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A Public Service Announcement to All Ambitious Souls

Maybe you’ve noticed. So much of what the world tells you it takes to achieve success is wrong! Dead wrong!

Conventional wisdom’s recipe for getting ahead is:

  • Work hard—really hard
  • Put in long hours
  • Take on extra assignments

Yet, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal (1/14/18) reporting a 5-year study of 5000 workers, those very behaviors are the ticket to mediocrity. 

A professor of management at UC Berkeley conducted the study of people in a wide range of industries to find out what differentiated outstanding performers from those who were, at best, “middling.”

“Top performers mastered selectivity,” wrote Morten Hansen, who led the study. “Rather than simply piling on more hours, tasks, or assignments, they cut back.”

Call it the Rule of the Fewest. To achieve the most success, aim for the fewest meetings, the fewest goals, the fewest projects while focusing intensely (or as Hansen calls it “obsessing”) on what’s truly essential.

Professor Hansen gave an example from his own life. A CEO of a large foreign company asked him to present a proposal for executive education…using only one slide.

He struggled mightily to condense his 15 slides into one. “I obsessed to get it just right,” he wrote. “When you present one slide, it needs to be excellent.”

The outcome?  Fewer slides gave him lots more time.

“The CEO & I were able to spend our 45 minutes discussing the program in greater depth,” he recalled. “When we finished, he remarked on how productive the meeting had been.”

That’s not to say the highest performers don’t work hard. But that is definitely not why they outperform.

“They outperform,” explains Hansen, “because they have courage to cut back and simplify when others pile on, to say ‘no’ when others say yes…to change how they do their jobs when others stick with the status quo.”

For someone (me) who’s taking a partial sabbatical, focusing only on coaching and writing, reading this study felt like God Herself was giving me a high five!

Have you had success in cutting back? Or is it still a scary thought?

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Comments & Feedback

  • Nel Shelby

    This is exactly what I am focusing on and was talking about with my coach today and then I saw your newsletter. So I was not feeling well for 12 days, guess what rolled in? All the receivables I had been obsessing over for months. Not kidding – I did nothing in fact I was so laid out in bed I could not move and then opportunities and money rolled in. I felt it was God’s way of saying you can slow down now, ok! Thank you for writing this, so beautiful in a time like this when pushing seems to be wha tis expected.

    • barbara stanny

      Thank you so much for being living proof that do-less-not-more rule really works!! I’m so glad you wrote with your story. I hope next time, you don’t have to wait until you’re sick to cut back!!!! Thanks again for your comment!

  • Wendy

    As a person in the midst of career trajectory (and financial) reinvention, how would I even begin to apply the study’s findings? Would they even apply to me as someone starting over?

    As I read your blog entry, another recent study came to mind, one that came to my attention on ScienceDaily ( Students apparently ask female professors for special favors, such as grade modifications and second chances on assignments, more often than they ask the same of male professors, thus highlighting the differential in workload demands based on gender. This pattern is hardly limited to academia.

    Because of stereotypes of how women in the workplace are supposed to behave, i.e. give, give, and give more of themselves, I would think it hard to say “no” without it having negative impact on how coworkers and supervisors perceive me. I am aware of the inverse relationship of likeability relative to competence and while many of my co-workers have liked me over the course of my employment history, I haven’t been as well-liked by supervisors because of independent thinking and questioning – fortunately, neither of those characteristics were quashed by public schooling (though both have cost me over the years). How could I scale back what I say “yes” to, or would I need to be self-employed rather than working for someone else in order to have the wherewithal to say “no” without bearing the negative consequences of someone lower down on a power/control hierarchy?

    • barbara stanny

      I understand your dilemma, Wendy. Every successful woman I interviewed struggled with, as one high earner expressed it, “there’s a little girl in me that just wants to be liked.” But she liked virtually every six-figure woman I interviewed, finally figured out “In the workplace, I’d rather be respected than liked.” As another woman told me, making this shift in her mindset was “a watershed moment.” When I finally starting see the world that way, it made a huge difference for me in speaking up and expressing my truth.

      No one said it’s easy. It wasn’t for me. It wasn’t for these women. But as long as women give in (instead of healing) our copendence, we’ll never live fullfilling, prosperous, balanced lives.

  • Gianna Miceli

    Barbara!! Fantastic blog!! Working for yourself, you can easily work 16 hour days and in the last year, I’ve figured out what is working best. Corralling my potential clients into one space, and feeding them my fantastic info there to convert them to my paid program.

    I gave up dragging them to webinars.
    I gave up one on one coaching because my program is so well laid you, they get themselves there on their own.

    I focus on one thing a day.
    I make a video.
    My videos are out there working for me 24/7 like the best and least expensive employees one could ever have.

    I “work” about 3-4 hours a day on my video concept, filming, and editing, then I research, and the rest of my chosen time is having fun, or working on social media which really isn’t work.

  • Laura Handke

    Barbara, this is what’s been going on with me. I go back and forth between pushing too much, and then just wanting to go to bed and read or watch Hallmark movies with my cat. Or have three glasses of pinot grigio, and not necessarily in that order. For 2018, I set three top priorities. 1) My own vocal practice. 2) Marketing for HONE Your Message. 3) Completing my master training as Assistant Teacher for the current Transformational Voice apprenticeship class.

    Just setting those three priorities has made a huge difference. It keeps me from picking up any little shiny object that comes along – and, trust me, – I am so interested in so many things, I can easily get distracted. Three priorities, yay!

  • Kyra Watkin

    An amazing article Barbara! You told me this when we talked once and I hear your voice in my head every time I come across someone IRL or online who says working hard is the best way. My parents worked hard and earned very little. I have been much more successful by following a specific path and keeping a few values first.
    I’ve come to a point now where I struggle to determine WHAT to focus on. I’ve peaked at my job and am looking for the next step.
    You’ve given me much to think about, as always.

  • Mary

    In a state of overwhelm I just had the insight “go to Barbara’s blog”. This was exactly what I needed to hear at the perfect time. Thank you Barbara.

  • Joanne Menon

    Barbara I just saw this message now. Well timed! After fires and floods in my hometown of Ojai I decided to take 3 months off to DO NOTHING but allow myself to heal with the town. I told spirit, I’ll do nothing unless you drop clients in my lap. On ONE restful 3 day Cabo trip, not one but THREE clients showed up while still on vacation!!! I sunned, napped, and ate luxurious meals at a lovely resort and requests came in. I then continued my “no working” and decided that I needed to change the energy in my home. I claimed my guest room as a beautiful office and again, not one but FOUR clients showed up in less than 24 hours! I didn’t even have the new desk in yet! I had to pop up a card table! SO YES!!!!! For me relaxing apparently works very well!!!

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Meet Barbara Huson

When a devastating financial crisis rocked her world, Barbara Huson knew she had to get smart about money… and she did. Now, she wants to empower every women to take charge of their money and take charge of their lives! She’s doing just that with her best-selling books, life changing retreats and private financial coaching.

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