How to Work Less and Grow More

Working long hours without being appreciated, let alone promoted?

For years, I was slaving away without recognition, without any reward. I’d get home mentally exhausted every night, only to crash in bed and repeat the same soul-destroying cycle the day after.

And don’t get me wrong: I was still putting in all the effort I could, and I guess delivering my best work made me feel proud. Until I realised that nobody else cared if I did quality work or not, that less competent people were getting praised and promoted instead of me, and eventually I started to feel stupid.

I’m not about to tell you to half-ass your job: hard work and mastery will ultimately give you unparalleled satisfaction. But they’re NOT ENOUGH.

Hard work alone won’t make you gain greater status, higher salary and more freedom, all essential elements for becoming a truly Accomplished Professional.

Busy work gives you tunnel vision, you’re too involved to see the bigger picture and too mentally exhausted to think creatively and make real breakthroughs.

In fact, to maximise your potential you have to continually transition across 3 different states:

  • Cruise Control: when you knock familiar tasks down in auto-pilot (peak of productivity as most people intend it)
  • Creativity: the highest energy state where you can invent and innovate
  • Clear Thinking: when you’re relaxing and your mind is roaming free; in this state you’re most likely to have the a-ha moments (ever had your best ideas while you were strolling aimlessly or taking a shower?)

You can’t always be busy or even “productive” as most people intend it -in fact, that’s very damaging and ironically, counter-productive. Today’s culture is obsessed with so-called efficiency, so if we’re taking a 10-minute bus ride, we see it as the opportunity to frantically read a newspaper article because we don’t want to “waste that time”. And we bury our heads in our phones instead of gazing out of the window and admiring how the sunset is making the whole city shimmer in a fiery light.

No, to reach your true career and life goals as quickly as possible, you need to be on top of your game, and to be on top of your game you can’t live trapped in Cruise Control. You need to free your time for Creativity and Clear Thinking. Here are 4 techniques you can apply to do just that.

1. Focus and learn to say ‘No’

Your time is limited, so if you want to do 10 things, you’ll make little progress in each. But if you focus only on one, you’ll make 10 times the progress on that single one (This is the topic of an amazing book called “Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less” — friggin’ brilliant!)

The key is that when you pick that single thing to focus on, it better be the right thing. And this choice is nerve-wrecking for most of us because we’re often too insecure to put all our eggs in one basket: what if we’re making the wrong choice?

It’s very hard to say ‘No’ to doing something.

It’s even harder to decide WHAT TO SAY ‘NO’ TO.

But learning that is the first step to unlock exponential growth — so it’s a muscle you want to start training a-NOW.

2. Leverage work relationships

If you thought that step #1 was the hardest to learn, think again!

Many of us don’t really leverage other co-workers as well as we could, for a number of common reasons:

  1. we’re embarrassed asking for favours
  2. we’re afraid of looking incompetent, like we can’t get the job done on our own
  3. we feel bad “bossing people around”
  4. we don’t trust others to get it done for us or get it done well enough

I understand, I’ve felt all these things at one point or another, and I’ve used it as an excuse to get things done without asking anybody for help.

But I’ve now learned that it’s bad not to seek help.

It’s bad for the organisation because sometimes there’s someone else who has the skills / experience / connections to get the job done quicker, if not better.

It’s bad for you because what happened to freeing your time up? No worse way to employ your time than to do things you shouldn’t be doing

Depending on your status, you may be able to just TELL people to do things for you -if you’re their boss or superior. Otherwise, you’ll need to rely on simple teamwork dynamics, or sometimes leadership skills, persuasion and even negotiation. Time to fire that EQ up!

3. Manage “up”

This means managing your manager.

Oh yes, you wouldn’t want to leave him in charge, would you?!

If you don’t do that, you’ll constantly get nagged to give updates and time-consuming status reports, or you’ll be given random sh*t assignments. And you want to do less busy work, not more (see point #1 above)

If your manager behaves like that, it typically stems from lack of trust.

To get their trust, you must understand what’s important for them and proactively keep them appraised of all progress or lack thereof (work with your manager to learn the right medium and frequency of the updates). Better yet if you can Think Creatively and help them solve their problems -which ultimately tend to be the organisation’s problems at a level higher than yours, so definitely the right things for you to FOCUS on!

When your managers trust you, she knows that you’re in control and will deliver as promised, and she gives you cool high-impact projects because she knows you’ll make her look good.

4. Earn enough to outsource your personal chores

Picture it: you wake up on a Saturday with the timid morning light seeping through your curtains. You didn’t set an alarm. You roll out of bed and decide to try that new breakfast place in your neighbourhood. While sipping your cappuccino and reading the news on your phone, a message pops up. -“Hey it’s been forever, wanna grab a coffee and catch up??”-Sure, you think, I guess today I’ll just play it by ear. I’ll hang out for a while, call home, and then go for a run at some point. Or maybe tomorrow. It’s the weekend after all

If today you spend large part of your weekends cleaning your home, shopping for household products, doing laundry and ironing, then you’re far away from this picture.

In fact, at one point I decided that even spending 2 hours a week doing chores was way too much. We’re busy professionals and have too little free time already. The point of working hard to earn more money is so that you can AFFORD things that make your life better. Early on, I personally decided that paying someone to clean my flat, do my laundry and ironing, and change my sheets was worth every penny.

It’s OK if you genuinely can’t afford a cleaner right now. I’ve been there, for years I’ve done chores for hours every week. But as soon as you can afford it, reclaim that precious time of your life. It’s not super cheap, but the good news is that you really don’t need to be rich to afford to make your free time truly ‘free’!

Today, I outsource every chore and personal admin task that I don’t necessarily have to do myself -I’ll still check my bank account because I don’t want to give my cleaner all my passwords

And when it comes to other “personal admin” tasks, I question very hard whether each and every one of them is necessary to do and how often — do you need to read yet another offer from your cable provider that came through the post (or even waste 30 seconds to open the envelope?), do you need to check your bank account every week, or read every email coupon you get?

Now I spend less than 1 hour per week on these tasks. And I urge you do the same. Free you time for relax and for play — that’s when your Clear Thinking happens best.

And most importantly, enjoying your life to the fullest is what being a truly Accomplished Professional is really about

Call to Action

That’s it: 4 steps that you can start applying to free your time and enjoy a less stressful life, and incredibly accelerate your career progression, too!

If you like this article, come to my site and get your Free Guide on the 4 soft skills you need to master to maximize your income while doing a job you love and enjoying a less busy life.

Can’t wait to help you in your career journey!