Quit Working So Hard So You Can Get More Done

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teamMost of us work too hard to really get anything done.

There are many studies that demonstrate that multimillion dollar CEOs spend less than 30 minutes per day doing the work they’re actually paid to do.

Why is this?

It’s because the higher we go in our levels of responsibility (and this is especially salient for entrepreneurs) the more likely it is we will be interrupted throughout the day by concerns, people, and tasks that are urgent (needs attention from someone immediately) but not necessarily important (needs high-level attention from the entrepreneur, CEO, or manager).

This applies even if you are a freelance worker (or perhaps you started your own online business in your “spare time”).

The key to success on a massive scale is to focus on revenue-generating activities as much as possible.

Here’s how you do that…

Focus on Revenue Generation

If you were to analyze your day, you would no doubt discover that less than 20% of your daily activity produces 80% or more of your total revenue.

Another way of looking at this is to realize that 80% of what you do doesn’t really contribute to your income in a directly measurable way.

You may be familiar with this as Pareto’s Law: “80% of the results typically come from only 20% of the activity”.

Instead of expending a lot of effort trying to change that 20% number to a higher percentage-save 50 or 60%-it might be more useful to consider simply eliminating the 80%.

Sound almost impossible? In fact, you already know how to do this…

Day Before Vacation Phenomena

Have you ever experienced “the day before vacation phenomena”?

You know what I’m talking about.

You’re leaving for vacation on, let’s say, a Thursday. Have you ever noticed how that Wednesday becomes the most efficient work day you’ve had in many weeks (perhaps months)?

Have you noticed how, on the day before vacation starts, you get 10 times the work done in a single day?

You’ve probably also noticed the wonderful euphoric feeling you experience when you walk out of the office on that day… how you feel that everything is in its place, each task is handled, each responsibility delegated to a team member, or at the very least deferred until you get back.

On those days, don’t you feel more at peace, in control, and effortlessly productive then on 99% of the other days of the year?

So there it is: your proof that you’re actually capable of eliminating the 80% of normal time-wasting, revenue-depressing, stress-inducing activity that makes up most of your days.

Dan, The “No Email Man”

I have a colleague named Dan who doesn’t do e-mail.

I don’t mean that he does “very little” e-mail… I mean he doesn’t do e-mail at all. Doesn’t have an e-mail address.

Dan also doesn’t have a cell phone. If you want to talk to Dan, you have to call him at his office; his phone is answered by his assistant who deftly protects Dan from time-wasting phone calls and appointments.

In fact, Dan has very few appointments. Yet he is very productive, very receptive and open to talking with people, and runs a multimillion dollar business. He somehow manages to do it while living a sane, orderly, and peaceful life.

So what excuse do the rest of us have?

My 3-Month Experiment

Just a few weeks ago, I wrapped up a three-month experiment.

For three months, my wife and I traveled the United States in our motorhome.

We ran our business in our “spare time” from that motorhome-using laptops, WiFi Internet connections, and UPS stores.

While I will admit it was challenging at times, I can also tell you that on average for that three-month period, I worked about three hours a day (weekdays).

Normally, my work day is anywhere from 8-10 hours long.

It was startling to realize that I could maintain (actually not just maintain, but increase) my net income while working around one third fewer hours.

Now that I’m back in my “normal” environment, I am remaining very conscious of how much time I spend working-versus how much time I spend “being busy”, giving the APPEARANCE of work.

You see, I already know it’s possible to maintain my income working only three hours a day.

I should be clear: some days are 12 hour days, and some days are zero-hour days.

It only averages out to three hours per day-it’s never as neat as exactly 180 minutes each day. But that misses the point. The point is: what on earth have I been doing with those other 7-9 hours each day?

How bout you?

What could you do with an extra 7-9 hours of discretionary time every single day?

Think about that.

Going Cold Turkey

Last weekend I decided to experiment with my colleague Dan’s lifestyle.

My wife and I got in our motorhome once again, and drove about six hours to a lake in Oregon. We visited a state park… where there is no Internet service, and no cell phone signal.

That meant I wasn’t able to “sneak in” an e-mail scan, or send out “tweet” on Twitter.

Going cold turkey was interesting.

The first day I was a bit jittery. I experienced some “withdrawal” symptoms.

The second day I experienced a feeling of relaxation I haven’t felt in a very long time.

By the third day, I was ready to continue the experiment for another two or three months-however, it was time to come back home!

These “free days”, as Dan Sullivan calls them – are days where you have absolutely no contact with anything work related (cell phone, voice mail, Internet, files, business reading, etc.).

In my experience, “free days” have almost magical powers to renew and revitalize your spirit, body and mind.

Since getting back from my three-day “cold Turkey” experiment, I’ve been more productive or energetic and more efficient than I have been for a long time.

So those “free days” are now on my calendar every single week; Friday through Sunday are work-free zones.

