Over a number of years I’ve watch hundreds of business men and woman chain themselves to some sort of penal system called… self-employment.
They’ve developed a twisted mentality that if it doesn’t hurt, they probably aren’t working hard enough. Sure, as every small business owner will tell you, if you want the results you’ve got to be prepared to work hard. Some of the hardest working and most dedicated people I’ve ever met have been self-employed.
However… I want to share with you an idea, a mentality, that I and many of my clients have found a powerful way to change your approach to working long hours as a self-employed individual. Above all, I’ve found it a powerful way to significantly increase productivity and reduce stress and burnout.
Of course, there are a range of different styles and approaches to work. Some people are extremely disciplined and use structure to ensure they chunk through the work to get the results in time. Others are more scatter-gun and reactive; when it comes in the task gets dealt with according to (perceived) priority. This is never really a good idea, as it means your business and perhaps your customers or suppliers (or even your staff) are actually more in control than you are. Finally, there are the smart ones out there who simply focus on each task but rely upon a second person to assist in the management and priority – having a PA or secretary who steers your time can work incredibly well. This method seems to be ideal for more creative types who find little satisfaction in structure and focus more on the process and even more on the final product.
You might well have guessed by now that much of what I’m sharing here with you now is very close to my heart. As a person who started in self-employment at the age of 19 I didn’t really know what to expect, or have any experience of being employed. I worked harder and harder but still struggled. I needed to learn more and increase my skill sets before I could deliver good results quickly. After eight years of self-employment I returned to the UK and switched to become an employee and eventually entered corporate life. I’m pleased to say that my return to self-employment (about 10 years ago) has been the ideal move and I know I’ll never return to the ‘dark side’.
As an employee I worked for and with a mixture of different managers, all with different styles. For the most part managers seem to quickly develop a mentality that suggests that employees should never be trusted and if you’re not squeezing every last moment of time out of them you’re not ‘managing them’. Again, I fully accept that there are some employees who are simply lazy and they will find every opportunity to skive. But I’ve seen this mentality destroy real enthusiasm and form bitter and untrusting and even divisive relationships.
I’ve worked for boss’ who demand punctuality to the minute and would rather measure your dedication by how many lunch-breaks you are prepared to give up, rather than by the results you actually output. I’ve also work for self-employed people who believe their own insane desire of working 14-16 hours a day should extend to people with far less investment in the business. One boss I had would start his working day at 5:30am or even 4:30am (in the office) and take perverse pleasure from reminding all his staff that he had already put in half a day’s work before others had turned up! His life was consumed by work, he had no social life, no friends and eventually watched a business worth millions collapse in front of his eyes.
So here’s my radical thought; if business productivity is all about results, sales, profits and growth, why do we always tend to measure work rate by in-put and not by out-put?
The number of hours you work is nothing more than a measure of time it’s taken you to complete the given tasks. I’ve met some people who are clearly workaholics and their biggest frustration is that 24 hours in a day just isn’t enough. If you’re running your own business and working more than 10 hours a day I would seriously question your business model. ‘Work should be boring and predictable’ and most of all it should be able to run without you; that’s called having a business, not owning a job.
As the majority of what we do day-to-day is broken down into tasks, and the fact that being task-focused is a good way to stay on track, it’s tempting to approach these tasks by the measure of time required. The reality is though, it’s the actual out-put of the task that creates the result, the sale, the profits, etc. The amount of time expended is almost irrelevant. Arguably the longer it takes the more it costs and your profit margin shrinks as a result of inefficiency. Always remember, even if you own the business, your time is (or should be) a cost to the business too.
Instead of looking at each day as a set of tasks to be completed in a set amount of time, why not focus on how best to achieve the output you want? I promise you; you’ll find you complete tasks far quicker and with low stress – and you’ll probably enjoy yourself a lot more too!
Now I approach my working day very differently. Sure, the days and weeks fly past for me and I’d still like to create more. However, rather than looking at the next busy week ahead and thinking about all the hours it’s going to take to achieve the desired result, I now look at the end outcome and decide how can I quickly, efficiently and effectively create the result wanted.
The time you put into your working life is nothing more than a measure of how much of your life you are giving it. So surely it would be better to maintain a focus on what you want to actually achieve, for you and others around you?