Startup founders are seldom known for having heaps of free time, often working 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in their quest for growth and success.
But Steve Glaveski, co-founder and chief of Melbourne startup accelerator Collective Campus, is turning that rhetoric on its head, suggesting founders slash their working hours in half in order to achieve better business results.
Back in December, Glaveski penned an article for the Harvard Business Review, outlining the benefits of a six-hour workday.
And, speaking to StartupSmart, he says this sentiment is even more relevant in startupland.
As startup founders, “you’re dealing with a hell of a lot of uncertainty and adversity”, he says.
Founders could be working on something for a year or two, or even more, without seeing much in the way of results.
“If you’re going to play the long game, you need to do it in a way that’s sustainable.”
When founders are working 10- to 14-hour days, “the quality of their output is compromised”, Glaveski says.
He suggests people can only get into a space of “deep work” for a maximum of four or five hours a day. They may be at their desks for longer, but they’re not necessarily adding value to the business.
Instead, they’re likely working on “shallow-level tasks that give you a dopamine hit and make you feel like you’re busy”, Glaveski says.
“That stuff, more often than not, can either be automated or outsourced,” he adds.
Glaveski refutes the idea that being a successful entrepreneur comes “to the detriment of every other aspect of your life”.
Working more effectively for a shorter time means entrepreneurs will have more energy to “play the long game”, as well as having more time to invest in personal relationships, keeping fit and taking care of your mind, and “everything else that is required to be a successful entrepreneur”.
And he practices what he preaches, too. Collective Campus has had a six-hour workday policy in place for more than 18 months.
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“There are a lot of people talking about it … but I don’t feel like the message is getting across yet,” Glaveski says.
“It’s such a waste of time, it’s such a waste of talent,” he adds.
What are you worth?
The first step to reducing your hours is being objective about how much any given task is worth, Glaveski says.
A lot of entrepreneurs spend too much time on rudimentary administration tasks worth $10 an hour.
“How do you value your time?” Glaveski asks.
An hour or two spent on a $10-an-hour task amounts to a larger cost, by virtue of the lost opportunity to focus on the $100-an-hour tasks that play to a founders strengths and add real value to the business.
There are virtual assistants that can “take that off your plate” available at a low cost, he says.
“That can actually save you money, and hopefully make you money because then you’re investing your free time into more value-adding tasks,” he says.
“My opinion would be that you can’t afford not to do that,” he adds.
In some cases, for example for one-off tasks, it can take less time simply to do it yourself than to train someone, or go through the outsourcing process, Glaveski says. However, founders should weigh up their options based on how much they value their own time.
“If I’m evaluating whether or not I want to delegate something, I’ll look at how much it costs to delegate that time per hour, against how much I think my time is worth,” he says.
“If there’s a massive disparity in favour of outsourcing it, then I’ll do that, but in some cases, if it’s a one-off task it might make sense to do it yourself.”
While he’s understanding that early-stage startup founders won’t have much money coming in and “will tend to wear a lot of hats”, he says once a startup has some runway, they should be able to invest in outsourcing.
Even if it’s just 10 hours a week, “those 10 hours could be invested into other stuff”, he says.
The trick to actually getting stuff done in what could be half the amount of time comes down to reducing task switching, Glaveski says.
When you’re not spending time on low-value admin tasks, “you can just focus on higher-value tasks”, he says.
But to do this, it’s important to “follow the playbook”.
Glaveski advises startups to carve out time in which they can be completely uninterrupted, and having a solid intention as to what you’re working on.
This includes turning off your emails, shutting down Slack and “not saying yes to every single demand on your time”, he says.
“The amount of work you can get done when you’re dedicated to one task is far more than you can if you’re constantly jumping between tasks,” he adds.
It’s easy to spend six hours checking and responding to emails and sitting in one-hour meetings.
“Before you know it, your day is gone and you’ve gone absolutely nowhere.”
He also recommends determining the top two or three things to do during the day “that are going to move the needle, that are going to leave you feeling like you actually did something worthwhile at the end of the day, and that you’re helping the business move forward at the end of the day”.
Glaveski makes it sound easy, but he admits it can be tricky for people not used to working this way to adjust.
“But, once you do adjust, not only do you get a lot more done, you actually leave the office feeling a lot more fulfilled,” he says.
Moving towards outsourcing models can feel like it’s going to take time, “but you spend that time once and the benefits, the dividends are paid back 100 times”, Glaveski says.
And if you spend additional time on low-value task, that “might come at the detriment of your business, and your health”.
The trick is to change your habits, Glaveski says.
“Like any habit, you need to work at it until it becomes second nature.”