Working Smarter Not Harder – how to do 20% more, in 20% less time, with 20% less stress

By on July 27, 2014

To transform your business success and enjoy better work-life balance

Enjoy being in business for yourself but feel stressed…overworked…overwhelmed?

Are you struggling to find that elusive ‘balance’ between work and life?

Interestingly, many of the world’s ‘busiest’ and most successful businesspeople, in the highest-pressure jobs, also enjoy the best level of ‘life-satisfaction’ and personal balance? How do they do it? They do it because they DON’T try to ‘balance’ their personal and professional lives. Instead they go for what I call a ‘work-life high’. The happiest, most successful, and most integrated business men and women, love what they do. They go to work every single day because they enjoy it, because they’re doing their passion.

“Do what you love and you will never have to work another day in your life”.

The most successful, stress-free businesspeople, ‘work smarter not harder’. They do this, by structuring their lives in such a way that whether they are working or playing, they spend more time ‘in the zone’ of high-level performance and personal fulfilment. The following 7 practices are commonly found among these individuals.

1. Know Your Goal (Get ‘Crystal Clear’)

Most people think that improving productivity, or getting better work-life balance, is about time management or prioritising. However, successful individuals know that you cannot prioritise unless you first know your ideal end result. Seneca once said, ‘Unless you know where you’re going, any wind is favourable.’ Research, however, suggests that less than 5% of us have clearly defined daily and life goals that we refer to on a regular basis. Most of us are so ‘busy being busy’ (‘as busy as a one-arm bricklayer from Baghdad’ as Kenny would say), that we fail to appreciate the difference between being ‘busy’ and being ‘productive’!

Being truly productive comes down to being crystal clear on what the end result is – what your ideal ‘work-life life’ looks (and feels) like.

High success people know where they’re going, and they know what they want (most of us just know what they we ‘don’t’ want). Therefore, at 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon, when there’s 30 e-mails in their inbox, 15 messages on their voice-mail, and two or three people wanting their time, they know exactly what takes priority. Stress doesn’t accumulate, because they automatically know what is most important, and can attend to that with focus.

Work Smarter TIP 1:

Before you start worrying about prioritising, get crystal clear on your end goal. Take a moment now – if you haven’t done it already – and work out exactly what your ideal life looks like (we need to know what our ideal life is before we can know how ‘work’ fits in … assuming we even separate the two!)

Where do you want to be in ten year’s time? What do you want your life to look like? What’s a perfect day and week for you? Do you want to go on holidays for three months a year? Do you want two kids, five kids….to trade-in your kids? What does work-life balance or a ‘work-life high’ scenario mean for you? Get super clear on this before doing anything else. (You may not actually be in the right business, job or role now!)

2. Do Your ‘Natural Flow-State Activities’

Again, before we even consider prioritising, there is another (often overlooked) key to maximum-productivity performance. It involves spending most of our time in our ‘natural flow-state’ activities.

Thousand year-old Eastern sciences have told us for millenia that the highest states of human performance are cultured only when we combine ‘doing what we love most’ with ‘what we naturally do best’ – i.e. our natural talents.

This is the timeless secret to getting in ‘flow’ or the ‘zone state’ of high-performance. This is the state where we get more done in two hours than we usually do in two days. This is the state where time flies, everything runs like a frictionless flow, and we can maintain high-output performance without getting burnt-out. This is the state where athletes achieve personal best performances, break world records or win gold medals. It is the state where artists create Nobel prize-winning work. It is also the state where we as businesspeople have our most creative ideas, peak moments of inspiration, and the energy levels to implement everything.

Importantly, consistently high achievers, get into this state more regularly, by knowing exactly what they do best, and focusing on using their ‘natural God-given talents’. They tend NOT to ‘work on their weaknesses’ or ‘fill holes’ in their businesses. (They outsource them or work in teams to get the ‘other’ stuff done – see principle 4). Richard Branson is dyslexic and rarely if ever even touches a computer…let alone sends email. However, he has built a worldwide empire, by focusing on his unique talents as an innovative, big picture thinker, and a brilliant self-promoter. Bill Gates became the richest man in the world, without even having a personality! (sorry Bill!)

Peak performers tend NOT to work on their weaknesses. They focus on their unique strengths, skills and talents, so that they spend the majority of their time in their ‘high performance’ state.

Getting in our high-performance state is founded on two key things:

  1. Doing what we most enjoy.
  2. Doing what we naturally do best.

Combine these two in your business, and you will transform your work performance and results. 

