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Why Hard Work Alone Isn't Enough

Laboring long hours as a business owner can be a virtue, but it can also lead to burnout: why finding ways to make things easier on yourself - and happier for yourself - is vital to long-term success.

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Ask most successful people how they managed to achieve and they’ll tell you that it’s simple: hard work. Some will be a bit more honest and tell you it also has a lot to do with luck, but have you ever asked someone who failed in business what really happened? The answer won’t be they didn’t work hard enough, even though that may be the case. More likely you’ll hear, “Right product, wrong time,” or “We didn’t have enough capital” or the classic, “We just couldn’t compete with the big companies.” 

While social media and other corners of the Internet are lined with stories of success, the real keys to that status can often be better found in stories of failure. The old saying, “What doesn’t kill you can make you stronger” only works if it doesn’t kill you. Excessive hard work, whether it results in triumph or tragedy, has caused people to sacrifice their health and relationships, and has led to addiction and a variety of other personal and professional plights. So how do we overcome this? It’s simple: focus on the things everyone else is leaving out. 

1. Duplicate yourself

In 1997, the movie Multiplicity was released. Michael Keaton plays the role of Doug Kinney, who tries to balance home and private life with growing his business. To do that, he clones himself to help divide up the workload. As the movie progresses, this happens not once but three times, and while it lightens the load, it also creates a whole new set of problems. By the end of the film, he sees the failure in this tactic; the main problem, he found, was that there were no systems put into place — he just hoped the clones would just do what needed to be done. 

As an entrepreneur, you certainly work hard, and have also doubtless heard the suggestion “work smarter.” As many businesses grow, there is a natural desire to make more money as a return on all the effort. It may pay off better, however, to forgo that raise and instead hire someone who’s an expert in something you or someone on your team is engaged in. This is also a great time to take an inventory of yourself as a leader, and also of your team. Ask staff members what they would want taken off their plates in order for them to work more efficiently. And even if you don’t wind up hiring someone on the basis on this input, it will still help you spot strengths and weaknesses in your organization. 

Related: The Pros and Cons of Hiring a Clone of Yourself

This is also a time in our economy when a ton of talent is looking to make a move. Many people have taken the opportunity over the last two years to learn new skills or otherwise get better at their vocation, and this includes both domestic and international talent. Others being called back to the office may have enjoyed working at home, and so are ready for a change, or vice versa. Instead of you working 24/7, you can now hire a team of these professionals — both here in the U.S. as well as overseas — that can help solve the problems keeping you up at night. 

2. Get a great accountant and bookkeeper 

We simply can’t discuss growing a business without talking about the need for a great accountant, as clean books are nothing less than foundational. Plus, tax codes and guidelines are changing at a rapid pace, and all those small business Covid-19 loans are going to start to collect. And while the nice guy you have been using for a long time may have been doing a decent job, the right accountant will help you save additional time and money needed to expand a team and help an enterprise grow. 

3. Take more time off 

Many owners/execs are setting goals for the new year, but have they also made efforts to map out time off? Every business has scheduling highs and lows in terms of required hours, so look at the calendar thoughtfully, and plan accordingly. I suggest taking time off in three key areas: personally, professionally and alone time. Enjoy yourself to the hilt with the people who mean the most. Map out family trips for the year early so you can not only plan for them, but also prep your team in advance. Another great aspect of time away is being able to see how systems perform when you’re not there — the gaps in staffing and structure — and the more time off spent, the more these are made plain. 

Related: 5 Steps to Taking Time Off as an Entrepreneur Without Worrying

As the world opens back up, events and retreats are going to be in full swing, so this is a chance to find the ones that can help you and your team grow. If you don’t want to travel, there are plenty of virtual event and workshop options, just don’t make the mistake of trying to work while attending one. Also, to get maximum value, take the day after the event off as well, and use it to plan how to implement what you learned.

If you ever travel for work, you know how much you can catch up on during these too-often lost hours — from time on the plane to the evenings where you don’t have to run kids to practice, it’s a great time to catch up. So, try planning a business trip with no business at least twice this year — get out of town as if it were for work, but take the time to unwind alone and just reflect. Spice it by going to a sporting event, a tourist attraction or just catch up on rest. In our highly connected world, time alone can be spent in badly needed reflection, fostering both personal and professional growth. 

Related: Midlife Entrepreneurs Have a Lot of Life Left in Them

At the end of the day, taking the time to focus on you, your team and your structure are important ingredients to success, but keep in mind that rewards can’t always be seen in the bottom line. They often make themselves manifest in a clear mind, and the ROI on that can be enormous.

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