Enjoy being in business for yourself but feel stressed … overworked … overwhelmed?
Are you struggling to find that elusive ‘balance’ between work and life?
Interestingly, many of the world’s ‘busiest’ and most successful business people, in the highest-pressure jobs, also enjoy the best level of ‘life-satisfaction’ and personal balance? How do they do it? They do it because they DON’T try to ‘balance’ their personal and professional lives. Instead they go for what I call a ‘work-life high’. The happiest, most successful, and most integrated business men and women, love what they do. They go to work every single day because they enjoy it, because they’re doing their passion.
“Do what you love and you will never have to work another day in your life”.
The most successful, stress-free business people, ‘work smarter not harder’. They do this, by structuring their lives in such a way that whether they are working or playing, they spend more time ‘in the zone’ of high-level performance and personal fulfillment. The following 7 practices are commonly found among these individuals.
1. Know Your Goal (Get ‘Crystal Clear’)
Most people think that improving productivity, or getting better work-life balance, is about time management or prioritising. However, successful individuals know that you cannot prioritise unless you first know your ideal end result. Seneca once said, ‘Unless you know where you’re going, any wind is favourable.’ Research, however, suggests that less than 5% of us have clearly defined daily and life goals that we refer to on a regular basis. Most of us are so ‘busy being busy’ (‘as busy as a one-arm bricklayer from Baghdad’ as Kenny would say), that we fail to appreciate the difference between being ‘busy’ and being ‘productive’!
Being truly productive comes down to being crystal clear on what the end result is – what your ideal ‘work-life life’ looks (and feels) like.
High success people know where they’re going, and they know what they want (most of us just know what they we ‘don’t’ want). Therefore, at 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon, when there’s 30 e-mails in their inbox, 15 messages on their voice-mail, and two or three people wanting their time, they know exactly what takes priority. Stress doesn’t accumulate, because they automatically know what is most important, and can attend to that with focus.
Work Smarter TIP 1:
Before you start worrying about prioritising, get crystal clear on your end goal. Take a moment now – if you haven’t done it already – and work out exactly what your ideal life looks like (we need to know what our ideal life is before we can know how ‘work’ fits in … assuming we even separate the two!)
Where do you want to be in ten year’s time? What do you want your life to look like? What’s a perfect day and week for you? Do you want to go on holidays for three months a year? Do you want two kids, five kids….to trade-in your kids? What does work-life balance or a ‘work-life high’ scenario mean for you? Get super clear on this before doing anything else. (You may not actually be in the right business, job or role now!)
2. Do Your ‘Natural Flow-State Activities’
Again, before we even consider prioritising, there is another (often overlooked) key to maximum-productivity performance. It involves spending most of our time in our ‘natural flow-state’ activities.
Thousand year-old Eastern sciences have told us for millenia that the highest states of human performance are cultured only when we combine ‘doing what we love most’ with ‘what we naturally do best’ – i.e. our natural talents.
This is the timeless secret to getting in ‘flow’ or the ‘zone state’ of high-performance. This is the state where we get more done in two hours than we usually do in two days. This is the state where time flies, everything runs like a friction less flow, and we can maintain high-output performance without getting burnt-out. This is the state where athletes achieve personal best performances, break world records or win gold medals. It is the state where artists create Nobel prize-winning work. It is also the state where we as business people have our most creative ideas, peak moments of inspiration, and the energy levels to implement everything.
Importantly, consistently high achievers, get into this state more regularly, by knowing exactly what they do best, and focusing on using their ‘natural God-given talents’. They tend NOT to ‘work on their weaknesses’ or ‘fill holes’ in their businesses. (They outsource them or work in teams to get the ‘other’ stuff done – see principle 4). Richard Branson is dyslexic and rarely if ever even touches a computer…let alone sends email. However, he has built a worldwide empire, by focusing on his unique talents as an innovative, big picture thinker, and a brilliant self-promoter. Bill Gates became the richest man in the world, without even having a personality! (sorry Bill!)
Peak performers tend NOT to work on their weaknesses. They focus on their unique strengths, skills and talents, so that they spend the majority of their time in their ‘high performance’ state.
Getting in our high-performance state is founded on two key things:
- Doing what we most enjoy.
- Doing what we naturally do best.
Combine these two in your business, and you will transform your work performance and results.
