There’s a belief in the entrepreneur community, that the only way to succeed is to work until the early hours, get up at 6am, work weekends and during vacations (if you take them) live on caffeine and numerous other legal stimulants, ignore friends and family (who you will make it up to once you reach your goals) and keep pushing until you reach the finishing line.
This was a belief I passionately shared during the 15 years I practised as an attorney. I prided myself on creating my best work at 3am and believed I was invincible. That belief, however, was shattered ten years ago when my consultant told me my adrenals were wrecked and that I had a month to live unless I made some dramatic changes.
That got my attention. I knew I had to ditch the daily 12 cups of coffee and 3 am stints. But at the same time, my drive to succeed remained in place and I knew there was no way I would be able to live on a mountain drinking herbal teas and eating a raw food diet to the exclusion of caffeine and pizza. There had to be a better way.
Killed by Karoshi
It’s worth noting that ‘death from overwork’ is not new or rare. In Japan death from overwork is termed ‘Karoshi’. The Japanese Ministry of Labor started publishing statistics on Karoshi in the eighties and now tens of thousands of deaths are believed to result from this condition. America is the only country in the world where people work more hours than their Japanese counterparts but equivalent data is not maintained.
After the grim prognosis from my consultant, I spent the next couple of years researching how the most efficient human beings on the planet (including global heads of investment banks, Special Forces personnel and athletes) ran their lives, and immersed myself in the latest findings from the field of neuroscience. This was a life changing, eye opening experience that changed forever the way I work and run my life.
Less Can be More
The consistent findings from some of the finest research institutes and most experienced researchers in the world, coupled with the practices and routines of ‘superstar performers’ provide lessons that must not be ignored by any entrepreneur who wants to achieve more in less time. They include:
1. Taking regular breaks every 90 minutes for at least ten minutes leads to a significant increase in both productivity and quality of work. Think sprinter rather than marathon runner. A meaningful break means at a minimum walking round the office, getting out of the building and if possible listening to music. The objective is to change your physical and mental state.
2. Blocking out all emails, calls and social media for key periods of work has a dramatic impact on a person’s ability to focus and consequently their efficiency. For more on this topic see ‘How Social Media Destroys an Entrepreneurs Ability to Succeed’.
3. Taking cat naps in the afternoon of between 20-40 mins enables you to perform at full throttle for the rest of the day. This is not always practical but, if you can, it makes a massive difference.
4. Learning how to automate key tasks (I mean human automation rather than technology) frees your brain up to be more creative and find solutions to challenges. Technology has its place but you have to start with the mind first.
5. Spending a few minutes each day using simple but highly effective psychological processes to lock on to your target, maintain motivation and develop resilience to bounce back from the inevitable setbacks that you’ll encounter on the road to success.
6. Using nutrition as high octane fuel, exercise as a way to increase mental and physical performance capacity and rest to fully recharge.
Applying all of the above and more, most of the time, I now achieve far more in far less time than I did during my 15 years as an attorney, while managing to have a far better quality of life. I am no less determined than I was 10 years ago. Just wiser and more effective.
Martin is the Founder of The Pitch Clinic and author of ‘Here’s the Pitch’.