Want to work less and enjoy life more?

BUT — you’re a small business owner wearing about 2 dozen hats, doing waaay too much, and spread much too thin?

Today I’m sharing the exact steps Carey and I follow to work just 20 hours a week while running our multi-7 figure service-based business.

Since 2015, we’ve helped thousands of small business owners slash their work hours, reclaim their personal lives, and finally find the joy and fulfillment they deserve.

Ready to stop burning the candle at both ends? Let’s get started.

Is it realistic to cut your work hours and reclaim your life?

Worried that you’ll never be able to work less, and that you’ll be stuck on the hamster wheel forever?

Maybe your business is particularly time-consuming or has highly demanding clients, and you can’t see a vision for the future where you could conceivably change that.

It’s more than possible to redesign your workflow so that you’re working in a sustainable way, making more revenue than you ever imagined.

But you’ll need to stay laser-focused on solving this problem instead of getting pulled in a million directions. You’ll likely need to make some tough decisions that ruffle feathers, and change your core ways of thinking and working.

For example, when we first started our productivity coaching company, we decided to work just 20-25 hours a week so that we could also have time to travel around the world.

That meant that from the very beginning, we had to say no to business opportunities that sounded tempting, but would put us over our work hours (Overworking will throw us back into chronic stress and overwhelm, which triggers our chronic illnesses and caused us to burnout in our past careers!)

Yet, staying focused on our productivity allowed us to grow to multi-7 figures a year.

We’ve done >$8 million in sales over the lifetime of our business.

We’ve written a WSJ and USA Today bestselling book.

And we’ve served thousands of clients worldwide.

All while working between 15-25 hours a week, taking full months off work, and traveling with our two daughters.

When we started our business, we hoped to make $100k annually. To be making multi-7 figures has surpassed our wildest expectations.

Best of all, we’ve created a sustainable workflow. We have no fear of burning out and can keep working at this pace as long as we want.

That means we have time to take care of our mental and physical health. We have time to raise our daughters and train our beloved border collie! And plenty of spare time to pursue our hobbies, like becoming conversational in Spanish as adults (a lifelong dream of ours).

Why focus on improving your productivity?

When you decrease your hours, you’re giving yourself a raise. Without needing to sell more clients or cut costs!

Let’s do some quick math. If you’re working 50 hours a week right now, that’s 2,600 hours a year.

Say your business generates $200k in profit each year. That means you’re making $76 an hour right now.

But if you instead work 20 hours a week, you’d make $192 an hour!

That’s over TWICE what you used to make. Plus, you’ll be reaping the priceless benefits of having more energy, less stress, and a better work/life balance. Who knows what positive benefits that could bring to your health, lifespan, and happiness?

That’s the power of productivity, if you’re willing to embrace a new way of working.

And here’s how.

Step 1: Create a winning planning habit

The ONE habit that will transform your workflow is a weekly pre-planning habit. It’s HYPER leveraged, and the results start coming the very first week you do it.

And the great thing about this habit is that it doesn’t matter how busy you are, or how chaotic your life is — this habit will work for you.

Why? Because when you have a plan for your week, you’re in control. And when you feel in control, you feel relaxed and at ease — even if everything else in your life is crazy.

What exactly makes this habit so transformative?

Before I started planning my week, I constantly felt overwhelmed, just flying by the seat of my pants. I overcommitted, and with the limited time I did have, I spent it on the wrong tasks. I was constantly putting out fires, and never working on my most important priorities. I was frustrated, because I knew I was capable of so much more.

But with a weekly pre-planning habit in place, everything changed. I started seeing results immediately.

First of all, I stopped overcommitting. Overcommitting yourself is really easy to do when you have no system in place for evaluating your Time Supply and Time Demands. But when you take the time to do a weekly check-in, it becomes really clear, really quickly, whether or not you have the time to commit to something new.

Second, I started spending my time on the right tasks. This is such a game changer! When you have a plan for your week, you know exactly what you need to be working on, and when. So you can say “no” to the things that don’t fit into your plan, and “yes” to the things that do.

And finally, I started making significant progress on my most important priorities. This habit has helped me to focus on what’s truly important in my life, and to make consistent progress towards my long-term goals.

