Why working less is working more . . .
“The question isn’t what are we going to do, the question is what aren’t we going to do?”— Ferris, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Ferris Bueller raises a damn good point. And it’s a question that you need to start asking yourself at work.
All your life you’ve been programmed to work hard. You’ve received an A for effort. It doesn’t matter what happens, along as you try. You get a trophy for coming in sixth.
It’s not your fault, but that mentality transfers into everything you do. Whether you cram for a test or work late to please your boss, you believe in trying hard. The more hours you throw at something, the better the results. Shenanigans.
Come Early, Stay Late — Be Miserable
You should never brag about the lack of sleep you got. Or how many hours you pulled last week. As if you deserve a badge for being less efficient than you should be.
I always wanted to be industrious. I wanted to get in early, stay late, and work to get ahead. I thought the more time I spent on a project or task, the better it would become. I was confusing effort with results.
To double down on this mistake, I believed I was good at everything — so as long as I tried and gave a ton of effort. I was dead wrong.
Throwing Good Time at Bad Work
Your time is valuable. To you, your employer, your significant other, and the list goes on. How you allocate that resource is the most important decision you can make.
I was tasked with a design project and given a tight deadline. I’m not a designer, but I was working for a small company and wearing many hats (I actually hate that expression- because no one is wearing hats). And I knew I wasn’t skilled for design work. But I wanted to give it my best shot.
I worked 10 plus hours and stayed up late into the night to work on the project. The next day, I fueled up with coffee, and I was chomping at the bit to get feedback. I was offered a few suggestions and tweaks, continuing to work that day — but I was dead tired.
I failed to listen, made more mistakes, and turned in such poor quality work that it jeopardized my job. I couldn’t get out of my own way. I was throwing good time at bad work.
You aren’t good at everything. And it doesn’t matter how much time you spend on a project. All that matters is the results.
Drive Home Backwards
learned from that mistake and how to fix it from one my colleagues. She consistently worked less and delivered great results. She never stayed late or arrived terribly early. But at work, she was laser-focused.
Thankfully, after receiving a nice bump in pay — she let me in on her secret. All you have to do is do less. It sounds simple because it is.
– Instead of throwing all your time to a project, cut it in half. Break the project into pieces and prioritize. It’s really easy to spend more time on a task. But when you are forced to limit the hours, you do what’s important. And since you’re not staying late, you’re happier.
– Accept you’re not good at everything. You’re not a hero. If you can’t do the job, ask for help. Your time is well spent elsewhere. Play to your strengths.
– Take a night off. You are human. You’re not always going to be productive. Understand you need long uninterrupted stretches of time. Avoid distractions. Stop working when you don’t feel like it.
All of this advice is easier said then done. But the sooner you understand it’s not about effort — it’s about results — you will produce better work. Because results get attention. And raises.
Abraham Lincoln offers a more concrete example:
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”— Abraham Lincoln
So What Aren’t You Going to Do?
Tomorrow when you go to work, cut your task in half. Become an editor. Don’t ask yourself what you’re going to do, but what you aren’t going to do. Be selective.
Think of your work as a museum. What makes a museum great is not what’s in the museum, but what isn’t in the museum. The same is true for your work.
Title Photo Credit: flickr