Updated: Oct 11, 2021
The concept of working less while achieving more is not new. Back in 2007, Tim Ferris published the 4-Hour Workweek, which introduced quite radical ideas on how to optimize your work week, filter unnecessary tasks, and outsource as much as possible so that you have more time for things that matter most.
However, while these ideas can be practical for a solopreneur or in specific life situations, integrating them as a leader in a smaller or larger organization may turn out to be quite a challenge and can be quite impractical. Have you seen a leader at Google or Facebook who works 4-hours per week running a large organization?
The reality is that most leaders (and I speak from my own experience in the past decades) work hard every day, driven by tight deadlines to deliver ambitious results. Instead of 4-hours per week, it is more reasonable to assume (at least) 10-12 hours per day is the golden standard (sometimes even more.) Once you add commute time, pretty much all of the waking day time is absorbed by work.
There is also a certain expectation for (senior) leaders that if you work less and leave the office earlier, you are basically “slacking,” not working hard enough in the eyes of others in the leadership or founding team.
These ideas are outdated, based on limiting thoughts, and are not necessarily true. The motto “quality over quantity” applies here as well. For example, my former boss at Yahoo! did not care how many hours I spent in my cubicle, but cared a lot whether the work was getting done on time.
We all know that humans are not built to sustain a constant high workload over a more extended period of time. This leads to an enormous build-up of stress, borrowing resources and energy from the future, eventually leading to different burnout forms. If you review some current Workplace Burnout Surveys, the number of persons in study, who indicated that they had experienced some form of burnout at their current job was about 71% (from a sample size of 1000 participants.) This doesn’t sound healthy nor sustainable to me.
It is time for drastic changes in the workplace, wouldn’t you agree?
What is needed is less work and more balance in our lives so that your mind and body have sufficient recovery time. This actually leads to improved results, a better quality of decisions, and more impact.
The idea is to work less, but get still more done at work. Then use the extra time to invest into yourself, your health, wellbeing, your relationships, and personal as well as consciousness growth in a focused and balanced manner. This leads to greater happiness and fulfillment, less stress, and potentially a longer healthspan as well.
Let’s explore …
The Mindful Leader's Approach to “Work less, Achieve More”
Here is a high-level concept and proposal of the “Work Less, Achieve more” approach, on how you can successfully implement these changes in your life.
It is built on applying these methods within each of these different areas (or aspects) in parallel, iterating based on experimentation using a data-driven approach, and gradually reaching a desired outcome that works well for you.
It is not a quick fix, and achieving this lifestyle requires that you make this mindset of “Work Less, Achieve more” gradually a habit. This requires a strong commitment and hard work initially, and that’s why only few leaders have mastered it so far. In my experience it is harder than tackling your usual business goal, as your ego will distract you if you have a mind that is untrained.
These are the different aspects of the approach, which I refer to also as the “The Mindful Leader Approach to Balance”
Increase your level of present awareness (LPA)
Reduce (or eliminate completely) unnecessary tasks that add no impact or value
Find creative ways to do things smarter and more effective, possibly delegate or outsource if needed (use the 4-Hour Work Week as inspiration)
Increase your cognitive performance and train your mind
Become healthier and increase your overall level of well-being
Implement a lifestyle of focused balance
But let’s look at the big picture first …
Become aware that working effectively and efficiently for usually more than 5-6 hours per day (unfortunately) is not sustainable. Several scientific studies point out that our daily energy reserves are limited as the brain uses 20% of our energy (24x7); it is clear that there is not much energy left after a few hours of focused work. A phenomenon of decision fatigue usually kicks in as well later during the day. It might be the case that your cognitive abilities and energy are stronger, and you might be able to sustain more work, or they are (already) lower, which leaves you to even less productive work time per day. We are all different and the guidance of 5-6 hours is based on my own experience.
The approach I’m suggesting for you to explore looks something like this:
Through mindfulness training, breathing exercises, and mediation we are training our mind regularly with the goal of increasing our level of present awareness (LPA). This is the most important foundation, as increased awareness will guide you toward optimizing your daily activities, and also becoming more aware of the status of your overall health, increased body awareness, your most important relations, and how much fun you actually have on a given day.
Through this increased LPA we first get rid of some unnecessary time-wasters and tasks that make no sense to do anyway. Here we are just giving you some time back, without affecting any impact on current important results.
With that extra time, you start to allocate time to setting up basic mind-management practices and start with some bio-hacking basics like optimizing your sleep, better nutrition, and a helpful lifestyle using intermittent fasting. With this you will be quickly increasing your energy levels and cognitive abilities, which will help you get more stuff done better and faster.
As mentioned, your mind-management practice will raise your level of present awareness (LPA). With increased awareness, you will have a stronger connection to your intuition and also be able to weed out more unnecessary work items that are not aligned with your inner purpose and mission, therefore further decreasing your workload.
