At the beginning of 2017, I had just left a job of 5+ years, I was exploring new opportunities, and I decided to spend some time building things — all those ideas sitting in the closet to be taken out, dusted, and put out bare in front of me. But that led me to a realization about the amount of time necessary to spend working before you hit diminishing returns. It taught me the value of working smarter and not harder.
So I worked. And then I stopped to eat and drink. And then I worked again. And then I stopped to go to sleep. And then I worked again. And this pattern repeated until I felt "burnt-out" — that is, like I had mentally and physically exhausted myself to the point of zero motivation to carry on.
But I did. I kept working — writing code, designing, building "things". But then I eventually realized my output was not matching the input. In other words, I wasn't getting out as much as I was putting in (in terms of time).
Fast-forward a bit and I found a new job working remotely as a developer for a new company. I slowed down some, but I pushed forward on a few lingering products I had started before the new gig. But they were wearing me down.
And then I read a book called "Essentialism" by Greg McKeown. This book drastically changed how I thought about the things I was spending my time on. The book's primary point is we need to focus on the most essential activities — those activities that provide the most value.
That's when I realized how little I was doing that. Sure, I was creating a lot, but I wasn't creating and spending time on the things I really cared about.
I'm not going to lie, though. It was hard. It was hard because it meant saying "no" to things. It meant telling people I cared about that I can no longer do this. It meant dropping some things I believed in, but just didn't have the time or energy for.
It changed everything for me. "Essentialism" is now a Core Value of mine. Every task or thing I work on needs to be of the most value (within reason), and tied to something larger that I care about. Time is far too short to focus on anything less.
And that's why it's more important to focus on working smarter than harder. Don't brute-force a solution to your problems. When you hit a wall, don't just keep walking into it. Think about how you can spend less time doing things to net more value. How can I take one step forward to reach this goal I've set for myself? How can I do more with less? These are the questions I ask myself now, and it's incredibly freeing. Yes, it means that you will have to say "no" to things, let people down, and miss opportunities.
But, as Steve Jobs put it…
"People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. Steve Jobs