Accelerate Your Success

Diminishing Returns

In 1926, Ford Motor Company became one of the first companies to adopt the 40-hour work week. This was a dramatic change because the industry norms at that time expected employees to work 6 days a week and up to 16 hours per day. Henry Ford enacted the change because their research and experimentation proved that they got the most productivity with the fewest mistakes and accidents with a configuration of 5, 8-hour work days. Any configuration that involved more time resulted in less productivity. 

This demonstrates the law of diminishing returns. There comes a point in any process where putting in more power, more time, and/or more materials actually results in less output. 

When high-achieving people first begin working, they naturally want to learn all the keys to being successful. One of the most common pieces of advice centers around working hard. Get to work early, be available when you are needed, stay late, volunteer to take on new projects, etc. In other words, prove that you are invaluable to the organization. 

For a beginner, this can be good advice. You will definitely learn a lot and have many opportunities if you follow this advice. This may also be a time in your life when you have fewer responsibilities, so you can focus more on work. However, we must be conscious of the law of diminishing returns as we continue to be in the workforce. 

Working a little more once in a while is unlikely to be detrimental. But what happens when you are up working at 3 am, unable to sleep because of all the things milling around in your brain? Are you still as productive later in the day? What happens if your “normal” becomes being up before everyone else and still at work into the evening? 

It is easy to fall into this trap, especially as a business owner. You feel responsible for everything and that there is always more to do. 

Follow the five steps to maximize your efforts.

Step 1
Work with your body.

We each have a wonderful body. If you stop and think about it, your body is a marvel of productivity. Just think about what it takes to keep you breathing, walking, and thinking!! Your body has preferences. Learning to work within those preferences will make you more productive. 

Maybe your body works best if you get up early. Maybe it runs best on particular types of food. Maybe it needs a nap in the afternoon. Maybe it likes to work out intensely (or less intensely). 

The better you learn to work with your body, the more productive you will be. Instead of trying to force your body to do more, why not line up with its preferences? Organize your schedule so you can close your eyes for 30 minutes each afternoon. Get up and go to bed when your body works best. You may be surprised at how easily you gain productivity. 

Step 2
Use your calendar to organize your work

We all have scads of things to do. It is easy to think that you will sort projects into your day around “everything else.” The reality is that it is easy to let email, texts, phone calls, and random meetings eat up all of your time. Then you scramble to get actual work done – often staying late or giving up lunch or breaks. 

Some of my clients like to block off time for a particular project. This works well for them. I work better if I block off time for work so I have dedicated time. I pick something from my list of “stuff to do” and get that done. The key is to have blocks of time dedicated to getting work done. 90-minute blocks work well for me. Too much longer and I lose focus. Shorter and I don’t get into the rhythm before the time is up. Figure out what works best for you. 

During your “work” time, turn off notifications, don’t look at email, turn your phone to silent (and turn it screen side down), close your office door (or post a sign that says – working, please don’t disturb) and use that time to focus. You’ll be amazed at how much more you get done in those blocks of time. 

Step 3
Evaluate Your To-Do List

When I have clients bring their to-do list to their coaching sessions, we often discover tasks on the list that are nice to have, old things that are left over from an idea they had a year ago and other not critical / not valuable tasks. If something has been on your to-do list with no action for a month (or longer), ask yourself if that is really something that needs to be done. It might be an idea that you want to get to “when you have time.” It might be something that would be nice to do but isn’t crucial. Either delete these things or move them to a “consider later” list. This will help shorten your list, which will reduce how stressful and heavy it feels. 

Then prioritize what remains based on importance. Break really large tasks into more manageable pieces, so you can prioritize a portion and work on just that part. Put just this week’s items on your list for this week. Figure out how much time you need this week and block that much time off. Do that for the upcoming weeks too. 

When your to-do list doesn’t feel so overwhelming, you’ll be more productive and you’ll feel a stronger sense of accomplishment, as you begin ticking those things off. 

Step 4
Get help

The average person has more than twice what they can reasonably do on their “to-do” list. While you are responsible for getting everything done, no one said you had to do it all yourself. 

The easiest things to hand off are things that other services specialize in like bookkeeping, answering services and the like. Their personnel has the knowledge to take these tasks on with a lot less hand off work for you. They are likely to get the work done in a fraction of the time it would take you. 

The next things to hand off are routine tasks that have to be done on a consistent basis. These can be handed off to an employee, a virtual assistant, or an intern. You’ll need to plan for training time. 

Then think about tasks that don’t require a lot of skill. For example, hand written notes, stuffing marketing bags and similar tasks can easily be handed off to a student or anyone who wants to earn extra money. 

Don’t forget about handing off personal tasks too. Who can do errands, clean your house or meal prep for you? Reducing your home to do list is just as important as your work one, when we are looking to maximize the return on your investment of time.

Step 5
Practice Being Off

If you’ve been on high alert for a considerable amount of time, you may struggle with being off. Off time has probably been sleeping or stressing about work. It is time to change the way you think about being off. 

The first step is to give yourself permission to be off. Don’t allow work to intrude – actually take time off. That means working on what you think about too. 

The assignment I usually give clients is to make a list of 10 things they’d like to do in their off time. Things they’ve done in the past and enjoyed or things they’ve always wanted to do. If you are able to do this – great – you have a place to start!! 

I’ve also had a number of clients who can’t come up with what to do because work has consumed their energy for so long that this seems to be a monumental task. That is OK too. If you can come up with even one thing, you have a place to start.

Some ideas:

Read a book, watch a move, walk a local trail, go to the park, go bowling (even by yourself), go to the driving range, take up target practice at the local gun range, take a class, try an art project, plant flowers, install a hammock and use it, self-care like massage or facials, daydream, plan a project for your home, do something with family or friends, visit a local tourist attraction, etc. The important thing is that there isn’t a wrong thing to do. The ultimate goal is to learn how to recharge your batteries but you won’t know what does that without some experimentation. 

Notice I called this practice being off. You are going to mess this up at first. Your office will call and you’ll answer the phone (and maybe secretly feel relieved because being off feels hard!). This is something to relearn. Be patient with yourself. You’ll try some things and it won’t be what you thought it would be. All of that is normal and OK. You are practicing – be gentle with yourself as you figure out how to be off. The better you get at it, the more you will recharge and the more information you’ll have about what works for you. 

You may look at this list and feel overwhelmed. The most important thing is to pick a place and start. You didn’t get here overnight and you won’t be able to fix it overnight either. Commit to taking action to make your life better and then do it. You’ll be glad you did!