Work Smarter TIP 2:

Focus on your strengths (not on your weaknesses) and structure your daily activities so that the majority of your time is spent doing things you enjoy, and involve roles that use your natural talents.

Activity to Help.

Take a blank piece of paper and make three columns.

    1. List everything that you really ENJOY/LOVE doing in a vocational/work sense. E.g. working face to face with clients, speaking in public, coming up with new/creative ideas, big-picture strategising, motivating others, working with numbers, technology, selling, planning, marketing, support from behind the scenes…
    2. Write down all the activities or roles that you just naturally DO WELL – what you tend to do easily, without much effort, where time flies, and people always compliment you on. Examples as above.
    3. Circle which activities are in both columns. These will tend to represent your natural flow-state activities. Gradually over time (you may need to consult with managers, business partners etc), begin to focus more of your time and energy on those areas. *

* Make use of the ‘Pareto 80-20 Principle’ – the powerful business and work-life balance principle, that shows that 80% of our results come from just 20% of what we do (and vice versa). Focus 80% of your time, and energy on your natural flow-state activities, to achieve 80% of the results you want with 20% of the effort.

** A more comprehensive worksheet for this activity can be found at

3. Fry Your BIG FISH First

Do you get side-tracked by distractions, ‘small stuff’ or always feel like you’re putting out small fires? Do you regularly fail to get to the really important things that drive your bottom-line results and satisfaction?

Many small businesspeople fail to follow the age-old time management/prioritising principle that you hear at every ‘management seminar’ – doing what is ‘most important’. Once you know your goal, and you’ve structured your basic work role and life activities around your high-performance flow-state activities, the third key is focusing solely on the truly important things.

This principle has arguably been best illustrated by the world-renowned Stephen Covey through the Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand analogy (though I believe this teaching actually originated from a university professor who used golf balls). Basically, think of a container that represents your business. The container has sand filling the bottom and pebbles filling the top. The sand represents all the ‘small stuff’ that takes up your time and energy, but doesn’t really lead to your bottom-line business results. The pebbles represent the ‘nice’ things. They’re smooth, shiny, and look good, but at the end of the day, they also are not the key drivers of your business success. In a typical business, the small or nice things ‘may’ include (it will differ for different businesses) – excessive e-mailing, sending Christmas cards to clients, having flashy brochures, fluffy marketing campaigns, taking non-sales phone calls (e.g. incoming telemarketing calls), doing basic accounts/bill payments/office organisation (all possibly better outsourced).

The key point is that, like the container, if your business is full of sand and pebbles, when it comes to putting in any ‘big rocks’, which represent the fundamental, bottom-line drivers of your business success, there is no room left.

When we fill our time up doing all the small things and doing what’s ‘nice’, there is no time left for the really important things.

This result… more stress … less success.

The solution? Starting again with a new, empty container, the professor first puits three big rocks in. He then pours the first container full of pebbles and sand into the new container. What happens? The pebbles and sand all distribute themselves around the big rocks… without overflowing. The point! Everything else finds a way of fitting in. And it is exactly the same in business.

When we do the big (truly important) things in our business, we often find that much of the ‘small stuff’ that we thought was important, doesn’t even need to be done.  

Work Smarter TIP 3:

    1. Do a ‘Rocks, Pebbles & Sand’ analysis of your own work/job/business*, and come up with at least two ‘sand’ items that you can get rid of in the next week. (See Principle 4 below)
    2. If your business is like the container full of sand and/or pebbles, look to restructure and re-prioritise. Get out your diary or electronic organiser, and where there’s some space in it, whether that’s two weeks, two months, or six months away, start putting in actions related to the big rocks of your business. These might include, getting super clear on your end goals, big-picture strategic planning, spending extra time getting the best possible staff, setting up face-to-face meetings with your key customers/clients/suppliers…whatever the truly important things are that only you can do.
    3. Constantly think how you can restructure your day so you are spending the majority of your time on your ‘big Fish’ activities – the activities that drive 80% of your results.

* If you want a brainstorming sheet to do the rocks-pebble-sand analogy for either your work situation or personal life (or for your whole team), e-mail

4. Get Rid of the Small Stuff

In order to spend more time on the really important things, we of course, have to get rid of some of the ‘small stuff’. How do we do it? There’s three key ways.

