This is not the "4 Hour Work-Week" that made Tim Ferris famous, nor the "collect checks while you live in Tuscany and pick grapes" model that so many (usually frat boy looking) claim to teach online. This is the true story of how I went from obsessed with obsessively making and checking off lists of to-dos, working 8-10+ hour plus days, to learning from a trip to Europe that I could actually rethink my strategy and get more done in less time if I just put a few things in place and committed to my goal.
It all started by realizing that I had some fundamental assumptions ingrained in me that was affecting how I approached the "work day."
I don't know about you but I was raised to covet the early morning hours. Maybe it's because I was born and raised in the city that never sleeps? I’ve spent my whole life thinking I was more “accomplished” the earlier I woke up. I got this idea from my parents by living in a home where everyone was “up and at ‘em” by 6 am, sometimes even earlier. Getting up at 8am was "sleeping in" and felt lazy. Growing up, it seemed productivity only even counted if it happened on the early side of the day.
Fast forward to June 2017 when Steve and I ran a little test: we booked a two-month trip to Europe—with no concrete agenda—to see how little we could work while still keeping our business going. We barely let people know we were gone, we booked Brandshrinks based on EST (even though we were six hours ahead), and we pushed ourselves to see if we could enjoy our trip and keep the lights on back home.
Each day, we woke up whenever we wanted, had a leisurely breakfast, spent four or five hours at a beach, did some reading, then had a relaxing lunch before heading back to our hotel room—usually between 4pm and 6pm—to start working for the day (the advantage of being at least 6 hours ahead of the United States). After a few hours of work, we’d head for dinner. (It didn’t hurt that it’s still light out at 10 pm during the summer in Spain and Italy)
Surprisingly, after having spent a whole day relaxing and doing whatever we wanted, it actually became easier to sit down and work in the late afternoons. Despite appearances, we actually got a surprising amount done. More, in fact, than usual. It really drove the point home for us that we fill the time we have, and with limits can often get stuff done in much less time.
We annointed this realization “#SpainBrain” and before returning home, decided #SpainBrain is here for life.
Badass Your Brain
A quick google search let me know that the 40-hour work-week is a man-made construct created in the late 19th century that we’ve all just kind of accepted as how it works. It was actually created to protect industrial workers, but it’s slowly been distorted since, encroached upon by Wall Street traders and Silicon Valley bro-culture who say you have to constantly be "on" to make progress. You can recognize this distortion by the incessant chatter of “hustle” and “grind” and “no days off!” and the pride that seems to come with being sooooo busy.
As an entrepreneur, most of us really ultimately want freedom and flexibility. But unfortauntely most entrepreneurs I meet end up with that constant hustle, lots of time wasted on inefficient activities, guilt for not doing enough (which, if this mindset you can never do enough), and a race to cross things off that ever-growing list.
It’s time to retrain ourselves to accept nothing less than #SpainBrain.
To achieve #SpainBrain, you have to approach your relationship with time and effectiveness differently.
And that means rethinking what we’ve been taught our entire lives.
What if you were only able to work 5 hours/day?
What would you need to do to make that happen if you had no other choice? That’s exactly what Steve and I asked ourselves at the end of our vacation.
For most of us, it actually doesn't matter when we work or how long it takes to finish as long as we accomplish what we need to accomplish. Working fewer hours doesn't necessarily mean you’re getting fewer results. In fact, it could even mean that you’ll get better results because you’ll only be working in peak mental condition.
With this in mind, and knowing my addiction to productivity and to-do lists, we told ourselves on the way home from Europe that we were only going to work from 1 pm to 6 pm, five days a week. That's it. We put clear and unbending parameters in place so that we would know if we were accomplishing it or not (since "work fewer hours" could easily be encroaching on. We were actually a little scared we'd get sucked back into working in the mornings, but we were committed to making it work cause it was so damn freeing while we were away.
Sounds cool, but HOW?
Easier said than done, right? Before returning home I decided that there were a few other things I need to commit to if I was ever going to have a chance of making this a habit I could stick to:
- First, if I was only allowed 5 hours a day I needed to spend that 5 hours as productively as possible. That meant doing only the most high-value work; doing things only I can do for my business. Which meant I needed to outsource everything else that was humanly possible. That meant understanding the value of investing the upfront time needed to hand it off to someone else, including making a training video when needed. (Having a seriously Badass virtual assistant on my team made this possible).
- Second, I needed to be super clear on my short and long-term objectives and exactly what needed to get done each day, so I could hit the ground running at 1 pm sharp (not 1:15pm or 1:30pm after I checked my email and Facebook and all that jazz.) This meant committing to putting time aside to plan each week and keeping a tight list of objectives that would push the needle forward toward my big goals.
- Finally, I needed to stay committed to my own goal to make this schedule work. Fight any urge to procrastinate on social media or by reading the New York Times online, my go-to time wasters.
- Have a clear list of fulfilling activities I wanted to do when I wasn't working. Books I was excited to read, friends I wanted to see and not just talk about seeing, classes I wanted to take. Without having activities to do instead it would have been easy for me to wake up and want to get going to work because I actually love what I do!
Easier said than done. I wrote these 4 things down in my journal and looked at them frequently. It's a simple list, and yet reminding myself of them constantly was necessary to keep my eye on the prize, especially when I felt like I was unclear why this was a good idea.
A Total Mindset Shift
Now that I’ve lived #SpainBrain for almost a year, I can't imagine getting back into my old schedule. Yes, I have to be way more efficient and disciplined to work just five hours—it’s challenging—but it doesn’t make me lazy or less-than. In fact, more free time enhances the quality of my work and expands my mind to think of new, possibly better ways, to serve people.
Being committed to the four things I outlined above has shown me, clearly, that my eight-hour-plus workdays were really just five-hour workdays dragged out over eight hours. I was spending a total of at least three hours procrastinating, often because I just wasn't clear on exactly what needed to get done, or doing things I should have known could have been outsourced, but I was too controlling, or oddly, lazy, to take the time to outsource.
How many of us are wasting precious time “working?” How many 100-year-old constructs are holding us back?!
If you commit to #SpainBrain (and I hope you’ll join me!), understand you will be forced out of your comfort zone. You have to give up some control and trust others, and that is usually the hardest part for entrepreneurs who want everything done a certain way. This won't always work out well, but stick with it, because it will change your life if you want it to.
The things we assume are just “the way things are” or “the right way to operate,” often aren’t. Identifying our default thinking can be incredibly freeing, and it can also create space for new opportunities. With all this free time, I am spending time reading and thinking and learning new skills unrelated to my business, and surprisingly, they all end up helping me be more effective in my business anyway. For example, I took up singing lessons just for fun, but it’s actually helping me with my public speaking skills as well. (If you've never done a visual representation of how much time you have left in your life to do these things on your bucket list, I made one for you which you can download here— it's an eye opener!)
Now that I’ve seen the other side, I'm beginning to think these underlying assumptions about life, work, and business are invisible hands pulling us in directions we might not want to go. Instead, we can create new ones, and then make them work—for ourselves. The possibilities are really, truly endless, and it’s got me rethinking everything.