By Atiba Founder & CEO, JJ Rosen; This article originally appeared in The Tennessean
I’ve never been a big fan of self-help books.
It’s not that I don’t want what these books are offering. It’s just that I’ve always been suspicious of anything that sounds too good to be true.
For those with strong career ambitions — entrepreneurs and the like — the most popular self-help books are the ones that offer “productivity hacks.” They coach readers on how to optimize their time, stay organized and keep focused — an escape from the daily grind.
Books with titles like “The 4-Hour Workweek” and “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” offer simple formulas for working less while generating more. Less work, more money — who wouldn’t want that?
But narrowing down productivity hacks to just a few habits or a few hours of work per week has never felt practical to me. In fact, it’s felt nearly impossible.
So, years ago I figured out my own secret productivity hack that I’ve stuck with ever since.
In my day job as an IT consultant and software developer, most of the work I do is billed by the hour. Like lawyers and accountants, I only get paid for the actual hours I work. No paid vacations, sick days, or even afternoons off. For better or worse, my income is completely tied to the hours I am productive.
For those of us who work by the hour, time is literally money. This has its good and bad, but one thing’s for certain — it forces you to think about what you spend it on. Thinking of yourself as an hourly worker all the time is a hack that can help anyone be more productive.
I discovered this productivity hack early on in my consulting career. When you’re paid by the hour, taking time off to do something that is not productive suddenly becomes very expensive. Activities like taking a long lunch break or leaving early for the day literally reduce your income. Every hour you’re not productive represents a tangible dollar amount lost — a loss that you can feel at the end of every day.
So, for better or worse, this motivated me to at least be intentional about my time at work. It helped me prioritize when I was starting out as a one-person consulting firm, and it helps me now as a manager to perfect our company’s use of time.
Staff meetings. We calculated that our weekly one-hour staff meetings could cost us at least $1,000 per meeting. These meetings were helpful but not worth $1,000 a week. We now just do monthly staff meetings and are much more efficient.
Commuting time. Decades before COVID-19, we realized that driving time to our office every day was expensive. Some of our employees were spending two hours a day commuting (not productive) when they were more than willing to be working on customer projects and meeting deadlines. We decided to make our company “office optional” and calculated that has saved us just over 4,000 hours a year of lost time and over $400,000 per year in real costs.
Re-charging batteries. Back in the dotcom boom, our small team was working day and night. This was productive — to a point. We eventually realized that taking time off was a good investment in productivity. Pacing as a company has given us longevity and helped with staff retention — a net gain.
For those on salaries, figuring out what your time is worth per hour can help you use your time more wisely. Working smarter, not harder, does not necessarily mean working less. It’s about making every hour valuable.
I am debating whether I should write my own self-help book. But given the agonies of writing and the uncertainties of publishing and my mixed feelings about self-help books, the question I really should be asking is, is it really worth my time?