1.  Say “NO”.

High-productivity people are clear about their big-picture goal. Thus, anything that does not align or support the achievement of that goal, is simply not entertained. I.e. they say ‘NO’ to. They might say no nicely, but they say no. What’s something ‘small’ that takes up your precious time or energy that you can say no to or decide not to do anymore? E.g. attending networking functions where you get loads of business cards but little, if any, actual business.

2.  Avoid the Poison of ‘Perfectionism

Do you know people who want to do everything perfectly? They write a report or proposal and they’ve got to cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’. Even writing an e-mail, or running a team meeting, and they’ve got to get every last little detail absolutely perfect. Trying to get everything perfect is one of the quickest ways to ruin our productivity. Unless you’re a civil engineer building a bridge, or you’re a neurosurgeon cutting into someone’s brain, don’t worry about perfection. Work by quote…

‘Progress is More Important than Productivity.’

I learnt this saying off Dale Beaumont, a super productive and highly successful Australian entrepreneur. Aim to be good, even excellent, but don’t worry about perfection.

3. Outsource

Outsourcing is arguably the most powerful business principle of all. If you really want to turbo-charge your business, get massively more done in less time, with less stress, get comfortable with outsourcing.

The beauty of today’s global world, is that you can literally outsource ‘anything’ (all the ‘small stuff’ you don’t like doing and takes up your precious time), at a tiny cost, and with relative ease.

If you are not familiar with the benefits of outsourcing, here’s a taste from my business. Last year, I self-published my first book. The biggest obstacle for people self-publishing books, is the time and cost involved in producing it. Instead of paying thousands of dollars to get my book produced in Australia, I had the book cover designed by a Canadian designer (through for $250 – usually $1500 for a top-class book cover design). The illustrations were done in India (through for $150 – usually $500). The typesetting was done by someone in Italy (through elance for $400 – usually $1200+).

Now, for most time-consuming or general tasks related to promoting or selling the book or my related talks, I get my virtual assistant in the Philippines to do it (for $4 an hour – through She researches the internet and sends me a full report about what’s involved in selling books online/Amazon etc. She not only collates database lists that would take me days to get, but puts them into my online database, so I can simply go in and send an e-mail promotion to hundreds or thousands of potential buyers in a few minutes. Aside from the book, she remotely accesses my computer to organise my computer files, de-clutters and systematises my emails, sets up time-saving work systems, uploads my blogs, pays my accounts, buys things online etc etc etc. (I haven’t worked out how she can record my favourite TV shows yet, but..!).

Even this article you are reading, is a result of me recording myself speaking on my video camera for 30 minutes, sending the video to a video guy (in the USA), and for $20, having him send back the whole video transcribed into text, complete with paragraphs, section headings etc. (For another $20 or so, I could get him to strip the audio from the video and make it into a podcast (which I could probably sell for $20), and add some little banners and graphics to the video, and have him upload it to You Tube as well as to hundreds of other internet sites, via video syndication software.

While these specific examples, may not apply to your business, you can see the power of doing less and achieving more through strategically outsourcing. You can work with people all around the world to do all the little time-consuming things involved in your business that you don’t have the time or desire to do – so you can focus on the things you really enjoy and no-one else can do for you. In my case these include, speaking at conferences/events, writing articles/books, doing media etc.

Work Smarter TIP 4:

Gradually eliminate some of the ‘small/nice’ things that you spend a lot of time, energy or money on, that don’t really contribute to your bottom-line results.

This week, try implementing at least one of the following (particularly iii);

    1. saying ‘no’ (nicely) to something
    2. finish completing a task when you have done it well, rather than waiting to get it ‘perfect’
    3. pick one thing that you do on a regular basis, that you can ‘outsource’ to someone else.*

* Each day in my diary, I include at least one outsourcing activity. I.e. outsourcing something to my ‘virtual assistant (VA) or other virtual helpers, or in setting up a ‘system’ (that once done can be replicated by someone else for ever more). This usually involves a video of exactly how to do it, so that anyone else can do it just as well as I could.



About Mark Bunn

Health & Fitness, Author and Speaker In an earlier life (the 1990′s), Mark was an AFL Footballer for 6 years (though please don’t hold that against him … he can string two words together!). Having trained in both exercise physiology (Western Science) and in natural, Eastern health-care (Maharishi Ayurveda), he now combines a best of East and West approach with his research into the world’s healthiest and longest living peoples. Learn more about Mark Bunn at