Lin Yutang was critical of North Americans for being too busy. He believed we are too subservient to the business culture. He saw us as slaves to our work, who worry ourselves to death.
I have long believed, time away from one’s business is one of the most important ingredients for success. This counter intuitive point of view was brought home again recently as a result of time away from work. I was involved in some discussions with business owners and we were talking about success and what it took to be successful.
If you are too busy in your work, you don't have time to learn new ideas, to discover new truths, to enjoy life's little pleasures, or to create a winning strategy or idea! Growing a successful business requires you to walk down un-trodden paths and to do this, you need the free time.
When you own a business, you can leave your business, but your business never leaves you. So time off is not about idleness, it is about rejuvenation and creativity. But you can’t engineer creativity and innovation, you simply have to let it happen.
From personal experience and talking to other business owners, I have found that our best ideas often pop into our heads when we are doing something completely unrelated to work. It can be time with the family, playing sports, simply walking around or even doing something busy like running personal errands.
I try to work a four and half day week in the summer and also try not to work at the weekends in the winter. I am not always successful at this but it is something I strive for.
If you feel guilty taking time off, you have to change your thinking. You have to come to terms with the fact that for a business owner time off is not a reward, it's an essential period of rejuvenation. Without it you gradually become less and less effective.
Just recently I was again reminded of Lin Yutang's wisdom. With a growing business there is never enough time to get everything done, and if you allow it to happen, you can find yourself working, every waking hour. I was coming dangerously close to this, so was reluctant to give up the time for research, when Rick Wolfe of PostStone Corporation suggested we run some roundtable discussions to understand what business owners need to be successful.
Over the last few weeks I have been doing this research with Rick. Rick is one of the wisest people I know. He spent many years in Japan and taught me the value of patience and every time we meet I discover new insights. Rick kept urging me to run the discussions. I am glad he did.
I have been so busy since I came back from my Christmas vacation in Southern Africa, that I put off having these "non-essential" discussions several times before eventually scheduling the meetings. Eventually I bit the bullet and made the decision to take the time needed. Not only did I gain a number of valuable insights, but I also had an idea, that has had a dramatic impact on the way I see my business. As a result I have been behaving differently and I am generating better results with less work.
These discussions, which hardly feel like work, have highlighted so much useful information and a number of participants have found the time invested of great value. They report having gained many useful concepts and ideas from their peers, but more importantly they find the forced reflection time the most valuable. Simply having the time to think about ones business in a no pressure environment has been valuable to them.
We have heard so many business owners, both large and small tell us, among other things, that two of the most important ingredients for business success are focus and leverage.
Leverage being "How do I get more for less?" This is not simply the old drive for productivity, but how to multiply themselves so they become so much more effective.
Focus being the ability to identify and work on what's important and to leave other things alone.
Lin Yutang also said; "Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials." We should all heed Lin Yutang's advice.
Part of the answer lies in more time off, not less. If you want the great creative ideas, you need to make the time to let them bubble up. If you are busy chasing your tail, you will strangle your creative thought process.
I would be interested in hearing from anyone about how they gain leverage and multiply their effectiveness. Let me know if you have found anything that works.