Eventually more advanced biohacking allows you in parallel to increase your energy levels and cognitive abilities further and, therefore, get more stuff done in less time. You will be able to work at high-performing levels without the typical setback in the early afternoon. Stress levels will be lower, as you're using mind-management methods to manage your recovery and energy levels.
On one side, you can see that the daily workload decreases as you weed out more tasks that add no value, and you become more aware of those.
On the other hand, through the systematic application of mind-management and biohacking, your performance and energy levels are increasing, getting more stuff done (even better) in a shorter amount of time.
In addition, you are gradually living a lifestyle of balanced focus, dividing and diversifying your energy levels over different aspects of your life (your spouse and family may notice those positive changes quickly.) You realize that business or work is just one (important) aspect of your life, but things like health, wellbeing, relationships, personal growth, fun, and time for just being are equally (or sometimes even more) important.
Develop an Agile Mindset based on Experimentation using a Data-driven Approach
“Work less, achieve more” is a lifestyle that requires an agile mindset with iterative experimentation and constant changes using a data-driven approach. You won’t be able to get this working perfectly right at the beginning. It is a journey, and most important is getting started with small steps.
This way, I encourage you to eventually target a daily workload of up to 7-8 hours per day (the less, the better), while you reallocate the gained extra hours that you were otherwise wasting in unnecessary or unproductive tasks at work now in other important aspects of your life, your well-being, more fun, and your relationships.
With the proposed approach, you will be able to work less but still achieve more impact in business and other areas in your life. It is not giving up on your goals (or lowering your standards) or being happy with suboptimal results. It is about becoming more conscious of how you allocate your time and actively create a lifestyle of balanced focus (see also my earlier article on this topic.)
This way, you achieve more impact, not just in business but also in all other aspects of life!
Sounds cool, right?
Is it doable?
Yes it is!
I have done it and so can you.
But getting there is a process, not a quick fix. It requires letting go of old habits and acquiring new healthy habits.
It also requires that you raise your level of present awareness (LPA), train your mind, and upgrade your body. This requires time and resources and making these topics a priority.
Let me provide you with a few more details on the above ideas. This way, you get a sense of the process and can determine whether this is something worthwhile for you to explore.
Step 1: Limit Work to (initially) 7-8 hours per day - trim the Fat!
The first idea is that you need to review your daily schedule and cut down your work hours to a reasonable, manageable limit. You can do this over a few weeks gradually until you arrive at your target goal. For example, let’s say you work on average 12 hours per day; a first step would be to cut it down to 10 hours, then further to 9, 8, and eventually to a number that works well for you.
There are several books and ideas on how to do this. Basically, focus on stuff that matters, avoid meetings or activities where you can add no value, enforce strict time management of your calendar, and block yourself with sufficient work blocks to get actual stuff done. You have to get creative here and use your awareness to identify tasks that add no value to your mission. Skip those and get rid of them.
You may say that this is not feasible, but can you be absolutely sure that this is true?
Have you really attempted and tried this out before with your fullest level of commitment and focus?
Once you start to become more aware of your time and how you allocate it, you will be amazed that it will be very easy to weed out at least 10-20% without major effort. After that, it gets more challenging, but it can be done...
Step 2: Setup a regular Mind-Management Practise
When you implement step 1, you will receive the new time that you can allocate to set up a regular and effective mind-management practice.
Why is this important?
If you are not training your mind, your LPA is stuck at your current level. This means you may be less aware when you fall back to old patterns, you are not connected with your body, and other connections in your life may be ignored most of the time, as you are not living a balanced lifestyle.
Awareness is your power to be alert in the present moment and realize what you are actually doing NOW.
You may become aware that you are already working longer, and can then ask the question, how can I make a change at this moment to get back on track. Possibly delegating or spreading tasks into smaller chunks over a week or the current month (who says everything needs to get done today?)
Step 3: Making your Health and Wellbeing a Priority
Part of this approach requires utilizing times where your energy levels are low and increasing energy levels to new highs in a consistent manner of the day. Just alone, that afternoon slump of energy that can get you into a tired and low-performing state for several hours represents a huge opportunity to turn it into a productive work session, where you can easily triple your results, and gain important time back.
With the freed-up time as mentioned above, it is smart to invest it into your own wellbeing. In short, biohacking addresses different aspects of your daily life, such as your sleep, exercise routines, and overall nutrition.
There is more to it, but these are the basic categories where the 80/20 rule applies. Fix your sleep, eat healthier, and do a proper minimal level of exercise smartly and watch (better measure) what happens.
Step 4: Cultivating an Agility Mindset with fast Iterations and Experimentation
Many people are not basing their decisions on data. If I ask you how healthy you are, can you really know the answer?
