When I became a father, working day and night wasn’t an option. Here are 3 strategies that have helped me successfully run a business without clocking more than 40 hours a week.

You don’t need to work those long hours. JGI/Tom Grill/Getty Images
  • David Finkel is the author of 12 business books, including his newest release “The Freedom Formula.” Finkel is the CEO of Maui Mastermind, a business coaching company. Over the past 20 years, Finkel and the other Maui coaches have personally scaled and sold more than $US2 billion worth of businesses.
  • Finkel used to think that the only path to success was long hours. But after his twins were born, he realised he couldn’t work that much anymore. Now, he works no more than 40 hours a week – and still scaled his company.
  • He prioritises high-value activities at the start of the day, designs out menial tasks, and plans ahead for which days to focus versus push days.
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For a long time, I thought working impossibly long hours was the only way to be successful. This was in part because of what I saw my dad do I when I was young. As the owner of a small medical practice, he was often gone, and I thought about the soccer games he would “watch” while still fielding phone calls. I was constantly reminded of all of the sacrifices that entrepreneurs make to run successful companies.

David Finkel
David Finkel. Courtesy of David Finkel

When I first started my company, my work ethic reflected this principle: I needed to work those long hours and make compromises in my life to reach my goals. My life became an endless stream of putting out business fires, with work slowly consuming every aspect of my life.

But when my twin sons were born, everything changed. I realised that, in order to be the best dad I could be, there was no way I could work the hours I did before in the way that I did before. Becoming a father, in a way, meant that I couldn’t take the kind of business risks I did for the last 20 years.

Here are three ways I learned how to scale a successful company while working no more than 40 hours per week.

1. Focus your attention on high-value activities

Prioritise high-value activities at the start of the day. Rido/Shutterstock

Especially in a workplace where you have to crunch a lot of numbers, it is easy to measure your worth at the company through statistics. Instead of having your work life be a reactionary flurry of undifferentiated activity and time, it’s best to do what I call the “buffet strategy of time management.”

High-value activities tend to be left for the end of the day, after the minutiae of seemingly instant and urgent work problems are completed. However, I want to flip this work order on its head. Instead of slotting work by the hour, it’s more important to measure how far that work you do in that hour will impact your company in the future.

For instance, at my company, we optimise for providing the best coaching services to business leaders. Optimising for that parameter has allowed us not only to deliver better results, but also see high customer retention.

I’ve seen other coaching companies focus heavily on the design of their coaching materials (and other elements of the business that aren’t as important, in my view).

The key to picking high-value activities is effective time management: Once you’re getting through high-value work you’re proud of at the very start of the day, you can leave the office earlier and still feel a lot more fulfilled by the work you’re doing.

As for the smaller tasks (which may have a smaller impact on the future of your company), they can often be delegated out to other members of your team.

Figure out if what you’re working on is truly a business imperative. If not, it’s probably time to either delegate that task or cut it out of your workflow entirely.

2. Design menial work out of the process

Design out the tasks that keep coming up. S3studio/Getty Images

An effective work day is surprisingly contingent on a good design plan beforehand. Often at work it can feel like you’re fielding repetitive yet immediate tasks. If you’re constantly answering the same customer questions, for example, post an FAQ to the company website instead.

By taking the time to design out a low-level task, you free up a lot more time to focus on high-value activities – or you free up a lot more time to spend with family.

Another way to optimise the work process is organising the mess. Your inbox can seem like an unnavigable behemoth on the best of days.

Something we do at my company is leverage a designated system or app for employees to reach you in case of an emergency. That way, I’m not glued to my phone. And when someone at work needs to contact me immediately, my team helps relay the message directly.

I’ve seen this process save me countless hours over the years, and it can help you do the same.

3. Differentiate focus and push days

Know which days you’re prioritising the most important projects. Loriene Perera/Reuters

Now that the work day is sorted out, it’s important to apply these strategies to the week.

Distinguish between focus and push days. Focus days are one or two days in the week when you prioritise your most important projects for a few hours at the start of the day. Push days are in the middle of the week and are there to simply forward projects to the next step.

By clearly organising the week, you can have clearer distinctions between work that creates long-term, lasting impact on the business and which tasks are needed to manage the day-to-day operations of the company.

Making this differentiation has allowed me to run two successful companies and put a hard stop on my work week of 40 hours. I’m home for dinner by 5:30 p.m. – I’d better be, since I’m the one who cooks in my household.

I exercise six days a week and take a minimum of 10 weeks of real vacation time every year. The start of all of this was my decision to leave the time and effort economy and fully live in the value economy. It’s a decision you get to make that holds the promise of changing everything.