Work Smarter TIP 2:
Focus on your strengths (not on your weaknesses) and structure your daily activities so that the majority of your time is spent doing things you enjoy, and involve roles that use your natural talents.
Activity to Help.
Take a blank piece of paper and make three columns.
A) List everything that you really ENJOY/LOVE doing in a vocational/work sense. E.g. working face to face with clients, speaking in public, coming up with new/creative ideas, big-picture strategising, motivating others, working with numbers, technology, selling, planning, marketing, support from behind the scenes…
B) Write down all the activities or roles that you just naturally DO WELL – what you tend to do easily, without much effort, where time flies, and people always compliment you on. Examples as above.
C) Circle which activities are in both columns. These will tend to represent your natural flow-state activities. Gradually over time (you may need to consult with managers, business partners etc), begin to focus more of your time and energy on those areas. *
D) Make use of the ‘Pareto 80-20 Principle’ – the powerful business and work-life balance principle, that shows that 80% of our results come from just 20% of what we do (and vice versa). Focus 80% of your time, and energy on your natural flow-state activities, to achieve 80% of the results you want with 20% of the effort.
* A more comprehensive worksheet for this activity can be found at https://markbunn.com.au/passion-purpose-how-to-find/
3. Fry Your BIG FISH First
Do you get side-tracked by distractions, ‘small stuff’ or always feel like you’re putting out small fires? Do you regularly fail to get to the really important things that drive your bottom-line results and satisfaction?
Many small business people fail to follow the age-old time management/prioritising principle that you hear at every ‘management seminar’ – doing what is ‘most important’. Once you know your goal, and you’ve structured your basic work role and life activities around your high-performance flow-state activities, the third key is focusing solely on the truly important things.
This principle has arguably been best illustrated by the world-renowned Stephen Covey through the Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand analogy (though I believe this teaching actually originated from a university professor who used golf balls). Basically, think of a container that represents your business. The container has sand filling the bottom and pebbles filling the top. The sand represents all the ‘small stuff’ that takes up your time and energy, but doesn’t really lead to your bottom-line business results. The pebbles represent the ‘nice’ things. They’re smooth, shiny, and look good, but at the end of the day, they also are not the key drivers of your business success. In a typical business, the small or nice things ‘may’ include (it will differ for different businesses) – excessive e-mailing, sending Christmas cards to clients, having flashy brochures, fluffy marketing campaigns, taking non-sales phone calls (e.g. incoming telemarketing calls), doing basic accounts/bill payments/office organisation (all possibly better outsourced).
The key point is that, like the container, if your business is full of sand and pebbles, when it comes to putting in any ‘big rocks’, which represent the fundamental, bottom-line drivers of your business success, there is no room left.
When we fill our time up doing all the small things and doing what’s ‘nice’, there is no time left for the really important things.
This results to … more stress … less success.
The solution? Starting again with a new, empty container, the professor first puits three big rocks in. He then pours the first container full of pebbles and sand into the new container. What happens? The pebbles and sand all distribute themselves around the big rocks… without overflowing. The point! Everything else finds a way of fitting in. And it is exactly the same in business.
When we do the big (truly important) things in our business, we often find that much of the ‘small stuff’ that we thought was important, doesn’t even need to be done.
Work Smarter TIP 3:
A) Do a ‘Rocks, Pebbles & Sand’ analysis of your own work/job/business*, and come up with at least two ‘sand’ items that you can get rid of in the next week. (See Principle 4 below)
B) If your business is like the container full of sand and/or pebbles, look to restructure and re-prioritise. Get out your diary or electronic organiser, and where there’s some space in it, whether that’s two weeks, two months, or six months away, start putting in actions related to the big rocks of your business. These might include, getting super clear on your end goals, big-picture strategic planning, spending extra time getting the best possible staff, setting up face-to-face meetings with your key customers/clients/suppliers…whatever the truly important things are that only you can do.
C) Constantly think how you can restructure your day so you are spending the majority of your time on your ‘big Fish’ activities – the activities that drive 80% of your results.
If you want a brainstorming sheet to do the rocks-pebble-sand analogy for either your work situation or personal life (or for your whole team), e-mail
4. Get Rid of the Small Stuff
In order to spend more time on the really important things, we of course, have to get rid of some of the ‘small stuff’. How do we do it? There’s three key ways.
