How I Was Able to Strengthen My Business By Working Less

We can accomplish so much more when we work smarter instead of harder.

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You have only 25 hours per week to grow your business.

How will you do it?

I am standing in my laundry room in tears as I launder a onesie and baby bedding covered with vomit. “Overwhelm” does not even begin to capture my experience of launching a business at the same time my first child was born. My daughter went to a babysitter for 25 hours per week so that I could work on my business and meet with clients. I was sleep-deprived and exhausted. How was I going to get it all done in those 25 hours?

My family was counting on me to make this work. There was no option to fail.

After five years working as a psychologist with severely mentally ill individuals in an underserved, rural area, I was burned out and suffering from compassion fatigue. I quit my job and was determined to build a business that would support my family,not just financially, but in ways that matter more—my ability to enjoy life and be present and emotionally connected with my family and friends. I was determined to work no more than 25 hours per week.

With the intention to build a business to support the life I wanted to live, along with the restriction on my time (I only had 25 hours per week to make it happen!), I built Tap the Potential.

The first challenge I encountered was limited availability to meet with clients. In a new business, getting clients is top priority. I feared alienating prospective clients when I had only a few appointment options to offer each week. That’s when I experienced the value of a different mindset.

My coach advised me to run my business from a “full-practice mentality.” She asked, “How will you schedule clients when you have a full practice?” What a powerful question! With that,I began offering appointments without apology. Imagine the difference between saying, “I’m sorry. I only have Tuesday at noon or Wednesday at 11. I wish I had more options to offer you,” and saying, “Tuesday at noon or Wednesday at 11 are my openings this week. Which would you prefer?” The latter reflects full-practice mentality and was well-received as new clients filled my openings from week to week.

The next challenge was marketing to attract new clients while serving my existing clients and wearing all the hats in the business: marketing, sales, service delivery, bookkeeping, copywriting, etc. I also should mention, I did not know anything about marketing or running a business. I read books, took classes, and worked with my own coach to learn the ropes of running a successful coaching practice. There were not enough hours in the week!

That’s how I came to be standing in my laundry room sobbing. In the midst of my breakdown, a powerful question arose: “If I can only get one thing done today, what’s the most important thing I can do that will move my business forward?” I knew my answer. I did my one thing that day. That may have been all I got done on the business that day. I woke up the next day, asked myself that same question, did my one thing, and found a way to keep moving forward, even on my most sleep-deprived, stressful days.

Along the way, I learned some powerful lessons about focusing on my High-Value Activities, also known as Big Rocks, each day. Popularized by Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Big Rocks are priorities. Imagine filling a Masonjar with a bunch of fist-sized rocks (your priorities), followed by gravel, sand, and water (trivial activities). If you were to start filling the jar with the gravel, sand, and water, you’d never fit in the Big Rocks. So whether it’s preparing a presentation instead of sorting email or hiring an A-Player to do your bookkeeping instead of muddling through payroll yourself, the road to the 4 Week Vacation begins with the Big Rocks. 

“By starting your day with trivial activities, you will not have time for the things that actually matter,” says Covey.

Over time, I also learned I was inadvertently applying the 80/20 principle to my time. Twenty percent of our activity yields 80% of our results. By asking myself the powerful question of “If I can only get one thing done today, what’s the most important thing I can do that will move my business forward?” I was focusing on my top 20% of activities that would yield the greatest results. I was letting go of activities that were not high value.

From this, I began experiencing the benefit of $10,000 an Hour Activities. Most of us spend way too much time doing tasks that are worth $10 an hour (e.g., checking email, posting on social media, etc.) and far too little time working from our gifts in our genius zone. In 2006, that was writing blog posts.

Talk about $10,000 an hour time! That was highly valuable time. Note that during the week I wrote those blog posts, no money showed up in the business connected to the blog posts.

So why do I consider the time spent writing those blog posts to be $10,000 an hour time? The impact of this activity comes from the intent to add value for Top Clients and the ability to systemize and scale the activity to bring in recurrent revenue.

Those blog posts helped me to refine my thinking and our systems for serving clients at Tap the Potential. Those blog posts were the seeds of the Tap the Potential Solution.

Tap the Potential began to grow by leaps and bounds. All the while, I continued to work 25 hours per week so that I could have time to be present with my family. However, I didn’t tell anyone I was working 25 hours per week. Even though I was proud of myself for building a business on 25 hours per week, I rarely revealed this to our clients. I feared clients with a “real” business would judge me negatively. That is the destructive power of gremlins— our imaginary audience who cast judgment on us. I bet you have some gremlins too. When I shared this fear with a team member, she challenged me that not only do I have a real business I have a really cool business because our entire team works part-time at Tap the Potential. 

Meanwhile, our revenue typically grows by about 35% year to year. We have the opportunity to be at our best, showing up and adding value for our clients in a highly focused way. 

Part-time work forces us to create and utilize systems to serve our Top Clients.

I also have personal experience with the law of diminishing returns. When I work 40 to 70 hours per week, I am less productive than when I work 25. When I work 25 hours per week, I am fresh. I am present with clients and our team. My thinking is better. I am more creative. The extra hours in a week do not add value. 

When I work more than 25 hours per week, I fritter my time away on less valuable activities. I procrastinate.

In a 25-hour workweek, there is no time for procrastination. Although it may seem counterintuitive, working less makes our businesses stronger. Working fewer hours per week forces us to focus our attention on our $10,000 an Hour Activities. We are most effective when we choose to spend that time working from our strengths and surround ourselves with A-Players whose strengths complement ours. 

By taking time away from the business, we create another “restriction” on the business that forces us, and our teams, to create systems that make the business run when we are not there. When we encourage team members to take vacations, we are forced to build redundancy into the business, which also strengthens it. 

Go ahead; put some restrictions on your time, and even your team’s time spent in the business. I anticipate you’ll be surprised at the strength that comes from that!

Excerpted from The 4 Week Vacation™. By Sabrina Starling, Ph.D.
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