Do you struggle with feeling satisfied at the end of your day’s work? I know I do. There’s always so much more to do than I’ve done and quite often, my to-do list isn’t any lighter at 6pm than when I started the day! (Yes, I know I should stick to just 3 things a day, but sometimes I overestimate myself and forget this rule!)
But having a lot to do is not the only problem we entrepreneurs face with finishing work at a reasonable hour. Usually we’re motivated and passionate about our projects so it’s easy to …just keep working! Yet one of the presumed benefits of being in business for ourselves is the extra flexibility and lifestyle benefits (we should be able to utilise). After all, we want to enjoy our families, keep fit, see friends and even squeeze in some hobbies around our businesses too.
For many entrepreneurs, the gap between what we want to do and what we’ve done in a day results in extremely high levels of frustration. (In my case, this manifests as staying up way too late thinking ‘I’ll just do one more thing!’)
So is it possible to work less and feel more accomplished?
Knowing that lots of others face this same problem, I decided to ask some experts how they address this with their work practises and mindsets. I went to some people I admire who I know are both crazily productive and also live great lives outside of their businesses. I asked them two questions; “How do you limit your working hours, while still feeling good about your work?” and “What about the days when you don’t feel like you accomplished as much as you wanted?”.
Here’s how the pro’s stop working at a reasonable hour and feel satisfied with their day…
Advice from Real Entrepreneurs (with a life!)
How To Stop Work and Feel Good About Your Day
I found that when I started working school hours, this was a real game-changer. It forced me to do only the very most important stuff, and let the not-so-important stuff sit, undone. And it had no discernible impact on the health of my business.
I think we all waste much more time during the working day than we realise. Putting hard limits on the hours you work, and not giving yourself the ‘out’ of being able to jump back on the laptop in the evening means you get very ruthless with how you spend your time.
The other beauty of setting those hard limits is – when you’re on, you’re ON. Because when you’re off, (i.e. not working), you’re regenerating. Which gives you more energy for when you’re ON.
What do I do on the days when I don’t feel like I accomplished as much as I wanted? First of all, these days are always going to happen – the “busy work” days where it gets to 4pm and you’re like, “What have I even accomplished today?” On those days, it’s always worth doing a “Ta Da” list – one that ticks off everything you’ve done for the day.
If you’re having these days more often than not, however, it means you’re not being disciplined. You’re going for the “small wins” of the busy work over the big wins of more meaty, business-building work. In those situations, you need to hold yourself to doing the meaty, business-building work as your first order of the day, and save the easier, busy-work for later in the day when your energy levels are lower.
1) Choose projects that energise you and be realistic about how much can be achieved by you in a month. You have 160 productive hours and when those hours are gone you get blunt. Choosing shorter easier projects can boost your sense of momentum. You should expect and really WANT whatever result you are doing all this work for. If you don’t WANT it or are not prepared to pay the price for it – you are just a dreamer heading for disappointment.
2) Work at the prime productivity parts of the day. Often this will be first thing in the day. Sometimes it will be when you feel very excited about a project and you just want to get it done. Go with the energy when it is there. This is easier than forcing yourself to slog for 8 hours straight. If you don’t feel completely into doing the work have some time off. If this becomes a constant habit start small with a daily discipline and build up to more intense projects.
3) Measure your effective hourly rate. EHR. The amount of profit divided by the number of hours worked. This number get higher when you work on the same project for less time. It is the antidote for Parkinson’s law (work expands to fill the time available). Combine a deadline or a forced stop time to make this even more powerful.
4) Hire a team. Have others take care of lower EHR activities and anything you just don’t enjoy. This is the true path to high leverage for output versus input.
5) Sleep. Most adults do not get enough sleep. Sleeping restores your body and lets your brain be more effective. Reduce electronic activities prior to bed time and keep devices in another room. Set an alarm to go to bed so that you set yourself up for a good tomorrow.
6) List out everything on your mind to release the overwhelm. Once it is on paper, choose only a few things that are really important and do those first. The rest of the list can be retrieved later. If you are really worried about losing the list take a photograph of the list. Now you can let them go from your mind.
7) Spend a lot less time on Facebook! This place will cycle you through a range of emotions and wear you out. Is being on Facebook helping you get where you want to or is it distracting you?