1. Say “NO”.
High-productivity people are clear about their big-picture goal. Thus, anything that does not align or support the achievement of that goal, is simply not entertained. I.e. they say ‘NO’ to. They might say no nicely, but they say no. What’s something ‘small’ that takes up your precious time or energy that you can say no to or decide not to do anymore? E.g. attending networking functions where you get loads of business cards but little, if any, actual business.
2. Avoid the Poison of ‘Perfectionism
Do you know people who want to do everything perfectly? They write a report or proposal and they’ve got to cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’. Even writing an e-mail, or running a team meeting, and they’ve got to get every last little detail absolutely perfect. Trying to get everything perfect is one of the quickest ways to ruin our productivity. Unless you’re a civil engineer building a bridge, or you’re a neurosurgeon cutting into someone’s brain, don’t worry about perfection. Work by quote…
‘Progress is More Important than Productivity.’
I learnt this saying off Dale Beaumont, a super productive and highly successful Australian entrepreneur. Aim to be good, even excellent, but don’t worry about perfection.
Outsourcing is arguably the most powerful business principle of all. If you really want to turbo-charge your business, get massively more done in less time, with less stress, get comfortable with outsourcing.
The beauty of today’s global world, is that you can literally outsource ‘anything’ (all the ‘small stuff’ you don’t like doing and takes up your precious time), at a tiny cost, and with relative ease.
If you are not familiar with the benefits of outsourcing, here’s a taste from my business. Last year, I self-published my first book. The biggest obstacle for people self-publishing books, is the time and cost involved in producing it. Instead of paying thousands of dollars to get my book produced in Australia, I had the book cover designed by a Canadian designer (through www.designcrowd.com for $250 – usually $1500 for a top-class book cover design). The illustrations were done in India (through upwork.com for $150 – usually $500). The typesetting was done by someone in Italy (through Upwork for $400 – usually $1200+).
Now, for most time-consuming or general tasks related to promoting or selling the book or my related talks, I get my virtual assistant in the Philippines to do it (for $4 an hour – through upwork.com). She researches the internet and sends me a full report about what’s involved in selling books online/Amazon etc. She not only collates database lists that would take me days to get, but puts them into my online database, so I can simply go in and send an e-mail promotion to hundreds or thousands of potential buyers in a few minutes. Aside from the book, she remotely accesses my computer to organise my computer files, de-clutters and systematises my emails, sets up time-saving work systems, uploads my blogs, pays my accounts, buys things online etc etc etc. (I haven’t worked out how she can record my favourite TV shows yet, but..!).
Even this article you are reading, is a result of me recording myself speaking on my video camera for 30 minutes, sending the video to a video guy (in the USA), and for $20, having him send back the whole video transcribed into text, complete with paragraphs, section headings etc. (For another $20 or so, I could get him to strip the audio from the video and make it into a podcast (which I could probably sell for $20), and add some little banners and graphics to the video, and have him upload it to You Tube as well as to hundreds of other internet sites, via video syndication software.
While these specific examples, may not apply to your business, you can see the power of doing less and achieving more through strategically outsourcing. You can work with people all around the world to do all the little time-consuming things involved in your business that you don’t have the time or desire to do – so you can focus on the things you really enjoy and no-one else can do for you. In my case these include, speaking at conferences/events, writing articles/books, doing media etc.
Work Smarter TIP 4:
Gradually eliminate some of the ‘small/nice’ things that you spend a lot of time, energy or money on, that don’t really contribute to your bottom-line results.
This week, try implementing at least one of the following (particularly C);
A) saying ‘no’ (nicely) to something
B) finish completing a task when you have done it well, rather than waiting to get it ‘perfect’
C) pick one thing that you do on a regular basis, that you can ‘outsource’ to someone else.*
* Each day in my diary, I include at least one outsourcing activity. I.e. outsourcing something to my ‘virtual assistant (VA) or other virtual helpers, or in setting up a ‘system’ (that once done can be replicated by someone else for ever more). This usually involves a www.jing.com video of exactly how to do it, so that anyone else can do it just as well as I could.
Helpful Outsourcing Sites:
Almost Anything (web, graphic design, VA’s etc)
Remote Computer Access
Design Work via ‘Contests’ (you only pay if you are 100% happy)
Making Online Instructions to Providers Easy
* Screencast-o-matic enables you to videotape your computer screen while you give audio instructions. Beeaautiful!
