Smarter-not-harder is nothing new.
For most entrepreneurs, it’s about delegation: Find other people to do the grinding hamster wheel work while you “focus on strategy” or something.
It’s a good idea, but we can do better. Ironically, I think most people haven’t really thought through what it means to work smarter.
This article reveals the thing everyone has missed. And it’s costing you dearly. Best case, it’s causing an enormous slow down or flatlining of growth. Worse, it can depress the spirit with such severity that smart people quit good businesses before they should.
So how is it that folks are being stupid about working smarter?
The false correlation between your clock and your success
Drop one letter from that sentence and you get the topic of my next article. Kidding.
The more you get done, the more successful you’ll be. Or so say the peddlers of various productivity trainings and software systems.
The cult of productivity wants you to become a more efficient person.
We’re in love with the idea that we are (sophisticated) machines. If we can just get the tuning and fuel (and software) right we can go faster and farther than the rest. This sort of metaphor makes marketers drool, because it means they can sell us every product that fits – machines need a lot of stuff to keep them running.
Here’s the problem: Entrepreneurship has never been about making one person hugely effective.
There is a hard limit on how much you can get done. No matter how much coffee you drink, there will never be more than twenty four hours in a day.
Warren Buffet, Richard Branson and Bill Gates didn’t get where they are today by figuring out some arcane formula that enabled them to work THAT MUCH more efficiently than you. When we blow the idea out to it’s ideological extreme like that, we see it for what it is: Absurd.
Bill Gates isn’t eight hundred thousand times more efficient than you are. He hasn’t figured out how to run his meat machine that much better. Actually, chances are he spends MORE time relaxing per day than you do.
Time and time again, I talk to entrepreneurs who are optimizing their day – and lives – to squeeze the absolute best performance out of themselves for as long as possible. They’re burning themselves out and killing their business in the process, because they’re optimizing for the wrong thing.
You might have an assistant who answers your email or some other “work smarter” delegation, but if you’re filling all the time with other work you’re not getting it.
No matter how smart you think you’re working, if you’re implementing productivity hacks you’re still trapped in the hours-for-success trading game. And you won’t win.
If productivity hacks don’t work, what does?
The one thing we CAN point to as a corollary – a thing the super successful do most and the least successful do least – is taking risks.
In the knowledge economy, you win by having big ideas and executing on them. You win by committing to doing your thing, or failing. When you fail you learn, and you’re better for it the next time you try something.
Make huge plans. Fail and learn. Do it long enough and you’ll succeed. Guaranteed.
These aren’t original ideas. We all know this stuff.
The question is: Are you optimizing for productivity when you should be optimizing for courage?
Everyone’s been working smarter by figuring out ways to do more than ever, but they’ve missed the point: Working smarter is about dreaming up extraordinary ideas and developing the capabilities and courage you need to execute on them.
The modern entrepreneur’s practical definition of “optimization”, “efficiency” or “working smarter” is the polar opposite of courage:
Coffee pushes up your cortisol levels, which is literally the fear/flight-or-fight hormone. Short changing yourself on sleep dumbs you down. Jam-packing your schedule removes all opportunities for introspection.
You’re cracking the whip, trying to be the fastest machine. You’re racing down a linear path, stressed out and afraid. You can’t see the possibilities for exponential growth – how could you? You’re way too busy. And even if you spot one, you’re too afraid to do anything about it.
I ask some of my clients to pick a morning each week to totally relax. To do the opposite of optimization. I ask them to go out for breakfast, eat pancakes and chill out.
And they hate it. They’re afraid. They believe they can’t afford to waste that much time.
It’s almost as if they imagine themselves alone, in the gutter – everything and everyone lost. Because they took Monday morning off.
Richard Branson isn’t more successful than you because he never took Monday morning off. You could take every Monday morning off for the rest of your life and still become a billionaire.
How you spend your time, hour to hour, does not determine your success. How willing you are to courageously act on extraordinary ideas is all that matters.
The point of the Monday-morning exercise isn’t that those stolen guilty hours be used to dream up some killer business idea. It’s simply to de-couple the unconscious association you’re making between working hard and winning in business.
It’s to show you that none of that matters. Being busy won’t give you the courage you need.
Once you stop playing all the busy-entrepreneur optimization games in your life, you’ll be free to start optimizing for courage instead. The stronger that muscle gets, the more successful you become.
Don’t work smarter. Be braver.