Do I ever feel overwhelmed? Yes, it’s usually because I need to re-plan!

Do I occasionally procrastinate? Of course, I’m only human.

Your planning habit won’t make you perfect. But it will enable you to LIVE IMPERFECTLY and make mistakes, yet get outsized results from your time and your energy.

It’s so powerful, Carey and I developed our Winning the Week Method® and wrote a WSJ bestseller about it.

It’s the first habit we have our clients master. And you’re invited to join in! Come attend one of our live Friday planning sessions we host for our Lifehack Tribe clients, where we use the Winning the Week Method® to set ourselves up for success.

If you’ve been craving accountability, a step-by-step productivity method that works for busy business owners, and a path to saving real time, Lifehack Tribe is the place for you. Learn more and get a weeklong trial here.

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, or like you’re constantly playing catch-up, I encourage you to give pre-planning a try. It’s the game-changing habit you’ve been looking for!

Step 2: Get radical clarity

Establishing a productive workflow is built on the foundation of clarity.

Clarity is what helps you set priorities, focus your energy, and defend your time. Otherwise, you’ll end up being pulled in a million different directions, making a little progress on a lot of things instead of massive progress towards your real goals.

So ask yourself — what’s my Definite Chief Aim, or DCA, for this year? If you could only accomplish ONE big thing this year, what outcome would you want to achieve?
Clarity starts with deciding what you’re shooting for, and what you’re purposefully NOT going to tackle this year.

When you focus your energy like a laser instead of a lightbulb, you’ll find that you significantly accelerate your progress. In fact, the more you limit your focus, the more progress you’ll make!

That means declining new business opportunities that aren’t in line with your DCA, focusing your energy on your singular avatar, positioning yourself more optimally in your niche, and thinking creatively about how to save time.

I’ve had clients who chose to fire the bottom 20% of their clients in favor of freeing up their time. Lo and behold, they quickly made up the lost revenue (and more!) by selling their top 10% of clients on even more profitable offerings.

With this one decision, they saved 5+ hours each week and actually made MORE money!

Learn more about my process for achieving radical clarity and using it to reclaim your time in the video above.

Step 3: Become a master of your time and energy

As a small business owner, you already understand the importance of data. Without data, you wouldn’t know your revenue, cost of goods sold, profit, or any other key metrics you need to know to keep you on track!

Data is the precursor to making important decisions about your business that you can feel confident about. And, the data for every business will be unique to that business.
The same goes for your time and energy.

The first step to master your time and energy is to get data on where your time is going. We ask clients in our Lifehack Tribe membership to track their time for 2 weeks, to collect that valuable personal data on themselves.

This is also the best way to identify low hanging fruit — most clients come back saying they’ve found 10 or more hours of wasted time in their week, just by tracking where it’s going!

Once you have your time data, you’ll be able to identify poor uses of your time and energy.

You’ll see how much time you’re spending on deep work versus shallow work, how much time you spend in transit, food preparation and meals, sleeping, watching TV, exercising, and more. If you’re spending much more than you want in one category, you’ll know that’s where you need to adjust your schedule.

Most clients find that they’re:

  • Spending less time sleeping then they want
  • Spending more time reading the news / on social media then they’d like
  • Mis-spending their highest energy hours of the day on shallow work (such as email and meetings)
  • Wasting time by not consolidating errands or meetings in an optimal way on their calendar
  • Sitting in too many meetings each week
  • And more

But everyone’s schedule is different, which is why getting your own personal data on where your time is going will help you maximize your hours the fastest.

After time tracking, mastering your time and energy comes down to your workflow and your level of focus.

Just like a muscle, focus can be grown with effort. That’s great news, because it means we can literally train our brains to produce a higher level of output!

Our favorite ways to work our Focus Muscle are:

  • Playing the Sticky Focus Game — this gamifies timed work blocks so that the play center of your brain is activated, instantly making you more engaged and motivated to focus. You can download the cheat sheet for this game here. It’s addictive and free!
Work At Home Sticky Focus Game
  • Listening to Focus Music — to keep your mind from wandering, playing music that’s been scientifically proven to increase your focus is an easy way to drop into a deep level of concentration. Try this Focus Flow playlist on Spotify to get started.
  • Using FocusMate — this accountability program is like having accountability on tap 24/7. It pairs you up virtually with another professional for a timed work block. We love it so much that we’ve purchased pro subscriptions to FocusMate for every one of our Lifehack Tribe members! Our clients rave about the power of FocusMate to help them get in the zone and crush their deep work.