5. Control Your Environment (Technology)
Principle number 5 is all to do with controlling our environment. In particular, technology-based things like, phone calls, e-mails, facebook. Most businesspeople completely sabotage their productivity because they fail to control these.
Research shows that on average, it takes about 20-25 minutes of focused activity to get into our peak, high productivity (flow) state. However, in today’s modern world, whether it’s an incoming e-mail, a phone call, or a colleague re-telling some stupid ‘little Johnny’ joke at the office, we get interrupted by technology, every 7-10 minutes.
Every day, we get interrupted before we get into our high productivity state.
Why? Because we let technological gadgets control us instead of us controlling them.
Solution? Start taking responsibility for your environment and setting boundaries. For example, unless you’re in a sales-related role and you have to take every incoming call, can you get someone else to answer calls, or turn your phone off for periods during the day? Rather than making outgoing calls here and there, can you group five or six phone calls into one chunk (maybe while going for a walk and getting some exercise!), and make all the calls in one go? With e-mail, rather than checking them whenever they come in – and always getting disrupted (do you really need the latest Viagra pill or Nigerian ‘get-rich quick’ scheme?) – try chunking your email times into three or four 30-40 minute sections each day. Many high-productivity individuals make a point of never responding to email first thing in the morning, and only responding at set times throughout the day. E.g. 11am, 2pm, 5pm.
Another point here is that it’s not just about how we can stop technology from interrupting us, but how we can use technology to massively boost our productivity? One of my all-time favourite examples of this is voice recognition software. I hate typing on my computer (sore hands, sore eyes etc), so I use voice recognition software (Dragon) whenever I’m on the computer. I also have a little dictaphone or digital voice recorder, that I carry with me. Instead of having to be on a computer all day, when I’m in the car, at an airport, or simply going out for a walk in the sun, I speak all my email replies, newsletters/blog posts, media articles, or whatever else I need, into the dictaphone. Once I’m back in the office, I connect it to my computer, and via voice recognition software, it types everything out. Then it’s just a matter of, cut, paste and send, cut, paste, and send. (You obviously have to fix up a few things here and there, so you don’t say the wrong thing to the wrong person! After speaking to a school group once, I followed up the next day with a thank you email to the male teacher. Let’s say he was quite surprised when he read that rather than having “a great class”, I thought “he had a great ass”!
Work Smarter TIP 5:
Over the next week, look to incorporate one strategy to better control your environment/reduce distractions. E.g. turn your e-mail notification off so you don’t get an alert or a noise disrupting you, and check and respond to e-mails at pre-determined times throughout the day.
Alternatively, what’s one way you can use technology to save you time?
* For some tips on better email productivity, visit https://www.markbunn.com.au/emailproductivitytips
Principle number six is arguably the most important of all.
We can have the best strategies in the world for motivation, time management, productivity, and work-life balance, but unless we are able to ‘focus’ at the right time and do the high importance tasks that really need to get done, nothing else matters.
The most powerful example of this this I’ve ever heard was from John Canary. John is an American motivational speaker that worked a lot with the great Bob Proctor. In Bob’s ‘Born Rich’ program, I remember John telling a story about how in the early 1980s, there was a salesman who goes in to see the CEO of a major, multinational American company. He tries to sell the CEO on his productivity and personal effectiveness training for the company’s employees. He shows him all these glossy brochures and tells him how he could massively improve the productivity of his staff etc etc etc.
A few minutes into his spiel, the CEO stops the salesman and says something along the lines of, ‘You know, I’ve had guys like you coming in here for years telling me how you’re going to boost the productivity of my sales force. I’ve got a better idea.’ He says, ‘Why don’t you tell me one of your strategies. I will personally implement it for a month, and I will send you a cheque for whatever I think it’s worth.’
The guy says, ‘Okay’, and proceeds to tell the CEO that
- every night before he leaves work, or before he goes to bed, he is to get out his diary or a blank piece of paper.
- write down the six most important things he was to do the next day. The six most important things he needs to do to achieve the big-picture goals he desires.
- then, rank, in order of importance, those six activities (i.e. from 1 – 6).
- when he gets to work the next morning, he is to start working on activity number 1 – ‘the most important thing’, and the only rule that the salesperson sets, is that the CEO has to complete number 1, before moving on to number 2, and number 2 before moving on to number 3 etc.
