Congratulations, thought leader.
You have once again proven yourself to be ahead of the curve and ahead of the crowd.
It took University of California professor of management Morten T. Hanson decades of study to come up with his breakthrough idea, but you — a tenured professor of mismanagement — knew intuitively that the way to get to the top as fast as possible was to do as little work as possible.
“How to Succeed in Business? Do Less” is the title of Hanson’s recent treatise in The Wall Street Journal. It’s an essay you could have written if you weren’t so busy doing less.
For the good professor, the ah-ha moment came when he was a young whippersnapper of a consultant and realized that despite working a grueling schedule of long days, longer nights and weekends, too, he was getting out-consulted by a co-worker who stuck to a strict 8-to-6 schedule with no weekend work ever.
Working more wasn’t the secret to success, he realized. And so, he started a scholarly odyssey to understand why “some people perform better than others.”
The answer shocked Hanson, but it won’t surprise you. You’ve always known that it isn’t working harder that leads to success. It’s working selectively.
“Whenever they could they carefully selected which priorities, tasks, meetings, ideas or steps to undertake and which to let go,” Hanson writes, explaining the behavior of peak performers. “They then applied intense, targeted effort on those few priorities in order to excel.”
Is this you, or is this you?
It’s you. Early on in your career you selected exactly what part of your job was going to be your priority. OK, it was lunch, but the principle is the same. And that decision has paid off. You have become the best luncher in your company. No one eats more, or more frequently, and picks up a check less often than y-o-u.
Other, less enlightened employees, who have not selected lunch as their focus, still follow your lead. According to Hanson, they “seek the simplest solution — that is, the fewest steps in a process, fewest meetings, fewest metrics, fewest goals and so on.”
This opens up time to focus on “what is truly necessary to do a great job.” In other words, schmoozing with the boss, blaming co-workers for their own screw-ups, and taking credit for the work done by the losers who really do work hard.
Hanson cautions that “once you’ve cut the clutter in an attempt to be more selective, it’s tempting to add new items back in.”
You know this career sinkhole all too well. Not being satisfied with mastering lunch, you once tried to also become the best at coffee breaks. Trying to squeeze in three or six coffee breaks a day took your attention away from your lunchtime focal point. You even started showing up at the Smorgy Bob’s so late that all the imitation crab legs were gone.
That’s the kind of tragedy that can occur when you lose focus.
If you work at a job where doing less still rankles the cankles, the prof has a very radical solution — telling your boss “no” to anything and everything that takes time away from accomplishing your specific, selected goal.
As an experienced slacker, you may question how this strategy will play with a boss still mired in “an old-fashioned work-harder mentality.”
The solution is to simply explain to the boss that she or he is an outmoded, archaic fuddy-duddy. This is certain to work, probably by making your manager decide to streamline the workflow process by giving you plenty of time to focus on collecting unemployment insurance.
As part of the work winnowing process, it may also be necessary to make sure management doesn’t “mistakenly obsess over goals such as the number of sales calls made, patients seen, customers visited and so on.” These archaic metrics pale in light of the only factor worth considering — “what value can I create?”
For example, if your manager still obsesses about falling sales, wayward shipments and acute customer dissatisfaction, explain that your seemingly poor performance delivers great value to your customers. By clogging up their workflow, you are providing an opportunity for the focused introspection that may lead your customers to take up meditation, or a wholesome hobby, like butter sculpture, or, best of all, to start taking longer lunches.
Just don’t tell them about the Smorgy Bob’s. Those imitation crab legs won’t last forever.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at email@example.com.