Step 4: Master your business (and life) systems

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it can feel even MORE overwhelming to think about “creating systems.” I get it! It feels like more work is getting added to your plate.

I’ll invite you to take a different frame.

Your whole life — from the moment you open your eyes to the moment you close them at night — is a series of systems.

These systems already exist!

You have a system for doing your hair and brushing your teeth in the morning. A system for making breakfast. A system for processing your email and running meetings. A system for buying groceries and cleaning your house. A system for doing your whole life and making it all work.

So you’re not starting from scratch. Instead, your frame is to think about how to see your whole life as a series of systems. When you do that, you’ll realize making incremental improvements in each process is the best way to master your systems. (Because I never said your existing systems were perfect!)

Leveraged Systems

Wondering where to start? Leverage is your best friend. There’s 5 crucial systems inside your business that are leveraged to optimize as soon as possible, to save you both time and money:

  • Your marketing system (the way you reach new audiences with your message)
  • Your sales system (the way you convert that audience into paying customers)
  • Your delivery system (the way you fulfill on what you’re selling)
  • Your financial reporting system (the way you collect data on the key metrics of your business)
  • And most importantly…your system for setting strategy and goals (the way you decide where you’re headed as an organization and how you’ll get there).

Again, all these systems already exist in your organization. However, I guarantee there are hidden savings of time, money, and energy just waiting to be found in each one!

As a productivity coach, I see that most teams are trying to prioritize too many projects at the same time. Prioritize ONE big project per quarter. Any more, and you’re spreading your team too thin. At the end of the year, you’ll have successfully executed FOUR big initiatives with ease, instead of partly or poorly executing twelve.

Delegation System

For managers, a leveraged system to create is always your Delegation System. Imagine having a way to get work off your plate quickly, so that you can breathe a sigh of relief and take the afternoon off for a pedicure (literally what Carey does every Friday afternoon!)?

You’ll remain pinned down in your business if you can’t master your Delegation System, which consists of these elements:

  • Identifying systems or parts of systems that can be done by someone else (hint: assume it’s everything and start from there. Divorce your ego from your work! You’re not the only one capable enough to do most things in your business.)
  • Create a training document that clearly explains the task. This is an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure).
  • Create a screencast or video of you doing the task where you explain the context and any tricky bits
  • Give these training documents to a capable member of your team with enough advance time that they can get it done
  • Evaluate their performance and iterate on your SOP until the team member can do the task to your satisfaction

Once you’ve optimized your delegation system, you’ll be able to trust your team to do work on your behalf. Now, your job is to delegate more, so that you can save time and get back to doing the work that truly moves your business forward!

Step 5: Design your freedom lifestyle

Freedom means different things to everyone. When we started Lifehack Method, Carey and I wanted the freedom to travel and work for ourselves. We also wanted to grow our business while working 20 hours a week.

These criteria became our guardrails for protecting our freedom as we sold all our possessions, packed a few bags, and headed off to LAX on our first adventure.

We spent the next two years traveling to 30 countries including Spain, France, Italy, India, Bali, Thailand, Singapore, Croatia, and Colombia.

But the real reason we felt free was because we had control of our time. We could set our own schedule, decide when to work, and even decide who we wanted to work with (yes, we’ve occasionally “fired” clients who weren’t the right fit to work with us!)

That one time we shot a TV pilot in LA 😜

Today, we’ve spent 10 years living as digital nomads and expats, growing our family abroad in Medellín, Colombia and growing the business too.

Now, our definition of freedom has evolved.

It’s no longer about traveling, although travel remains a huge part of our life and has permanently changed our identities (what a gift!).

Freedom for us now is about having the time to raise our kids. We want to be present during this crucial time in their young lives, not glued to a computer, while showing them what it looks like to create an impact in the world.

