yet I was the one who received promotions and raises because I measuring the right thing. I measured Output. A focused 40 is better than a scattered 50.

Thanks for listening today.

I love answering your pressing middle management questions on how to get through your day. We are going to figure out what works and doesn’t work. If you have a question you want me to answer or just a crazy story you want me to share head over to the or just send me an email [email protected].  Look forward to hearing from you and remember the reward for good work is just more work! See ya next time.