I don’t really limit my working hours, I also don’t believe in the work-life balance concept as it’s all living for me.
Instead of having strict working hours, I optimise and maximise my working hours depending on my energy levels. For example, I know I’m a morning person and I am very productive in the mornings, so that’s when I get most of my thinking and focus work done. My team knows not to book me for meetings before noon. This way I get the most done in the least amount of time.
I also make sure to take time off to recharge my batteries with things I enjoy doing such as surfing, playing music, going on adventures etc.
There are certainly also days where at the end of day I think “wow, what happened to today, my to-do list is still the same as in the morning,” because of unexpected problem-solving or anything that comes at you. I’ve learned to be ok with that rather than bashing myself up over it. It’s part of living! I try to catch myself if I spend even a few minutes talking bad about myself because “I haven’t accomplished that much” since I find it’s a waste of my thoughts. So I just acknowledge it and move on!
I tend to be pretty careful about my time. Every moment that I spend working one one thing is a moment I never get to spend with my family, or the people that I love. Which makes that limitation truly important.
The techniques I use can be things like deleting my email apps off my phone on the weekend, or deleting the Slack app, to remove the temptation to work.
On days where I’ve not accomplished much – I tend to practice a certain level of acceptance. The world didn’t end, you know?
I’ve always been a quality output person. I cringe when people say, “It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be done.”
I like to feel proud of the work I do and I don’t like to waste time on things that don’t have an impact. In my opinion, having a “done” attitude doesn’t always achieve the real outcome you want. I’ve developed systems and structures that ensure my work is focused, efficient and of a high standard.
Scheduling my days and creating time blocks for tasks (both personal and business) has been the secret to my success as an entrepreneur and single mother. This took me some time to realise though. I used to multitask like crazy, and hop from one thing to the next with barely a breath – a carry over from my corporate life. I had a very different support team then however, and I’ve learned this approach doesn’t work for me now when I’m working from home as a solo entrepreneur. Creating boundaries with others to respect I work from home and have a schedule I’m committed to has been really hard but necessary to achieve my goals and to keep true to my vision.
I engage in a lot of meditation and inner self talk now to keep me focused and to keep me patient, especially on the days when things go to shit. This is a long game for me. I have a long term vision for my business and have to keep reminding myself of that. It’s been important to shake off that old big business mentality where I worked under a lot of pressure to turn around results at all costs as quickly as possible. But the reality is, I had a big budget and a big team working for me then. This ‘doing it alone’ has required an adjustment in mindset and pace.
What’s exciting is these are the exact reasons I chose to start my own business; for more time with the people who matter most to me and for greater purpose. I want my work to make a difference in the world.
When I asked Josh to participate in this roundup article of advice, he asked for a few days and then published a post all about this topic.
His overall philosophy?
“We can work less and not feel bad about it. It’s possible.”
Josh also brings up Parkinson’s Law: Work expands to fill the time we give it. The key insight here is that this means that we need to put firm boundaries on our working time. Yes, sometimes that will mean that we don’t finish everything we intended to finish. In fact, Josh also says that the less we work, the more productive we get.
“Working more hours doesn’t make us more productive — it enables us to be LESS productive.”
Going alongside this, Josh points out that “busy” has become somewhat of a status symbol. Now, we all think we’re immune to this but imagine yourself spending an evening or afternoon lying on the couch. If you’re anything like me, you’d think of yourself as lazy and unproductive. So we need to change what we think is a good use of our time.
To conclude, Josh points out that; “Time spent working does not equal working hard.”
The consensus from the pro’s seems to be that yes, it is more than possible to work less and feel more accomplished about our work. (Thank goodness for that!)
And while there are lots of specific tips here, the advice is actually pretty consistent. I’ve attempted a summary below;
- Focus on getting the most out of our working hours (there are lots of tips for how to do this)
- Limit our working time in a disciplined way (there is always more to do so we need to enforce limits – either daily as most people seem to do, or by allocating times for the other things in life we want to enjoy – eg holidays)
- Change our mindsets so that we don’t equate working hours with productivity
If you’re ready to really lift your productivity up a notch and want to do it in an organised way, try our One-Page Actionable Business Plan (it’s free). With a clear business plan in place, you’ll know exactly what to do each day.