5 ways to working less but producing more

by Nur Muhammad

“You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence is, therefore, not an act, but a habit.” – Socrates

Entrepreneurs to me are individuals who have taken the massive step in embracing their goals relentlessly, fearlessly and strategically. In the same vein, Entrepreneurs are thus individuals who exemplify the traits of risk-taking and thinking out of the box. While it is encouraging to see a burgeoning  number of new businesses launching each year, it is worth reflecting that more than 90% of start-ups fail. To build on this, the number of burn-outs reported year-on-year is on a rise – this begs the question, “How can we derive more from our efforts and in that sense, optimise our capability without crashing?

To optimise a system would mean to have a system operating at its maximum potential with the least resources. As students and entrepreneurs will attest, time is a scarce resource, and one which has to be efficiently and effectively used to accomplish various things. A recent study conducted by students of MIT has shown sleep deprivation is now classified as an epidemic. Too many students are spending too much time awake but has the time been well spent? Is there any way of rationing this time better?

Entrepreneurs are known for having very little sleep as they pursue their dream, their baby, and their gift to the world. Type “sleep deprivation in entrepreneurs”, and you’ll find a seemingly endless list of articles ranging from why more sleep means more success to the amount of sleep we actually need. Others may argue that sleep is for the weak, some may also argue that it is not about staying up the longest, but rather how waking hours are spent. There is a chance that an area in your routine needs some tweaking.

“If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.”

Once all is said and done, unless you change your current practices and your habits, chances are the results you’ve been achieving won’t differ by very much.

Here are some life hacks I’ve collected from some of the most inspirational writers on performing at your best – 5 ways to working less but producing more!

Marginal gains –  How many times have you found yourself demotivated and overwhelmed by work to be done, and find yourself doing everything else apart from completing that assignment or business proposal? It appears trying to go head first to complete it is the main reason behind this. What you’ll need to do is to find the smallest possible action you can take that you can make a difference, then keep going — incremental steps can be unstoppable.

The key to this is a carefully thought-out game plan. Here’s a sample scenario:

Imagine you’ve got a boulder that needs grinding.

The steps you would want to follow is to 1)  break the boulder into smaller pieces then 2) work on each piece, to give each piece your full attention and effort. What this does is it keeps the motivation strong – small wins, incremental gains.

The 3-D plan to achieve all your goals

Delayed Gratification

The Standford Marshmallow experiment conducted in 1960s, taught us something – the longer you delay your

gratification, the sweeter the results. Being able to withstand your immediate impulses does appear to allow you to achieve more. Stay off Facebook and you might just get more work done and where merely holding your tongue to avoid losing that business deal. As world-renowned psychologist, Daniel Goleman says in his book – keep your eyes on the prize.

Understanding the Marshmallow test and how you can master it


Alden Mills mentioned how the concept of time management is really an issue of energy management. In his book, Be Unstoppable, he mentions how your energy level is the limiting factor in your productivity. Time management vs energy management. Numerous research has also proven this exercising improves the blood circulation, thus allowing more oxygen to be transported to the various internal systems because oxygen is the primary component in energy production, having more oxygen in in your blood means more energy. And more energy means having more bounce in your step in getting things done.

Read what President Barack Obama and other successful people do to keep active 

Find your special time or place

This special time or place would be one that is free of distraction. Drawing similarities with the sleep cycle, our focus works in phases as well. Being constantly distracted through meetings and the office cacophony (ahhh, the workplace) disallows focus to reach its apex where creative and innovative thinking occurs. In his TedTalk, Jason Fried mentioned how employers are worried about letting their employees work at home, and found this isn’t the real issue.

3 Ways Employers can elicit optimise employee productivity

Take time-off

Many of us erroneously associate having a schedule that is overflowing with meetings and appointments as an indication of being productive and efficient. However research has shown that by pushing yourself too far for too long leaves you burned out and compromises your capacity for innovative and creative thinking in the long run. Stefan Sagmeister, a living legend in the creative world,  goes as far as taking a year off every seven years to recharge. He also mentions that creating a special time-slot in your busy schedule for something you’re really passionate about can allow you to produce better quality work.

While there are innumerable factors contributing to success (definitely too many to mention in this article), these life hacks would be a good place to start.

work life span 1

Image courtesy of Braid

Suggested further reading:

Legacy by James Kerr

Focus by Daniel Goleman

Be Unstoppable by Alden Mills

Deep Work by Cal Newport

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and your habits for success are!

About the author: Nur is passionate about optimising systems especially in the sporting arena and in business systems with a soft spot for social mobility. He has held numerous coaching positions and is currently in London where he works with start-ups – among them Empowering Futures and 6W2X. Nur graduated in Materials Science and Engineering from the Nanyang Technological University in 2015

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