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Work Smarter, Not Harder

Why working smarter, not harder, is the path to true success

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  • Many people think the key to being rich is to work hard, long hours. This isn’t true

  • True productivity means saving time (and money), by maximizing your output in a given time

  • Along with some other productivity tips, adjusting your mindset about time is a major differentiator when it comes to becoming financially free

In America, it’s often considered a badge of honor to work a lot of hours, and many people fall victim to this mentality. Everyone gets a trophy for the amount of work they produce, after all.

But as Quartz pointed out in a 2018 article, “…countless studies have shown, this simply isn’t true. Productivity dramatically decreases with longer work hours, and completely drops off once people reach 55 hours of work a week, to the point that, on average, someone working 70 hours in a week achieves no more than a colleague working 15 fewer hours.”

Most folks haven't received the memo, however. Consider these facts from the article, “The One Surprising Investment that Separates the Rich and the Poor”:

  • As of January, 2023, it’s expected that the average American will clock in about 2012.4 hours annually.

  • 66% of Americans work remotely, at least part-time.

  • It was reported in July of 2022, that 72% of Americans had used less than half of their paid time off.

  • While 65% of Americans agreed that they urgently needed a vacation from work, 56% had reported already being burnt out.

Yet, the United States’ inflation rate hit a record high in June 2022, peaking at 9.1%, while wages only increased by about 4.5%.

Clearly, working more doesn’t mean making more (or being financially free).

Why working harder is a poor mindset

One reason for this might be that many of the people our culture perceives as “successful” preach the gospel of working long hours.

As Quartz writes, “…the patron saint of work boasts, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk, declared that ‘nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week.’ Musk said in November that he worked 120-hour weeks, and on Twitter claimed that 80 to 100 hours per week is necessary to change the world.”

And in an article for “Entrepreneur,” Rajiv Talreja writes, “If your aim in life is to sip on a nice cocktail as you sit on a beach chair, listening to the sound of the waves hitting the shore—then entrepreneurship is not your game. If you want to build a business, then be prepared to work longer and harder than anyone else around you. Entrepreneurship is a physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting process. If you want free time, take a vacation. Build a business only if you are willing to immerse yourself in your company and ready to work 80 hours a week.”

If you searched right now, you could find thousands upon thousands of articles talking about how working long hours is what it takes to make it big. With such role models in front of us as a culture, it’s no wonder we value long hours and late nights as a mark of perceived success.

But the reality is that as successful as these role models are or might be, they still have a poor mindset. Why? Because they still equate success to hours worked, not to the amount of work you can squeeze out of your hours.

The illusion of time

In fact, people like the above names are the reason so many people hesitate to become entrepreneurs - because who has the time to work 80+ hours a week (minimum) in ADDITION to their already hectic lives to become an entrepreneur? Unfortunately, this can often be the difference between the rich and poor when it comes to their mindset about time.

All too often, the excuse of no time is an automatic response because people are already feeling overwhelmed and can’t possibly imagine adding one more thing to their plate.

But when people say, “I don’t have the time,” what they’re really saying is, “What I currently have on my plate is more important than any additional activity that would be required of me” So here’s what it comes down to:

It’s not about “having time,” it’s about making time.

How to save time (and money) by maximizing your hours, and working smarter

A while back, Tim Ferriss was on the Rich Dad Radio Show. Tim is the author of the best-selling books, “The 4-Hour Workweek,” “The 4-Hour Body,” and “The 4-Hour Chef.” Tim became a very rich and famous person with the exact opposite mindset than many of the so-called role models out there in the work-till-you-die entrepreneurship circuit. In fact, his books are all about doing more in less time.

Tim asks the simple question, “How do you 10X your hourly output? That's the question that I attempt to answer in [“The 4-Hour Workweek”]. You don't have to work four hours a week, but it's a catchy title that reflects that objective.”

That is the mindset of a rich person. Not “how many hours a week do I need to work to be rich,” but instead “how much can I get out of my hours so I can do more with less time in order to be rich.”

Productivity tips (for business)

Here’s where you need to start: Find out your true worth.

In the spirit of chasing your mindset, there is a different way to find your worth than in how hard you work and the number of hours you put in each week. The most physically, financially, and spiritually successful people are those who find their worth in how many assets they can produce or invest in that free up their time.

Think about it this way, if you’re doing it right, shouldn’t your business or your investments be providing your money each month even if you’re not working? If you have to work as much or more than an employee to keep your money coming in, what’s really the difference? You don’t own a business, it owns you. Or your ego does. Some people think they are the only reason their business is successful. And if your business needs you to succeed, then you haven’t built good systems in the first place. And most often ego is driven by fear…fear that if you aren’t in control at all times everything will fail.

This is not to say that you don’t have to work hard, especially at the beginning and often at key times of growth, but the end goal should be to build teams, processes, and systems that get you out of that as fast and efficiently as possible.

Your true worth comes from being able to invest your time in those that you love and passions that you care about. You can’t do that when you work 80 hours a week. Your true worth comes from working less—that is the sign of a smart business owner and investor.

So, take some of your down time to reflect on how you find your worth. Is it from working too much? Or is it from finding ways to make your assets work for you?

Try this exercise from Tim Ferriss: Fear Setting.

What I encourage people to do is for whatever decision you're considering, starting a business, quitting your job, ending your relationship, whatever, or starting a relationship, is to just take a piece of paper, break it down into three columns. The first column is all of the things that could go wrong. All of your fears, write them down, get specific. The second column is the things you could do to minimize the likelihood of each of those happening. And in the third column is how you could get back to where you are now if those things happened. And when people go through that exercise, usually they realize that their fears are either completely an illusion or they're really not that bad at all and probably transient or reversible.

While many people are content to put their heads in the sand, the truth is, it will never make you financially free.

By facing your fears head on about how much you think you need work, what it means to you, and the motivations behind it, you can then build the foundation to work smarter, not harder.

Original publish date: December 18, 2018

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