Having a pool in your back yard, 10 meters away from your office, does not help you become a workaholic.

What if you are not a Workaholic?

Let’s face it. Building a dream life takes a lot of work. In many ways, We cheated. We moved to lower cost economies, took advantage of free money and right now, you can’t spend more than $30 on a meal for two at our local restaurant.  I have a swimming pool in my  back yard and our rent is less than $600 a month.

So as a non-workaholic, am I doomed to working for the man, putting in a 40 hour week or eeking by a minimum wage existence in some geo-arbitraged state?

I hope not.

I don’t even think that not working is a good thing. We went through our four hour work week phase and, to be honest, it gets boring. Mendoza is a beautiful garden city at the foot of the Andes where we spent 6 months lounging around in our jacuzzi or going on wine tours.

We put in about 4 hours of work a week – and we were miserable.   I can honestly say it was the worst time of my life.

If you aren’t working, you aren’t achieving anything. Lacking a sense of achievement is soul destroying. That is why I aspire towards working more.

But how do you do that if you aren’t a ‘workaholic’ by nature?

Over the past three months, I’ve hacked becoming more of a workaholic. It hasn’t been easy and I’ll explained what worked, and what did not.

  • Holding yourself accountable: this started off with a weekly chat with a fellow bootstrapping friend over Google hangouts. We chatted about our outgoing and upcoming weeks. It felt good to hold a mirror up to what I was focused on. I got all excited and brought a new project onto the agenda. The project petered out, and I wasn’t so keen to face up to my failures, so the meetings dwindled. Holding myself acocuntable wasn’t enough.
  • Working with someone else: I then started working with an old colleague from piehole voiceovers. This was bettter. I got a few clients in for her Growth Hacking skills and getting paid by someone else for work to be done was a great motivator. It meant we had to get sh*t done and justify ourselves at the end of the month. Working with Sasha also helped me keep more regular hours. She was in Chile and I’m in South Africa, so it meant I had to be available in the afternoons at least, online and working. Of course, this schedule didn’t always work for both of us, and this kind of dwindled out. I couldn’t rely on her to keep my at my desk. I needed something else.
  • Time-sheets: I introduced time-sheets as a way of making sure that the billable time we spent was allocated properly. I didn’t want to spend too little time on a client, or too much as we have other businessses to look after. In honesty, I introduced them to make sure that Sasha was spending the right amount of time on client work. She had a tendancy to spend too many hours on a project and burn herself out (she actually is a geniune workaholic). In actual fact, tracking my own time became vital to getting more done. I forgot about “efficiency” and just concentrated on the number of hours work done.
  • Pomodoro Technique: The Pomodoro Technique is a fancy say of saying you work for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute work and then head back for another 25 minutes of work. I used to work in batches of 40 minutes or an hour. I don’t have the concentrate span for that. Mostly, by the end of a 25 minute segment, I’ve still got gas in the tank, and it means I have to tear myself away from the desk. Which means I’m raring to go when I get back to it. Now I measure my day in terms of the number of Pomodoro’s I complete. It works really well.
  • Retrospectives: The great thing about timesheets and Pomodoro’s are, you have a list of the activities you undertook at the end of a week. If I feel like beating myself up for not getting enough done (read: making enough money) I can review the timesheet and decide how to deploy the effort better next time around. While everyone else seems to need to work smarter, not harder, I just want to work harder first and figure out the other bit later.
  • Exercise:  Now that I was tracking my time, and reviewing it, it became easier to see what set me up for success.  I always kind of knew this, but days that started with exercise where 3 times more likely to result in 10 Pomodoros compared to an average of just 3 Pomodoro’s on days I didn’t kick off with some exercise.  Having the data in black and white in front of me really makes a difference.  I’m not exercising more and working more.
  • Podcasts:  I used to listen to podcasts while working. I tricked myself into thinking they were relaxing.  Now that I’m tracking what has been achieved every 25 minutes in a time-sheet, I can see that they just distract me.  The 25 minute discipline means I don’t have that much time for any task.  It focuses the mind.  Now I just listen to music if anything at all.  Lots of Fat Boy Slim, not so much Garth Brooks.  Lyrics are just as distracting as podcasts.

I wrote this post after listening to Rob Walling and Mike Taber talking about Avoiding Shiny Object Syndrome on their podcast.  They have some really good advice in there, lots of which overlaps with what I found.

I can’t really believe I’m the only person that struggles with working hard. I can understand why no one wants to admit it, but why is there so much bravado about when it comes to working.  Am I really the only small business owner that finds it hard to work hard?


6 thoughts on “What if you are not a Workaholic?

  1. Andy Madigan

    James, fantastic post. Really interesting to hear your experience of the Pomodoro Technique. I had read about it before, even have an associated app on my pod, but never heard anyone’s positive experience. I must give it a try.

    1. James Kennedy Post author

      It really works for me I have to say. I count my day in terms of the number of pomodoros completed. It is like a half way house between just focusing on tasks vs focusing on time. Some tasks just take forever, so you don’t get to check it off a list.

  2. Audrey

    Timesheets are definitely the way to go. I also have a comment section on my line items and religiously track moods/distractions as I can better learn when certain things aren’t working. Plus at least when I’m beating myself up about not being productive enough on a particular day I have clearer information on what I need to improve/solve distraction-wise.Sometimes something as simple as taking a break and going for a walk is enough to reinvigorate me and get me back in the swing of things.

    1. James Kennedy Post author

      Having a clear record helps a lot. Sometimes I feel like I haven’t done enough and then look back to see I’ve done quiet a bit. Or, more commonly, I won’t do much on a day but be able to look back over the week or month to see what has been done – which makes me feel more motivated to get back on the horse.

  3. Gonzalo

    James, you hit the nail on the head. I guess if the definition of working hard is “conecentrating on anything but the To Do list of the day”, then yes, I’m guilty as charged. I love to read and check out twitter for new insights, so I get distracted easily with things that I think “I must find out now or I’ll be left behind”.

    Great post!


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