Having this space to let my mind unwind, to let my spirit relax, allows me to bring back more creativity, energy and enthusiasm to the work I do Monday through Thursday.

I benefit, my family benefits, my clients and their customers all benefit.

Try Your Own Experiment

So what does all this mean to you?

After all, you may or may not have the luxury of spending three months puttering around the USA in your motorhome (we were very blessed by God in being allowed such a privilege).

You may also find it seemingly impossible to take three days a week “off”.

But certainly you could take a single day, couldn’t you?

After all, most of the major spiritual traditions of the world include some form of the “day of rest”. I think that is for a very important reason: we were designed to require such a day of rest each week.

So this week-just for this one week – take a single day that is totally free from any work.

For that 24-hour period put yourself on a diet or you don’t take in any e-mails, Twitter messages, voice mails, cell phone calls, meetings or work of any kind.

You’ll be forced to find other things to do.

Some suggestions that might help you:

  • Take a long walk with someone you love
  • Spend some time over coffee talking
  • Go see a play or movie, read a good (non-work related) book
  • Play a game
  • Go visit an old friend or loved one

While this kind of “slowing down” might be difficult for some of us, I believe the benefits are extraordinary.

But don’t take my word for it.

Try it and see for yourself.

An Advanced Experiment

If you are “all in” for taking a single day off in the next week, perhaps you’d also like to try the advanced part of the experiment.

Two ways we fill that 80% of wasted time each week is in doing things that we either (a) don’t like to do or (b) are not good at doing.

My suggested “advanced experiment” is to choose three of those things (things you either don’t like to do, or that you are not good at) and find someone else to do them for you.

Your three items that you are going to “delegate” or “out-source” could be small and insignificant, or they could be large and important items.

They could be as simple as dusting the bookshelves, or as complex as creating the project plan for a major new initiative in your company. That’s up to you.

I’m only asking you to follow some simple directions:

1. Pick something that you’re either not good at, or that you don’t like to do. And if you want extra credit pick something that fits both of those criteria.

2. Pick something that definitely falls in the “80 percentile group”; something that is not directly revenue-producing for your company or your business.

3. Pick three such “somethings”.

4. Select someone else to take care of these three tasks on your behalf. It can be someone you know personally, who does it simply as a favor to you; it can be someone on your staff to whom you assigned the task; or you can “outsource” the task to someone in another state (or even on another continent) using the Internet. It doesn’t really matter who you get to take care of it, it simply matters that it isn’t you.

Try your own experiment (as outlined above) – and let me know your thoughts below.

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Ray Edwards is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in leadership and business including New York Times bestselling authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Tony Robbins. Ray is a sought-after speaker and author, hosts a popular weekly podcast, and blogs at RayEdwards.com.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • http://twitter.com/blujam blujam

    great to hear your voice again, Ray, always inspirational…
    being a one man/two man show I really identify with working less!

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      Thanks man, I appreciate that. Try it – you'll like it!

  • http://www.strategiccoach.com/ Catherine Nomura

    Thanks Ray! This is a great piece on Free Days. We’ve posted a link to it on the Strategic Coach Facebook wall.

  • http://twitter.com/catnomu Catherine Nomura

    Thanks Ray! This is a great piece on Free Days. We've posted a link to it on the Strategic Coach Facebook wall.

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      I'm honored by that, Catherine – thank you very much.

  • http://twitter.com/maxkazen Max Kazen

    Ray, You are so on the mark. Doing More with Less -especially Time -Success Key. http://maxkazen.com

  • http://www.EscapeFromFat.com/ Barry

    Great post Ray! I can understand where you're coming from I spend 6 months without an internet connection and I came to realize how much time I wasted on line with nothing to show for it. And also coming back online now and looking at my e-mail inbox I'm finding I'm very selective in what I read compared to last year where I read most offers and couldn't focus on doing the things that really needed to be done.

  • http://www.marketingwithmoxie.com/ Rick L'Amie

    Great thoughts, Ray. I especially like the day before vacation phenomena. It's so true. But, I've never thought about it as a lesson in productivity because it's often driven by a sense of urgency or is a result of procrastination — my biggest productivity zapper.

  • Steve Hawk

    I really enjoyed this article! i totally resonate with the “the day before vacation phenomena”–that's exactly what I experience! I'm always amazed at how much I can get done right before vacation; and usually it involves a lot of delegation to excited and willing team members. You're an inspiration, Ray, God bless you, brother!

  • http://www.quantmethod.com Jay Rosenberg

    Great article, Ray. Courtesy of Hurricane Sandy last week, we went “cold turkey” and experienced a total digital/electronic/services blackout — no email, no phone, no Internet (though we could have ued lights and running water!), and it gave me a whole new window of time to plan a launch. From now on, I am going to have Hurrican Sandy Time on Tuesdays and Thursdays and get some real work done. Best wishes.