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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

16 strategies to help entrepreneurs shorten the workweek

The leaders of even the leanest startup teams can usually find ways to cut down their work hours and find a better balance for long-term success.

16 strategies to help entrepreneurs shorten the workweek
Members of Fast Company Executive Board share their expert insights. [Image: Courtesy of the individual members.]

Entrepreneurs and their small crews understand and accept the hard work that comes with their decision to start or join a new business. Yet, a constant, long-hours hustle may not be sustainable over time. If a startup’s team members regularly burn the candle at both ends, they’re likely to burn out—and that spells bad news for the future of the business.

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While it may be a cliché, “Work smarter, not harder” may well apply here. If an entrepreneur can find ways to use time more productively, they can shorten the number of hours both they and their team members are devoting to work—which helps everyone involved sustain both their health and the health of the business for the long term. To help, the members of Fast Company Executive Board shared 16 steps entrepreneurs and their teams can take to reduce their 60-plus-hour workweeks down to 40 or less.

1. DISCOVER YOUR 20%.

Reducing working hours while getting done what needs to get done boils down to one of leadership’s most critical tasks: ruthless prioritization. The Pareto principle teaches us that 20% of what we do generates 80% of the results. Discover and articulate your 20% for a defined period of time and execute relentlessly on that. You’ll save time, energy, and burnout—and get better results! – Marc Inzelstein, Indiggo – Return on Leadership

2. GET STRATEGIC ABOUT MEETINGS.

One of the easiest ways to reduce a long workweek is getting more strategic about meetings. Shorter meetings with targeted agendas and on-demand video pre-briefs allow entrepreneurs to use their time better and more efficiently. We all say we want to spend less time in meetings, but really it’s about wanting to get more done with the meetings we have. – Rose Bentley, Qumu Corporation

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3. TAKE INVENTORY OF YOUR SYSTEMS.

Sometimes, working extra long hours is a necessity, but other times, it’s the result of poorly organized systems and processes (or a lack of any systems and processes). Take an inventory of everything you do in your business. You may notice that there are things that can be automated, delegated, or even dropped. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

4. BE TRUTHFUL ABOUT YOUR EXPECTATIONS.

Once the vision is clear and priority activities are outlined, do a sanity check, even if it’s approximate. How long will each task take? (Then add at least 15%.) Plot it out. How many hours a week does it equal? Burnout causes more mistakes in the system and diminishing returns. Be truthful about your expectations and adjust accordingly. This is no time for magical thinking. – Shannon Lucas, Catalyst Constellations

5. FOCUS ON OUTCOMES, NOT OUTPUTS.

Ensure that you have clear priorities—you can’t do everything at once—and focus on streamlining your delivery on outcomes, not outputs. Start thinking about how you can become more efficient early as a startup, before you experience organizational growth—that mindset of continuous improvement will serve you well in the long run. – Krishna Kutty, Kuroshio Consulting Inc.

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6. INCENTIVIZE YOUR TEAM FOR ACCOMPLISHING DELIVERABLES.

Incentivizing people for getting the job done can be a drive for the team to accomplish their deliverables. It can be in the form of reducing work hours or giving recognition. The quality of work and productivity of people should not be compromised even with reduced work hours. It must empower them to give back to the company through delivering excellent service. – Lane Kawaoka, SimplePassiveCashflow.com

7. CREATE A DETAILED VISION AND ROADMAP.

Ensure there is a vision, a roadmap, and a breakdown of that roadmap into tasks and accountability to make the most effective use of time. In this way, team members and sub-teams can understand when hours may be higher or when there is an opportunity to take it easy. The ultimate goal should be to average closer to 40 to 50 hours, rather than constantly working 60 hours a week. That’s a recipe for burnout. – Fehzan Ali, Adscend Media LLC

8. PRIORITIZE, THEN PLAN.

Prioritization and planning are key for founders of fast-growing startups. The most valuable asset a founder has is their time. Leaders who first prioritize and then plan where their time will be invested have an advantage. Be proactive with your schedule, not reactive. – Jessica Federer, Boston Millennia

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9. EMPOWER YOUR EMPLOYEES TO MANAGE THEIR ENERGY.

Efficiency comes from ruthless prioritization and empowered employees. Teams, particularly lean ones, should be managing their energy, not all of the information coming their way. Leaders attempting to serve as pacesetters will only leave their employees burned out or playing spectator as they attempt to drive too many initiatives at once. – Daria Burke, JustFab

10. PRIORITIZE YOUR TEAM’S WELL-BEING.

Put the team’s well-being at the top of your priority list. If everyone is working 60-plus-hour workweeks, mental and physical distress increases, which will lead to increased absenteeism and sick days. Success cannot be achieved at the detriment of your team’s well-being. By mandating lower working hours per week for everyone, the vitality of your team will flourish, along with your business. – Andreea Vanacker, SPARKX5

11. LEAD FROM THE TOP.

As a leader, you have to set the example and model the behavior you’d like to see among your team. Too many leaders give lip service to work-life balance and then work long and late, putting indirect pressure on the team to do the same. – Kevin Namaky, Gurulocity Brand Management Institute

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12. SCHEDULE PERSONAL TIME.

Establish set work hours and block out personal time on your schedule to recharge. Taking care of yourself can increase both your effectiveness and productivity. – Kelley Higney, Bug Bite Thing

13. HOLD EACH OTHER ACCOUNTABLE.

Our founding team holds meetings for “recovering workaholics” where we hold one another accountable to work fewer hours as the company grows. As CEO, I have to remind them that “they did their time,” and because of their early commitment, many others are able to carry the work forward. – Meagan Bowman, STOPWATCH

14. IMPROVE COMMUNICATION.

In many businesses, working 60 hours a week can mean that there’s something that needs to be fixed in the way the company is working. Usually, the problem lies in communication. People may not be getting timely information, or there may be misunderstandings. It’s critical to use a project management tool and chat messaging platforms so that people know what needs to be done and talk about it easily. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

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15. TAKE TIME OFF TO CLEAR YOUR HEAD.

It may sound counterintuitive, but taking time off will help you clear your mind, and you will become a lot more efficient during work hours. Take mindful breaks during the day, spend an evening with friends, take weekends off whenever possible, or make an occasional escape out of town—most importantly, take a real vacation once a year. – Phnam Bagley, Nonfiction Design

16. AUDIT YOUR TIME SPEND.

It all beings with accounting for our time spend. Are we working longer or smarter? Most of the time, a lack of communication and policies are the culprits for longer, more draining hours. Every month or so, we have everyone audit their time. We review those audits to see where the leaks in the time boat are, and then we seal them up. You’d be amazed at how well this works and how it boosts morale. – Richard RB Botto, Stage 32

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