What happened? After one month, that salesperson received a cheque from that CEO for $US 25,000. Now that was a lot of money back in the early 1980s, particularly for five minutes work! Why did the CEO pay it? He did it, because, despite its simplicity (the simple things are always the best), it’s a powerful, powerful principle that can transform the results and success of any individual.
We need to focus on what’s most important. For key periods of the day, we need to get rid of distractions, to get rid of all the external influences, to shut down our email, Facebook and LinkedIn, and do the ‘non-negotiable’, bottom-line success activities.
Work Smarter TIP 6:
Stop procrastinating by putting your big ticket items off. No more, ‘I’ll get to it later’.
Each morning, write down the 3,4 or 6 most important things you can do for the upcoming day (ideally these should also be ‘enjoyable’ to do – business should be ‘fun’), and try to complete the first two, before 11:00 o’clock in the morning.1
7. Maximise your Personal Performance
This is my favourite principle of all. As a health, wellbeing and performance coach, I see business people work and work and work, without ever recharging and re-energising mentally, physically or emotionally.
You can have all the best strategies in the world for managing your time, for being more productive, for putting everything in little boxes and priorities, and knowing what your goals are, but if you’re waking up in the morning without good energy, high vitality, and mental clarity,all the best theories and strategies in the world, will be as much good to you as a hedgehog in a condom factory.
Peak performers, and high success individuals, who remain at the top of their fields over long periods of time, all have one thing in common. They have high energy, they have clear mental focus, a sharp mind, and they either have a high stress-resistance or have ways to manage stress well. Most are able to create a state of functioning – the ‘natural high’ state – where they combine dynamic outward performance with a more rested, calm, stress-free inner functioning (the ‘eye of the hurricane’). This comes mainly from doing what they love and feel passionate about. However, there are a few other key things that high achievers do to help ensure high levels of day-to-day personal performance. These include;
1) Doing Regular Exercise (physical activity)
What do people like Rupert Murdoch, former Australia Prime Minister, John Howard, and many of the world’s top female business leaders do, that’s different from most others? They ‘religiously’ start their day with exercise or some form of physical activity. Early-morning exercise is in alignment with the universal cycles of nature (as expounded by the time-honoured Eastern sciences) and is well-known for setting up our energy and performance for the entire day.
Richard Branson, when asked the question, “How do you become more productive?”
replied with two words,“work out”
He attributes regular exercise to giving him 4 hours a day of increased productivity.
2) Staying Optimally Hydrated
Research suggests that if we are just 5% dehydrated, this equates to a 25% reduction in our performance levels, and a 25% increase in their ‘subjective fatigue’ levels.
3) Getting Consistent, Quality Sleep
The rejuvenative benefits of sleep are not just due to ‘how many hours’ we get, but more importantly, ‘when’ we get them. The old wives tale of ‘early to bed, early to rise, makes a man/woman healthy, wealthy and wise’, is 100% physiologically true, and is a foundational practice of the world’s healthiest and longest living people throughout time. *
* It is however, a common characteristic of truly high-performance individuals, that because they are so one-pointed and love what they do, and thus spend the majority of their time in their ‘frictionless, flow-state’, they are able to recover and rejuvenate with less sleep than those whose work/lives entail high stress.
Work Smarter TIP 7:
Never forget, “Your greatest wealth is your health”, and the most precious and valuable business resource you have is ‘YOU’.
Every day, devote some time to looking after your personal health and performance. E.g.
1) eat ‘light at night’ (most nights)
2) get peak performance sleep (before 10.30pm) at least 3-4 nights/week
3) stay optimally hydrated by drinking enough water (keep the colour of your pee clear!).
4) start each day with some ‘physical activity’ – if you don’t currently do any activity first thing in the morning, start with five or ten minutes, and build up gradually.
I hope these principles were of some interest, and good luck with ‘working smarter not harder’.
1. Tim Ferris, author of the international bestseller ‘The Four Hour Workweek’, has a fantastic suggestion about doing the two most important things you need to do on any particular day, before 11.00am. If you can complete two of your ‘big rock’ activities before 11am, you will not only feel fantastic, but everything else for the rest of the day will be a breeze.
2. Ferris, Timothy. The Four Hour Body. 2011.