Winning The Game Of Time

How working a lesser amount of time could be the secret to a more successful life

Do you feel like your daily routine exhausts you?

Do you always decline invitations to go out because you are too busy?

Do you find it difficult to take out quality time with family?

Do you keep procrastinating on pursuing your hobbies because you don’t have time?

If the answer to any of the above is YES, you need to rethink the way you deal with your time.

Know Your Priorities

Let me tell you a story about a professor, a mason jar, and some stones. One day a professor put an empty mason jar in front of his class and filled it with some big stones. He asked the students if the jar was full – they said yes.

The professor then took some pebbles and added those to the jar – they settled in to the spaces between the big stones. He again asked the students if the jar was full – they said yes.

The professor smiled and proceeded to add some sand to the supposedly full jar. Guess what, there was space for the sand too. He again asked the students if the jar was full. The students thought of course nothing more could go in the jar now, so they said yes again.

The professor laughed and what do you think happened? He added a cup of coffee to the jar that was soaked up by the sand.

What does this story teach us?

The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.

-Stephen Covey

If we make space for the big things in life – for our priorities – smaller things will fit themselves around it in the time that is left over.

What do you think would have happened if the professor filled the jar with sand first? Do you think the big stones could have fit in? NO.

That’s a mistake most of us end up making.

We fill our time with the small things, and so we never have any for the important things in life.

I was making this mistake too.

I had realized I was wasting big opportunities by focusing my time and energies on small things. I wanted to write books, cook for my wife and friends, and work on my health, have a child.

I needed time to do that.

So I asked myself, “How can I work 4 hours a day, 4 days a week in my business?”

The 4X4 Strategy

One must not work in their business for more than 4 hours a day, 4 days a week.

Is that even possible? Would you get anything done at all?

You will.

I don’t say this lightly.

4×4 has created more balance, more revenue, and more freedom for me than any other strategy.

As simple as it looks though, this approach has many principles at play – actually 4.

Weed out undesirables:

Focusing your attention on a task and work deeply on it to achieve the outcome faster and better than when your attention is divided. I divided the 4 days I had to work in to focus items I would work on that day – analysis, writing, coaching, hiring etc.

Parkinson’s law:

This law states that, “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion”. Which means if you give yourself a task, and give a time period for it, the work will take as much time as allocated.

Intensity with which you tackle the task is more important than the time you spend on it.

Keeping my work chunks to 4 hours makes me deliver on the task in those 4 hours.

Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule:

This principle is about finding 20% of your tasks that give you 80% of the results. Let’s take it one step further, find 20% of the 20% you have identified, and work on that piece for that day.

With this you are preparing to do deep work on one thing which will yield the maximum results for your efforts.

The power of free time principle:

Basically, this is the time when you allow your mind to wander. Do activities that are not in your regular domain. Study. Read. Play. Travel. Free time is when you connect the dots and generate ideas that you otherwise would not be able to.

Applied together, these 4 concepts can work magic on the way your time works to deliver the outcomes needed.

Let’s deep dive into two of these concepts – deep work and the power of free time.

The Principle of Deep Work

For entrepreneurs, the usual modus operandi is to focus on something for a very short period before quickly moving on to something else.

You multitask. You get things done. You get them done fast. You are on calls, on social media, on emails. Everything about you screams action.

But what you are doing is spreading your attention too thin. You are doing low quality work. You are losing your intensity.

Cal Newport in his book Deep Work talks about the concept of fractured time – when you work in small bursts. This is a reactive mode – you are always in a rush, you respond to situations, and you check off boxes from your to-do list.

While you get a lot done, you lose out on quality.

On the other hand, deep work happens when you get to have a period of uninterrupted time to focus on a single task or activity. This is when you get your most meaningful work done.

As entrepreneurs, you need to be comfortable working in both modes.

The pace of fractured time will help you get things done that are needed to run a business. The intensity of deep work will help you develop ideas and offerings that will facilitate the tasks you do in your fractured time.

Deep work facilitates the work done in fractured time.

Focus hard. In reasonable bursts. One day at a time.

Take a look at your usual routine. Are you working in a fractured time mode? Mostly the answer is yes.

The 4×4 strategy is going to help you dedicate time for deep work.

The Power of Free Time

I’m not pushing this idea because of laziness (though I love lazy afternoons), but because I have seen it make magic.

In the rush of every day priorities we forget to take some free time for ourselves. And we lose out on amazing ideas.

When you have free time your brain connects dots which otherwise seem like disconnected ideas..

I have often, when doing nothing, jumped off my couch and written something I must revisit when I get to office because it was a brilliant idea. When I read, learn, and often look at other entrepreneurs in this free time, I find ideas that I would have never thought of myself..

Think of it like the moment where Henry Ford got the idea of an assembly line from a meatpacking factory. It was a revolution for the entire industry.

Your revolution is lurking inside your mind somewhere, unable to find its way to the front because of the crowd of random things that occupy your mind.

Free time has become as important to me in my business as learning. It is critical for my business success. It’s where I find new ideas and new inspirations that drive growth for my business.

Here’s the catch though, as entrepreneurs the gears in our brains are always turning. We can’t stay idle. As much as we love freedom, 3 days into a vacation and our brains start churning. It’s bound to happen. It’s why we became entrepreneurs. To do what we want to do when we want to do it, including work.

For us, it becomes even more important to schedule that free time. Block it in your calendar and let your brain process all the wonderful insights it gets from learning, interacting, and living.

Make your Own 4X4 Strategy

As you shift your understanding towards free time you will see why you need your own version of the 4×4 strategy for your unique needs. Here’s a broad guideline on how you can build it:

Know your priorities and first allot chunks of time for them
Find out where 20% of your efforts will lead to 80% of the results.
Apply the 80/20 rule again to that 20% and allot time for deep work on those areas
Assign a time limit for each task. This is like setting yourself a deadline , and gives you all the rush you get when you work towards an approaching deadline.
Assign blocks of time for fractured work – this is where you clear the low quality to-do lists that are essential but can be done while multitasking
Don’t forget to schedule some free time

Remember, your business will grow more not because you work “in” your business; but because you work “on” it. How would you adapt the 4×4 strategy to work for you?

Every year we select a few entrepreneurs to work with us to grow their companies while reducing the number of hours they invest working “in” the business. If this year if your year, if this is the year you will love to see extraordinary success for you business, we would be curious to see if we could help.