Have you ever noticed that many of the most successful people, the ones whose achievements you hope to emulate, seem to get a huge amount done while still going home at a reasonable time every evening? They rarely seem to burn the midnight oil or eat dinner at their desks. What’s their secret? They’re really good at knowing which opportunities to pursue and which to pass by. And they’re very good at saying no when no is the right answer for them. That insight comes from Dr. Richard Shuster. He’s a psychologist, TEDx speaker, podcaster, and the founder of the psychological assessment company Your Success Insights. He’s also someone who suffered a near-fatal stroke at the age of 46. “I ate right. I didn’t smoke or drink,” he recalls. “I never used drugs. I had a morning practice where I exercised and I meditated. I did everything right. And still, I almost died because I worked too hard.” Because Shuster had none of the traditional risk factors for a stroke, he was examined over and over by many different types of specialists, he says. After all the tests were done, his neurologist told him that they had found no hidden illnesses and nothing to explain why he’d had a stroke so young. Then the neurologist asked how many hours a week Shuster worked. Shuster said he didn’t really consider it work because he loved what he did. But then he answered the question: about 80 hours a week. The doctor told him that if he kept it up, he might well have another stroke. And he might not be so lucky next time.
Faced with a choice between fewer hours and risking early death, Shuster cut his work time to just 25 hours a week. And, he says, he’s getting more done than when he was working 80 hours. “Productivity is up, profitability is up, and my relationships with my children and my spouse are better than they’ve ever been.” How does he do it? By following three simple rules that have completely changed the way he works.
1. The “Hell Yes” Rule. Shuster started with a simple rule for deciding when to say yes to an invitation, a proposed project, or other opportunity. “If it’s not a ‘hell yes,’ it’s a ‘hell no,'” he says. “This was hard for me because I like to help people and it wasn’t really in my nature to say no at first.” It doesn’t come naturally to most of us. “It’s the fear of every business owner,” Shuster says. “We get an email, it’s a prospect, it’s some hot thing that we have to attend to. And, particularly early in our business, we act as though this a make-or-break thing.” To combat this need to chase every possible opportunity, Shuster says, we each need to create a filter — a set of requirements that an opportunity must meet before it merits our time and attention. In Shuster’s case, he considers, first, whether the other person cares more about helping people than about revenue. “That’s important to me,” he says. Second, “Are they chocolate to my peanut butter?” In other words, will collaboration between him and them create something new and wonderful? And third, “Can the sum of our collaboration equate to $X for each party?” The X can vary, he says, but it’s an important tool for eliminating meetings that he can’t afford to spend time on.
2. The Four Ds Rule. When it comes to making the best use of his time, Shuster uses what he calls the four Ds, for do, delegate, delay, or drop. If something is urgent and mission-critical, and he’s the only one who can take care of it, he’ll do it. If it’s important but someone else could do it, he’ll delegate it, either to an employee or by outsourcing it. “The more I can delegate, the more it frees me to build relationships and help drive the company,” he says. Sometimes, an opportunity seems worthwhile — it may meet all the criteria in the Hell Yes Rule, but Shuster is too involved in other projects to take on one more. In that case, he might delay. “I will very politely kick the can down the road for now and say, ‘Let’s revisit it in three months.’ ” And finally, if the opportunity won’t create real value, he’ll just drop it. 3. The Rule of Focus. The final key to Shuster’s improved productivity? “I focus on one thing at a time,” he says. “You’re not going to see me having 500 browser tabs open, and my email open, and texting with my children,” he says. I get very focused, task by task, and I’m very intentional about how I arrange every moment of my day.” Shuster is on to something. Brain science tells us that multitasking reduces productivity by 40 percent. Not only that, it actually shrinks your brain. Focusing on just one thing — and making sure whatever it is truly deserves your time and attention — is guaranteed to help you accomplish more while spending less time at work.