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What would you do today if you didn’t have to work?
That’s not a trick question. It’s a question that trainers with the Strategic Coach program ask in order to help break their entrepreneur clients of work addiction. Dan Sullivan, the Toronto-based founder of Strategic Coach, has often said that you can have everything you want in life as long as you’re willing to give up everything you don’t want. The problem is that a lot of super-successful high-performing people never stop to think about what they’d be doing today if they didn’t have to do anything.
The survey research I did for my book Business Brilliant revealed a lot of interesting things about the habits of self-made millionaires. The research showed, for instance, that such super successful individuals are much better than most people at limiting their activities to only those things that they do best. They are very good at getting others to do work that they themselves are not exceptionally good at. It’s a trait that ensures they don’t waste time on activities that would be better handled by people with superior expertise.
The problem is that when such top performers accept more and more responsibilities, they are loathe to take the next logical step and delegate some of the work that theyare exceptionally good at. Why? Probably because that would require them to change what they regard as a winning game. My research shows that more than 60 percent of self-made millionaires credit their work habits with making them successful. Among the super-successful, those who have a net worth over $30 million, 80 percent say their work habits are responsible for their success. How can you break a habit that’s been that good to you?
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So would you be surprised to know that these self-made multi-millionaires work about 56 hours per week and say they spend a lot of that time “putting out fires”? About eight in 10 say they find their work “stressful and not enjoyable,” and only a little more than two in 10 say they know how to detach from work and relax. Having achieved wealth that most people can only dream of, four out of five multi-millionaires spend their days like hamsters who can’t get off the exercise wheel.
So at Strategic Coach, trainers introduce an exercise they call the “retirement trick.” They ask entrepreneur workaholics to envision what tasks they would still do if they were to retire tomorrow, if they were totally free to do only the work activities that they truly enjoy. Most entrepreneurs respond to the exercise by realizing that they would stop coming into the office every day. And if they didn’t have to be there, they would allow a lot of the tasks they do very well to be taken up by their employees–who would likely do them just as well.
In Business Brilliant, I profile Stanley Doobin, the head of a privately-owned maintenance company called Harvard Maintenance, who used the retirement trick to break his habit of working 14-hour days, seven days a week. Despite his background in accounting, he’s since pried himself away from his company’s day-to-day financial details. Now he spends half his time recruiting new executives and prospecting for new clients, the two activities he enjoys the most, which also happen to provide the business with the greatest value. His company has grown faster than ever thanks in part to his new work habits, and for the first time he was able to take a two-week vacation without a phone call or even an email to the office.
According to Dan Sullivan, lots of high-performing entrepreneurs reach what he calls their “ceiling of complexity” without ever realizing it. (And since they’re in charge, no one will tell them!) When you hit that ceiling, no amount of extra effort at what you do best will get you better results. Unless you break with your winning game and start delegating tasks you would normally trust only to yourself, you’re doomed to keep running in place, headed for burnout.
With the stakes that high, it seems like undoubtedly you should try and play the retirement trick yourself, or get help with some coaching. What would you be doing today if you only did the parts of your job you really enjoyed? And which of today’s tasks did you keep for yourself solely because you don’t want to trust anyone else to do them? These are important questions for you to ask yourself. You pride yourself on being a master of risk and reward. But, to paraphrase Dan Sullivan, are you willing to risk giving up everything you don’t want, in order to have everything that you do want as your reward?