Trying harder is over-rated: Why taking time out can benefit your business

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Some entrepreneurs are working themselves into an early grave when what they really need to do is slow down, step back, take time out and achieve both personal and business success.

I have known Davina for ten years. She has a lovely, solid IT business employing 45 people. Turnover is around £4.5m and grows at about 10% each year. But...she is a workaholic and beats herself up about not being the 'entrepreneur of the year'. She scours the bookshelves looking for the new initiatives but they always disappoint so she just works harder: push, push, push…, hassle, hassle, hassle. And still they grow at 10% pa. Each year she gets to work earlier and leaves later. Staff turnover increases each year as they feel her demands of exponential growth are unattainable. She is going to have a heart attack.

In a backwater pub I could see her blood pressure was at boiling point so I subtly slipped in my one-liner "Trying harder is over-rated." She pushed over the table (drinks and all) and marched out of the pub, tears streaming down her face.
Ten minutes later I found her in an alleyway in tears. She spouted forth at her sheer and utter frustration and how she knew it was getting her nowhere (bad sleep, unhappy relationship, remote children and eczema for starters).
Once she calmed down we returned to the pub, apologised to the landlord and put together a simple plan. By agreeing what 'success' looked like we could piece together how to get there. By splitting out her goals for her business, career and private life we could identify the various trade-offs. She could come to terms with what was realistic and achievable. Over the next two months we worked together to create and start rolling out the plan.
Davina is not a touchy-feely type of person. Her idea of HR or staff development was to take people out the back and give them a rollocking. She hates NLP (and anyone who mentions it) with a pathological vengeance.
I do not want to play the amateur psychologist but something had to give.
Now Davina works 15 days a month and spends the rest of her time practicing her golf swing (her choice), living emotionally as well as physically with her partner and kids.
I have now been through this 'process' with more than several clients. It is great to have a toolkit that we know works to get entrepreneurs feeling better about themselves and their businesses. After all we are only on this planet once. But that is not my point (although feel free to contact me to find out exactly what I am talking about here).
It staggers me how many business people run themselves ragged just to go faster. Running up the down escalator. If it (whatever 'it' is) isn't working then it is pointless just doing more of the same. It is the first sign of madness to keep doing the same thing and to expect a different result! So do something different.
As soon as Davina broke the work-obsessive cycle she discovered that there was "more to life than work". More importantly, with respite from her incessant banging her head against a brick wall. she was able to start being far more incisive, decisive and effective at work.
The result: year-ending April 2009 saw a 19% increase in turnover with an even greater increase in profitability. But that's another story for another day!
Robert Craven, founder of The Directors' Centre, shows MDs and owners how to grow their sales and profits and focuses on how to do this in recessionary times. His latest book is the runaway success 'Beating the Credit Crunch – survive and thrive in the current recession'.

About Robert Craven

Robert Craven

Robert Craven is an international keynote business speaker, author, consultant and owner of The Directors’ Centre, a consulting and training company which helps owner-directors run the business they want to run.

His latest book, Grow Your Digital Agency, which provides the business fundamentals that every growing agency needs to address, is out now!


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By Michelle Purse
03rd Nov 2010 11:42

I can really identify with this post. I made a significant lifestyle change at the start of 2010. My office is now based from home where I can work the hours I choose, for the clients I choose. Quality of life increased significantly and financially, very little changed. Who knew!

-- Affordable Marketing for Small Business

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By Damian Hamill
03rd Nov 2010 16:28

The current focus on working harder and harder and boasting about 60, 70, 80 hour weeks as a badge of honour is, as this article suggests, less than productive.  In the case in point the systemic consequnences of this doubtless well-meaning woman's driven practices were damaged family relationships, alienated staff and compromised health, to say nothing of straighforward misery. 

We are often urged to work smarter not harder but how many of us actually know how to do this?  Equally, people often give lip service to the notion "you work to live, not live to work" and then go on to betray these sentiments by their actions.  In his classic book The Four Hour Week, Tim Ferriss challenged the notion that the type of driven work pattern described in this example is desireable or optimal yet most people think of Ferriss' own lifestyle as the exception rather than a realistic option.  Yet there are many practical strategies to work more effectively, sustainably, productively and healthily if we are ready to shift our paradigms and beliefs about the workplace.

At Watt Works Consulting we offer courses focusing on more sustainable and considered strategies for optimising performance that don't necessarily mean longer hours and greater effort.  I believe that with the advances in technology that exist nowadays it is time we revised many of our fundamental opinions about the workplace and what constitutes effective work.  Equally useful is to look at the larger system and consider what role work is designed to play in our lives.  If work is prioritised at the expense of family relationships, personal health and happiness then surely the tail is wagging the dog?

Feel free to visit us at

Damian Hamill

Director of Training


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By Doug Shaw
04th Nov 2010 09:17

 Well done Davina, sounds like you've bene very helpful to her Robert. Good work. Most recently, we’ve seen our old enemy fear lurking in the dark corners. Oh dear, am I being watched? I’d better nail my backside to the chair all day. I’d better get there before everyone else. I dare not leave first. It seems that the recession has caused an overload of presenteeism, and indeed, binge working. My work’s bigger than your work, you get the picture.

I believe in many things. I ask many questions. “What’s the least I can do to have a meaningful impact?” I’m not proud of input per se, (though I see the benefit of research, preparation, training etc.) I love output.

Katherine Wiid runs a wonderful people management business called Recrion. She has written a lovely short piece on the power of productivity and brevity which I think you and your readers might like. Have a read, then maybe go for a short walk and have a think. Go on, it’s OK, the lurker has turned its back, and I’ll keep an eye out for you.

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By RobertCraven
06th Nov 2010 21:48

Thanks for the feedback


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By Damian Hamill
10th Nov 2010 18:05

Interesting points there.  If people are encouraged to justify their existence simply by being present, then there is little incentive to get the work done, as then there would be no reason to BE present.

Tony Schwartz notes the fact that the major accountancy firms, for example, invoice clients by the hour.  This means that there is an actual disincentive to work more effectively as that would reduce the number of billable hours!


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By RobertCraven
20th Feb 2011 22:58

payment by results is the answer!!


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