We want them to see us working smarter, not harder, and doing work that truly changes lives. Because then they’ll know how they can do that too.
And we also want them to see us enjoying our lives, so they know they deserve all the happiness in the world.

(You deserve that too!)

Define your freedom lifestyle

Freedom looks different to everyone. What’s your definition of freedom?

…Being able to work when you want, with who you want
…Working just 20 hours a week (or 4!)
…Growing your business and selling it
…Traveling the world with your family
…All of the above?

Here’s some examples to inspire you:

Freedom Lifestyle examples

#1 Free from burnout — Alexis Courtney

Our client Alexis wanted to grow her hair salon franchise business without burning out. It was sapping her of all her time and energy to the point where she was having panic attacks.

With her new focus on productivity, Alexis scaled her franchise from 28 stores to 108 stores. Her franchise ranked on the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing franchises. Today, she’s the co-owner of Cookie Cutters Franchising and is very proud to be a part of the largest children’s hair salon concept in the world.

But best of all, she has freedom of time. She shows up to her daughter’s water polo games. She takes lengthy trips to Portugal and Italy with her family. That’s what freedom means to her.

#2 Free from overwork — Dietmar Aust

Our client Dietmar runs a successful software consultancy, but was trading his time for money and wanted a way out. He didn’t have a sustainable workflow and was worried he’d burn out before he could systematize his business.

He focused on improving his productivity and serving his top client, making big moves that paid off. Within a week of working the Lifehack Method, he had an idea that made him an additional $11k in revenue. And within a few months of focused effort, he had reduced his working hours back to a sustainable level.

But he didn’t stop there. He kept going with systematizing his business and training up his staff. Today, he works just 1 day a week with his toes in the sand from whatever island location he chooses.

Freedom to him means catching up on lost time with loved ones, traveling the world, and experiencing all the joys of life that he sacrificed for so long!

#3 Free to grow her business — Dr. Brandie Keates

Our client Brandie runs a chain of chiropractic offices. Her business was poised for growth, but she knew her poor productivity hygiene was holding the company back from the rapid growth she wanted.

Brandie focused on mastering her personal productivity and reduced much of the friction she was causing in the business. Within a year, she had opened two new offices…and best of all, bought her dream vacation home.

Freedom to her is about working at a sustainable pace, while unleashing her business and personal brand for massive growth.

How will you know you’re winning the week?

Your productivity journey starts with one simple step — creating a winning planning habit. When you’re winning your week, every week, you’ll look back at the end of the year absolutely amazed at the progress you’ve made.

Improving your productivity is like going to the gym. There’s an initial push to “get fit,” and then you get into the habit of working out. That’s when it starts to feel fun, something you’re looking forward to, where you’re high-fiving your gym buddy and slyly admiring yourself in the mirror.

But you do need to maintain your productivity habits and workflow, or, just like your fitness, it will decline over time.

The great news is that you don’t have to be perfect with your productivity to get 90% of the gains. Just like how you don’t have to be a bodybuilder to reap the health benefits of working out.

You’ll know you’re on track if you’re consistently ending the week on Friday feeling accomplished, because you hit your #1 leveraged priority for the week.

You know that leveraged priority ladders up to your long-term goals (because you have radical clarity!).

Even if there are tasks left undone, a grip of emails to reply to, and a messy house waiting for you — you’ll be winning your weeks. Because you’re the kind of person who’s focused on getting where they want to go instead of trying to make the journey perfect.

Your journey to productivity success

Getting started is as simple as taking the first small step! Here’s three easy ways to work smarter, not harder starting right now:

1. Attend our (FREE) Masterclass on the Winning the Week Method® today. Click here to sign up.

2. Learn our full Lifehack Method — plus accountability and a community of Lifehackers doing it with you — when you join our Lifehack Tribe. Get a weeklong trial here.

3. Buy our book. Winning the Week: How to Plan A Successful Week, Every Week is available wherever books are sold and at this link.

Demir & Carey Bentley

Demir and Carey Bentley are the founders of Lifehack Method, WSJ & USA Today bestselling authors, and executive productivity coaches. They've helped thousands of people avoid burnout and soar to their highest level of productivity. Read more about them here.