Orient Your Life Around Results Not Hours

We've been trained by our corporate overlords to care about giving our hours, even though we'd all be better off organizing our lives around progress.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #458

I have been brainwashed!! And it’s probably cost me the better part of a decade of my life. Seriously. It’s entirely possible you’ve been brainwashed, too. Usually, my tips are things I’ve tried and can vouch for. Today, you’ll get to hear a tip that’s still untried. It’s an attempt to unbrainwash myself and not make the same tragic, horrid mistake again.

For the last decade, I’ve been self-employed. “Oh, goody!” people say when they hear that, “you have complete control over your time! You get to take time off and travel the world in your private jet, with minions standing by to give you shoulder massages and every time you lean back, drizzle chocolate sauce onto your tongue for your enduring pleasure.”

Alas, that’s a slightly mistaken impression. While I may only spend 8 hours a day in the office proper, I am usually thinking about work for most of my waking hours. Even on holiday, there’s a back-of-the-brain feeling that time away from work is letting something drop and everything will explode at a moment’s notice. If you count the time and attention work occupies in my brain, it’s probably 12 hours a day, every weekday, and most weekends. That’s somewhere between 60 and 84 hours. Every. Single. Week. That’s one heck of a work ethic, right?

In corporations, it’s different. You work 40–50 hours a week. The more hours you work, the more you build up vacation time and sick time and benefits. Then finally you can use a certain number of those days to rest and relax.

And therein lies the problem.

What you measure, you manage

They say in business school “what gets measured, gets managed.” (They also say “Time for a beer party!!!” but that’s not relevant to today’s episode.) “What gets measured, gets managed.” Did you notice anything about my description of work? It was all about time. Hours per week. Days of vacation time. Hours during the holiday. Productivity geek or not, my brain measures hours. My worries are all about time, not doing enough of the right tasks to get results.

The problem is that hours don’t matter. Results matter.

I think “In X hours, how how many results can I get?” But that’s backwards it promotes filling time. Yeah, culturally, a work week is 40 hours. But why? There’s nothing magical about 40 hours. What’s magical is results. My brain should be asking, “in order to achieve results, how many hours of effort must be worked, and when can that happen?”

What would it look like to live in a world of results? Come be that person and find out.

Measure results, and only results

Now that we’re thinking in terms of results, we ask: what results do we want? Then work backwards to get the time. In our normal world, we know how many hours we’re going to work this week. In the new world, we would instinctively know what results we need to produce this week.

We’re finally going to write our Great Non-fiction Book! “Neti Pot Sculpture for the Complete Beginner.” No one’s written a book on the topic yet, so we’re sure to dominate the field!

We’re self-publishing (oddly, none of the big publishers accepted our proposal), and we want to launch in four weeks. By then, we need to have the copy written and laid out. It takes one week for a designer to lay out a 126-page book, which gives us three weeks to write a final draft.

Twenty one days to write a 126-page book. That means we need to write six pages per day. A day’s work is not eight hours. A day’s work is six pages, whether we can do it in one hour or a dozen. And as soon as our day’s work is complete, we can go home and feel good about a day well spent.

We would concentrate on results, and manage our schedule accordingly. Here’s how you can start shifting your own mindset.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.