If you’ve been on the internet long enough, someone has tried to sell you the dream of ditching the 9–5 and becoming an entrepreneur.
It’s a great sales pitch.
Yet it misses the crucial fact that many entrepreneurs find themselves working every hour of the day. 57% work six days a week and 20% work seven days a week. They chase freedom but end up chained to their business.
Burnout caused by overwork is a real issue for entrepreneurs and more than just productivity, it can damage their wellbeing. You don’t need to give up your dream but you also don’t need to work yourself to exhaustion for a badge of honor.
Tim Ferriss is living the life so many entrepreneurs crave. He earned millions from his businesses whilst having free time for everything else he wanted to achieve in life. That’s why his book the 4-Hour Work Week became a New York Times bestseller and he’s attracted the world’s top performers to his podcast The Tim Ferriss Show.
I’m not going to promise the extreme results he managed and even he regrets using such a low figure. But his DEAL method can make you earn more whilst working less and which entrepreneur doesn’t want that? Be mindful of this method and apply it to your business where you can because even a slight improvement in your work-life balance is worth it.
What do you really want from your startup?
Some people are driven by their company’s mission and it forms the core of their being. Airbnb founder Brian Cheskey wants to create a network where people feel they can belong anywhere in the world. But not everyone has such noble and global intentions and that’s ok. 66% want more flexibility and 47% believe it will make them more successful.
Yet entrepreneurs may not know exactly what success is. They might focus on the numbers and revenue targets rather than what it actually means for their standard of living. I wouldn’t consider myself successful if I was earning millions but had no control over my time. If you put in all the hard work at the start what is the end goal, what would make all the effort worth it?
“People don’t want to be millionaires, they want the lifestyle they think being a millionaire can buy.” — Tim Ferriss
The less you want, the less you need to work. If success for you looks like a Beverly Hills mansion and 20 sports cars then you’re likely to be working for a long time. Yet if you want a life where you just never need to worry about putting food on the table then chasing millions is a distraction.
In economics, the rational company wants the maximum profit possible. This is their only goal but you aren’t a textbook model. You don’t have to maximize your profit at the cost of everything else in your life. Other things give us joy and can’t be measured so coldly.
The definition of success for you doesn’t have to be what anyone else’s is. Most people save for decades hoping they’ll enjoy themselves when they are retired. Tim rejects this and chooses to work hard in sprints so he can enjoy mini-retirements. Choose your own model for life, you make the rules.
“Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own” — Bruce Lee
Once you know what you want, now is the time to cut everything which doesn’t help you achieve your goal.
The aim isn’t to get more done, it’s to get the right things done. Tim focuses on what he calls “effectivity” rather than efficiency. Work out the 20% of tasks driving 80% of your growth and ruthlessly let go of the rest. You’re wasting time whenever you tick off a business task that you don’t enjoy and it doesn’t even make a difference to your reaching your goals.
This comes in all forms but here’s two Tim picks out for special treatment:
- Meetings — Tim realized most were micromanagement in disguise. If he trusts people to do what he’s hired them for then it saves everybody time!
- Media consumption— Staying informed is usually just procrastination. How much do you actually take in that is relevant to what you’re trying to achieve? Tim recommends taking a media fast and relying on others to alert you of anything important.
Parkinson’s law states “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. If you mentally prepare to be working long hours then you’ll fulfill your own prophecy. Tim recommends setting tight deadlines to force yourself into a highly productive flow state of mind.
Another key aspect is not starting things that aren’t worth finishing such as spending time building an income that isn’t scalable. I know an aspiring online entrepreneur who sold half-hour blocks of their time for $20. In the first month, they made an extra couple hundred dollars and were pretty pleased with themselves but it’s a trap. As a model, you can only make as much money as the time you are willing to put in. On their to-do list was creating an online course. By failing to eliminate the instant but small win, they postponed the larger long term prize.
Yet as a point of caution, don’t cut out everything for the sake of productivity. Claudia Hammond made a brilliant point on Rangan Chaterjee’s podcast. It’s better to work longer hours but enjoy casual chats with your colleagues or employees than to halve your time but be miserable the whole time.
Becoming a machine won’t make you happy so beware of cutting the small things that brighten up your day.
Now we need to make the remaining tasks take up as little of your time as possible. The struggle is surrendering your old methods which are time-consuming but you know they work. Letting go allows you to either delegate or automate but keep in mind:
“Never automate something that can be eliminated, and never delegate something that can be automated or streamlined” — Tim Ferriss
I set up an autoresponse on emails answering common questions and being firm on my boundaries. Many people buy the idea that persistence is key to making connections and will keep messaging unless you clearly say “no”. This simple 5-minute exercise saves me from replying to messages which steal my time.
A little bit of time spent googling how to save time on different tasks could save you a lot of time in the long run. There’s an app for almost everything now and as companies begin to compete more on customer experience, there’s never been a better time to find solutions. Calendly, Loom, and Asana are just a few examples of standout apps.
Entrepreneurs with significantly busier schedules may need to invest in staff. Virtual assistants are surprisingly cheap and can take away low-value tasks from you to free you up for high-value tasks. The hardest part is letting go of micromanaging the assistants and learning to trust them.
Tim Ferriss talked about this on his podcast with personal finance guru Ramit Sethi. Ramit has a Google document with all of his preferences and says it’s the best decision he’s ever made. Specificity is crucial because you aren’t sacrificing having everything the way you want it to be but still gaining time.
It’s often a path of less resistance to just spend time doing things the way you’ve always done it. But then in 10 years' time, you’ll still be doing it the same way. Those who are adaptable can keep reducing the hours they need to work for the same results.
Even if you’ve done the first 3 steps, you may feel tethered to the hamster wheel. You probably can’t remember a time when you haven’t been busy. It can be hard to adjust to the life you’ve tried so hard to earn.
Snap out of it. There’s more to life than your startup and now you can spend your time in the areas of your life you’ve neglected. I love this quote by a man who climbed higher than most entrepreneurs ever will:
“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them — work, family, health, friends and spirit — and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls ~ family. health, friends and spirit — are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked. nicked. damaged or even shattered.” — Brian Dyson, ex Coca-Cola CEO
If you can reduce your hours then you can effectively place the work ball down for periods of your life. You now juggle just four balls meaning you have more time for each and you can manage them with comfort. The rubber ball can be added back when you want a new challenge but it’s now your choice.
With your new-found time, you can attend all the events for your kids or make time to get yourself in top shape. You can do whatever it is that is your version of a successful life. Tim traveled the world, made a podcast, and dove into martial arts. What dream did you define?