“Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” ―Abraham Lincoln
Productivity is not about working more hours. It’s not about “the grind.” It’s not only about “the hustle.” This general concept of just “putting in the work” is incomplete. That’s something I’ve learned over the years — mostly the hard way. Don’t get me wrong; I often work long hours. I’m no stranger to 16 hour days. When you’re building new things, long hours often come with the gig. What I’ve learned is it’s not the hours themselves that matter. It’s the quality and the focus of the time that makes a difference.
While some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs may be part of the “sleepless elite” who go years without a solid night’s rest, I’ve found that many business legends don’t operate this way. Warren Buffett, Oprah, and Bill Gates are just three of many successful founders who’ve shared their tips for focus and productivity. They don’t preach “grind it out and hustle harder.” They teach quality, focus, and smarts. Here are some of the disciplines that have helped these people win.
1. Warren Buffett’s Five-Hour Rule
Many legendary entrepreneurs, including Warren Buffett and Phil Knight, have serious reverence for continuing education. Buffett spends five or more hours each day reading newspapers and corporate reports. While his dedication is admirable, even an hour a day of learning can yield remarkable returns. If you read 1 hour a day, 7 days a week, you would be able to finish at least 25 books a year. This would quickly make you one of the most educated people in your field.
2. Oprah Winfrey Uses Radical Focus
Multitasking is not one of the productivity tools recommended by Oprah Winfrey. She’s a proponent of “radical focus,” which is most simply defined as a total focus on the task at hand. Oprah balances periods of intense work with meditation for at least 20 minutes each day. Maybe some intense focus will have you handing out cars soon.
3. Bill Gates Unplugs for ThinkWeek
Twice a year, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates unplugs and spends a full week in a tiny cottage “in a cedar forest” not too far from his Seattle home. Gates spends up to 15 hours a day unplugged, reading documents, and taking notes that may have shaped the future of the technology we use on a daily basis.
4. Neil Patel “Dresses Up” Daily
Quick Sprout founder Neil Patel approaches each day with “massive organization,” including a clear vision for what he and his assistant need to get done. Patel takes time to exercise and “dress up” before tackling his to-do list, believing that he’s more confident in tackling his to-dos when he’s confident about how he appears to the outside world.
5. Richard Branson Delegates His Weaknesses
Virgin founder Richard Branson knows that he’s not good at everything, despite how it may appear to outsiders. He writes, “I have always known the areas in which I excel and those in which I don’t.” By consistently delegating work that he’s not good at or doesn’t enjoy, Branson believes he’s avoided “creating unnecessary work.”
Bonus — The Five Minute Rule
The greatest challenge with anything new is starting. Whether it’s starting a new company or habit, it’s often the first few moves that require the most effort. Sometimes all you need to do is give a task 5 minutes to get past the mental hurdle. Woody Allen said that 90% of success is showing up and he was 100% right. Five minutes of running is better than no minutes of running. Five minutes of reading is better than no minutes of reading. If you’re struggling with productivity in a particular area of life, try the five-minute rule. Make the goal to simply engage and begin.
Achieve Next-Level Focus and Productivity
Developing a structured approach to fitness, nutrition, working habits, and the cadence of your breaks could help you sustain high levels of excellence over time. No matter your habits, it’s important to continually check the quality of your time and not just the quantity. Take the long view and be intentional with how you work. Do the things that help you make a significant impact. Don’t simply grind out aimless hours.