Work Less, Do More

Stephen DeAngelis

September 27, 2010

Blog reader Nina Martin, who works for a life coach and entrepreneur named Stever Robbins, sent me Robbins’ latest book, 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More, and asked if I would review it. She believes readers of this blog, especially other entrepreneurs, might be interested in what Robbins has to say. Robbins is an interesting guy. He indicates that as a child he grew up “in a traveling New Age commune.” While living with that group, he “put on magic shows at KOA campgrounds in return for free lodging.” Eventually, he says he “put away childish things” and “went off to get a degree in computer science and then an MBA.” He discovered, however, that he liked performing. So he gave up corporate America to become a motivational speaker and life coach. Little of the advice that Robbins provides in his book is new, but he is an entertaining, almost flippant writer, who wants to make you laugh as much as he wants to change your life. Let’s take a brief look at his nine steps along with a synopsis of what Robbins says about them.

Step 1. Live on Purpose. If you’re anything like me, a lot what you call work has very little to do with getting anything important done in life. Like when I compulsively check my social media sites every hour. That kind of thing must go.”

Robbins is a “list” kind of guy. A lot of driven people use and review lists to remind about life’s big goals. I’ve always suspected that while they were making and reviewing lists life was passing them by. John Lennon once wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I’m not opposed to lists. I just don’t believe that they should dominate your life. If you’re directionless, then drawing out a life map of what you want and how you can go about getting it is a good idea. Just don’t be surprised if life requires you to redraw that map occasionally. I wouldn’t be too concerned about that. Some of life’s most interesting journeys are the side trips we make. My recommendation is that you should map out your direction any time you begin something new (e.g., start college, get married, look for a job, found a business, or write a book). Just don’t be afraid to change plans as you encounter unexpected twists, turns, and forks in the road.

Step 2.Stop Procrastinating. What is procrastinating except the very art of not doing the very stuff you know is most important? We’ll cover how to nip this in the bud, or at least arrange for someone to kick you into action when you’re delaying. And just in case you’re someone who claims being kicked into action doesn’t work for you, we’ll get out an ostrich feather and tickle you into action instead.”

I agree with Robbins that the most frustrating people in the world are those who whine about their lot in life but do nothing to change it. Robbins writes, “You can talk yourself out of anything, no matter how important it might be.” We often do that because the task ahead looks daunting. Robbins makes the common sense suggestion that big goals should be broken down into bite-size activities that don’t look so daunting to achieve. Then you need to talk yourself into doing those bite-size activities.

Step 3. Conquer Technology. Our supposed savior, technology, is for many of us the greatest obstacle we have to being truly productive. You’ll learn how to use your technology to help you focus, instead of … hey, hang on a second. There’s an instant message coming in. …”

Robbins is correct that technology can be abused as well as properly used. He provides, among other things, some useful advice about how to leave effective voice mails and write effective emails. Those recommendations alone might be worth the price of the book.

Step 4. Beat Distractions to Cultivate Focus. Do you have any idea how much time is wasted multitasking? A lot. If you eliminate distractions and keep yourself focused, you can toss yourself into the kind of flow where the results come fast and easy. And you’ll do it entirely without the use of pharmaceutical supplements.”

This would be great advice if you had total control over your schedule and environment. Most people don’t. Robbins does have a point about multitasking however. To learn more on that subject, read my post entitled The Mind — it is a-changin’.

Step 5. Stay Organized. When you have a place for everything and everything is in its place, it’s no work at all to find what you need, when you need it. I’m not just talking about physical clutter; this is also about organizing your thinking, your projects, and your processes. Reclaim all that time you otherwise spend hunting for the next step, the next paper, or the next person by knowing exactly where to go and what to do when you need it.”

I agree that organization is important and can save time. The TLC television channel is currently airing a series entitled “Hoarding: Buried Alive.” From what I can tell, it is a series about people who have accumulated so much stuff (mostly junk) that they are literally being physically crowded out of their living space. Some hoarders undoubtedly believe that their junk is organized. Robbins doesn’t believe in organized hoarding. He recommends, “When in doubt, throw it away.” Although “when in doubt, throw it out” sounds more poetical, he may have also thought it sounded too much like a line from the O.J. Simpson trial to use. As “list person,” Robbins once again recommends using lists to organize your life. Just don’t hoard those lists.

Step 6. Stop Wasting Time. Sometimes you appear to be doing exactly, precisely what you should be doing but are actually wasting time that could be spent doing something more meaningful, like eating bonbons and sipping fruit-flavored beverages in a hammock strung between your computer and your door frame.”

Robbins is a proponent of the 80/20 rule, which, as defined by Richard Koch, states, that “a minority of causes, inputs or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards.” This phenomenon was first identified by Pareto, an Italian economist. He discovered a consistent mathematical pattern in which a certain proportion of people earned a certain percentage of income and wealth. Robbins recommends the obvious: focus most of your effort on the 20 percent of activities that matter most.

Step 7. Optimize. Doing things twice bores me silly. Especially when it comes to making mistakes. In this step you’ll learn how to do things once or twice, streamline them to the point where the task is completely brainless, and … Let’s just say that I’ll leave you to connect the dots. Think, ‘brain-eating Zombies.’ The implications will jump right out.”

Since the principal focus of Enterra Solutions is business process optimization, I can certainly agree with Robbins that optimization is important. He recommends getting rid of outdated processes in favor of processes that help you optimize. If you don’t know what those processes are, he suggests you start paying attention to the feedback you receive from those around you.

Step 8. Build Stronger Relationships. You can’t get there alone; you need someone to program the GPS while you’re trying to read road signs. Relationships are, ultimately, how everything gets done. Together, we can do far, far more than we can alone. For example, one of us can measure while the other mixes, and then we can both eat the cookies when they’re ready. You’ll learn some excellent ways to create and deepen relationships that matter most.”

You don’t have to read very far into Robbins’ book before you realize that he is someone who believes that finding joy in living is the ultimate success. An old Swedish proverb says, “Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow.” I suspect that is a sentiment with which Robbins would agree. As I wrote in another post, “In his book The Art of Innovation, Tom Kelley wrote, ‘The myth of the lone genius can actually hamper [an organization’s] efforts in innovation and creativity. … Loners are so caught up in their idea that they are reluctant to let it go, much less allow it to be experimented with and improved upon.’ He goes on to note that Thomas Edison, who is often pointed to as a lone genius, had a team of fourteen people that helped him conceive, build, and market his inventions.” I wholeheartedly agree that relationships matter.

Step 9. Leverage. The ultimate in doing more, our final destination of leverage will give you several ways to make sure when you do get results, you get better, stronger, and faster than you’d ever dreamed possible.”

Robbins defines leverage as “getting outsized results without having to put in more resources or work.” He provides a number of strategies for gaining leverage, even if those concerning ostrich feathers aren’t as helpful as you might wish.

Robbins’ book is an easy read. I think it may be a bit too “list” crazy, but I believe he is hoping to help people whose lives seem completely at sea and foundering. Even for those of us who feel we have direction in our lives, his suggestions can remind us how to stay on track. At $14.99, the price is a bit steep for a paperback, but he works hard at making sure you won’t be bored as you turn the pages. I think Robbins might agree with the anonymous author who wrote:

“Watch your thoughts, for they become your words;
Watch your words, for they become your actions;
Watch your actions, for they become your habits;
Watch your habits, for they become your character;
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

For the record, technically one cannot control his own destiny — otherwise it’s not destiny. Frankly, I don’t believe in destiny or fate or kismet. I believe in outcomes. I gather that Robbins believes in outcomes as well. If you want to make your outcomes better, he has a lot of suggestions that might help.