I’ve spent many years working long days and weekends building one company or another. Finally, I figured out how to do less and achieve more. In the process I found my passion and time to live my life. Here are my insights.
“Do less and achieve more” may not come naturally
I had just finished my Master’s degree when I first arrived in the U.S. So not only did I have to work hard to get my career going but I also had to learn a new culture, improve my English and do it all as a newly wed away from my family. Hard work and effort was a given. I had to pave my way, pay my dues, and all that.
But the truth is that perseverance and a strong will to succeed had always been part of my DNA. I had worked hard to get good grades in school and had done a ton of extra curricular activities since I have memory. So it was only natural that I’d continue in that vein once I entered the workplace.
After I worked at a company for a couple of years my now ex husband and I purchased it from the owner. It was about to go bankrupt so it looked like a good idea to restructure and re-launch an existing company rather than start from scratch. It wasn’t any easier, though. With the bankruptcy looming over us, it meant we had to work 16 hour-days and 7 days a week to keep the company afloat. All the while taking very little money out and investing in marketing new programs and services.
That was my first professional taste of an imbalanced life. We worked all the time. We took no days off, no vacations. We did nothing for pleasure. It was work, work work. And when I look back, the results we got for the amount of work we did were not commensurate. Not even close.
The idea to “do less and achieve more” never even crossed my mind back then. It would take many more years for it to sink in.
So, let me save you the learning curve and share the insights I gained along the way.
1 De-glorify busyness
The one thing you learn pretty quickly when you enter the U.S. workspace is that being busy is considered good. It’s the only acceptable answer to the question: “How are you?” If you’re not busy people immediately think you’re not successful. So even when you are taking a well-deserved break, you may automatically answer “Busy, very busy.”
The truth is that being busy for the sake of being busy is like being famous for the sake of being famous. It’s empty. It’s shallow and it’s completely and utterly unfulfilling.
So if you want to do less and achieve more, my first suggestion is that you take a personal stand against busyness. Its only function is to occupy your time with things that may not be relevant at best and may distance you from your real goals at worst. So, when someone asks you how you are doing, try any of the following answers:
- I’m enjoying every minute of my life
- I’m involved in a very interesting project
- I’m thinking about my next step
- I’m spending quality time with the people I care about
- I’m evaluating my priorities so I can focus on what really matters
You will see how by training yourself to give one of these more thoughtful responses, you will give yourself permission to actually do all those things.
Learn how to flow
2 Figure out what you enjoy most in order to go with the flow
It’s not a simple thing, but figuring out what you most enjoy doing in life and for work is a cataclysmic discovery. It can throw everything upside down, that’s how infrequently you’re likely to give this any serious consideration. Ask yourself right now:
- What comes naturally to me?
- When do I feel I’m in the zone? In a psychological flow?
- Where do my ability, knowledge, experience and joy intersect? Doing what?
- If I was given five years to live and the only way to extend my life were to work in something I love, what would that be?
When you uncover what it is that you like to do and you figure out a way to enter that space, you’ll start going with the flow so you are overcome by a feeling of effortlessness. Rather than making efforts against what comes naturally (upstream efforts as Bethany Butzer calls them in her Ted talk,) you’ll be making an effort in the same direction as the current.
I tell you, many people spend their entire lives moving from job to job or developing a career someone else designed for them. Stop. Think. Decide for yourself. Start the path towards doing what you enjoy. It may take a while to course-correct to get there, but it’s worth it.
3 Start enjoying the process
You’ve heard me say before that success is a journey, not a destination. And although that may sound cliché, the idea is profound. Most of us have arrived to our definition of success through our parents, our culture, our media… We’re so focused on the end result that quite often when you achieve it, it feels meaningless. Why? Because it wasn’t you who gave that goal a meaning. You just went after it because someone out there said it was important. Or it would make you feel important.
To really do less and achieve more, you have to enjoy the process, the path that leads to wherever you are going. And if you’re the one who sets up the direction and you are doing what you like, that path will be much more enjoyable. Granted, it won’t be all smooth sailing all the time. That’s not what this is about. But even when you encounter setbacks and obstacles, you will feel okay. You will have the internal resources to help you navigate through anything. You will have a naturally built-in resilience that comes from doing something you find meaningful.
4 Share the stories you create
In the last few years I realized that because I’ve aligned what I enjoy doing with what I do, my life has gotten much more interesting. I’m having lots of fun, doing less, achieving more, and I have a lot more free time to engage in activities outside of work. I also noticed that the stars seem to align seamlessly and things fall into place with a minimum amount of effort.
What’s happening? I’ve reached a point where the only thing I do is share with those who are interested the stories of what we’ve done at my company, the Red Shoe Movement, and the impact our work has had. I don’t need to convince anyone, I let the stories do the talking. I focus on listening to what people need and then I share what we may be able to do. But I don’t push, I don’t insist, I don’t proselytize. When someone feels we are the right fit and I feel they are the right fit for my organization, things work out beautifully. Everything flows, we become great partners and then, inevitable friends for life.
Because in the end, it’s about creating the conditions that allow everyone to be their best selves and live their most fulfilled lives. Figure out what those conditions look like for you and you’ll feel that it all comes to you effortlessly.