You may say, “Oh yes, I’m doing well,” but what data does support this conclusion.
Are you tracking at least 100-200 biomarkers regularly so that you can say with conviction that this is true?
If not, I’m sorry to break the news to you:
You are basically running blind when it comes to your health. There are thousands of metabolic processes running concurrently in your body, and your billions of cells are constantly fighting a battle to survive and keep you thriving.
If you make poor choices, for example, when it comes to nutrition, you provide your genes with information that may not have desired beneficial effects.
You may increase mineral or vitamin deficiencies over time, which lead to suboptimal performance of different systems in your body.
Let’s say that because of this, your detoxification systems are not working properly anymore, allowing more toxins to accumulate, which then negatively affect your mitochondria (those little organelles in your cells that are responsible for energy production or other important tasks). As a result, energy levels are falling, and your immune system might also be negatively affected, opening the door to bacteria and virus infections that may lead to disease, or even worse, increase the probability of developing one of the four killer diseases like stroke, heart attack, cancer, or Alzheimer’s (in fact there are even ten of them if we dig in deeper.)
The agile mindset is based on learning about new methods (experiments) that are based on the latest science and findings, then obtaining a baseline through measurement, and then defining a protocol or method that has an impact on the baseline, then measuring again. If it works, then do more of it; if not, do something different. Biohacking is exactly based on these principles.
Get started with a basic mind-management practice. The article explains the ideas behind it and provides some actionable ideas on how to get started.
Become aware of your current workload, and try to cut it down as suggested immediately.
Then explore following the ideas in steps 1-3. Don’t be too aggressive. Take small steps.
Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work immediately.
Expect some push-back from your colleagues and coworkers if they see you spending less time in the office. Explain to them that you are actually increasing your results by experimenting with this new approach of “Work less, achieve more”).
Share your results with your co-workers regularly, so that they can see the increased productivity and other gains. Hopefully, that makes them curious to also start wondering how this could potentially work for them as well.
Setup some basic KPIs (key performance indicators) to track progress. For example, the average number of hours worked over time, your HRV (heart rate variability), LPA, etc. Also think about some way to measure diversification of activities, like a “balance score” - time to get creative! Then start measuring to obtain a baseline and track your progress over time.
Join a supportive community of The Fellowship of Mindful Tech Leaders to network and mastermind with like-minded leaders and peers. You are not alone; there are many other individuals who realize that the current way of working and pushing your body is not sustainable. Exchange ideas with them, and take advantage of increased accountability when collaborating with others on this topic.
Q: Working less than 8 hours a day and running a (large) organization is not feasible.
A: Can you be absolutely sure that this is true? Have you tried everything in your power to prove that this thought is really true? Or is it just based on your current set of limiting thoughts and beliefs?
Q: Ok, I give you the benefit of the doubt and assume I could work less than 8 hours today. Will I still be able to get my work done?
A: Yes, and you will be able to get it done even better! Lots of the performance and output of a leader depend on emotional intelligence (EQ), resilience, and other helpful leadership capabilities. With an increased level of present awareness (LPA), regular rigorous training of your mind, and overall healthy lifestyle support through the art of biohacking, you can reach performance levels and states of consciousness that you would now think are not feasible - but they are!
Q: I like my work; it actually doesn’t feel like work to me. Why should I not spend more time on the things I love to do?
A: It is good that you love your work. That means you have found your purpose and possibly are on an ambitious mission. But keep in mind that your body has physical limitations, as well as your mind. Balance is the answer to provide ample time for recovery over the course of the day and during the night. And a balanced approach points you also to other important aspects of your life, like your relationships, possibly with friends, family, or fun people to hang out with. Last but not least, your investment in your health requires a strong commitment and time. Achieving balance is an art, and I encourage you to become a master of this discipline, as it will lead you to a happy and fulfilling life.
Q: You suggest 6-8 hours of work per day, but I’m actually fine with 5
A: Sure, these are just numbers for guidance. Find out what number works well for you, and keep iterating on it.
Q: Let’s say I explore this approach further. How long will it take to see results?
A: Once you start exploring these ideas and take action, you will get results quickly. For example, when getting started in your first week, assume you are working 10 hours less. Then spend these 10 hours investing into yourself, your health, and your relationships - try it out and see what happens. The results are cumulative and the longer you tweak and optimize your lifestyle, the more impact you will generate in all aspects of your life.
Q: I would like to try this out …
A: Do or do not, there is not try (Yoda)
Q: I need some support and would like to move into this new lifestyle quickly. What resources are available that can streamline this process?
A: See the section of resources above. If you are really serious about your personal and leadership transformation, schedule a call with me, and we can discuss further what options are helpful in your particular scenario.