3 - The 4-Hour-Work-Day: How To Get Things Done In Straight n‘ Smart 4 Work Hours Per Day (To Gain Time For The Real Job)

January 30, 2020

There are people who seem to getting things done easily and highly effective within their working days with a smile and best energy. And there are those other people who stay in office late and long while not getting done too much at all with no clue about the ‚why‘. Those people might be busy but waste many unproductive hours without turning actions into results. Well, I dive into the topic of being productive versus being just busy since many years with impressions on best practices from top companies like Amazon, BMW or the Army and other sources of excellence like Taekwondo and Lean Six Sigma. The essence of this article is battle-tested on my personal Lean journey.


I want to share some hints and ideas on striving towards effective and efficient work days as a leader, no matter if you actually „lead“ a performance team and/or just lead yourself as CEO of your life ;-). As long as you aim at getting relevant results and striving for quality work and personal growth, you will find some inspirations for your practice. Watching true professionals and identifying their smart patterns brings efficiency to few basic rules and elements of an efficient mindset: Focus. Tools. Habits.


My overall personal goal with striving towards productive work days and clever management routines with my team has two dimensions. First, I aim at winning time for effective leadership time by designing management routines in efficient ways to be „free“ for the real job as leader: getting the right things done in the right way with the right people. Second, I aim at a state of „30-30-30-10“ where 30% of the time are spent on routine, 30% are invested into improvement, 30% are meant as time buffer for quick actions („fire fighting“) and final 10% are free for self reflexion and strategic thinking.


Let’s get started…


Factor 1 – Focus. First of all, productivity and quality are all about focus and clarity. Make focus a part of your personal mantra. Feel free to adapt it to your professional mindset and your own or team mantra: „Smile, focus and deliver.“


You can enhance your personal and professional focus by some rules and attention:


1)    Why: Never ever focus on anything without a valuable and relevant WHY.

2)    Vision: Transform your WHY into a sensual attractive picture of the future.

3)    Mission: Define your mission and your roles to be able to execute the vision.

4)    Mantra: Get your vision and mission into one sentence. Live this mantra!

5)    Strategy: Think strategic. Define what to do and also what NOT to do.

6)    Results: Know your targeted outcome and go straight forward towards it.

7)    Plans: Plan backwards from your targeted result. Nail it. Do it. No excuses.

8)    Actions: Be clear what you will do and when, where, with whom and why.

9)    Strengths: Focus on your strengths. Build and seize your team’s strengths.

10) Confidence: Toughen your mind. Think positive. Trust yourself and others.


Factor 2 – Tools. Crystal-clear focus on your vision, mission, goals and strategies is the first pillar of success. Factor number two are tools. Productivity is all about measurable impact and a flexible toolkit to perform. Define your tools. Apply your tools. And train your tools: „Keep your saw sharp even if it is already effective.“


You can pick and implement your personal and professional tools from various fields. Hint: Keep it simple. We are always in a learning process of chosing and focusing on those „vital few“ tools which bring impact, freedom and flexibility:


1)    IT: Use IT as enabler for your success. Not in busy, but in productive ways.

Examples: MS Office (ex. One Note), MS Project, Mindmanager, CRM system;

2)    WWW: Stop procrastinating by surfing around. Seize only vital few sites.

Examples: Google, Wikipedia, Youtube, Linkedin, Getabstract, Forbes, Lynda;

3)    Smartphone: Use a mobile as productivity booster, not as attention killer.

Examples: Calls, SMS (ex. Threema), Calendar, Mail, E-Books, E-Learning;

4)    Apps: Use few, but best apps for sourcing out loose ends from your head.

Examples: MyEffectivessTool, Mindly, 6 Sigma Guide, Audible, Calm, Mastery;

5)    Lists: Apply principles of GTD. Track your projects, contexts and actions.

Examples: Wunderlist, Evernote, Trello, Chaos Control, Google Notes, Drive;

6)    Task database: Management your own performance. Keep an action record.

Examples: Via Apps; Via Excel/Word; Via Diary; Via Notes (Moleskine);

7)    Scorecards: Balance your fields of action. Make your strategy measurable.

Examples: Personal Scorecard (like BSC) with Finance, Value, Team, Stakeholders;

8)    Boards: Enhance your (team) performance with Kanban, Scrum and Boards.

Examples: Virtual with Trello; Real with Kanban board in office or floor;

9)    Ownership: If you lead a team, define ownerships congruent with strengths.

Examples: Who is your pro (owner) for finance, ideas, quality, team, …?

10) Yourself: You are the most important tool. Keep your mind and body sharp!

Examples: What is your best skill(s)? Where are you a role model? USP?


Factor 3 – Habits. „We are what we repeatedly do, think, feel, say and act.“ This wise sentence is awarded to Da Vinci, Goethe or Bruce Lee. No matter where it truly originated, it is one of the most important sentences in life and business. Put the right habits in practice and you will be happy and successful. Go for the wrong routines and you lose no matter how smart, talented or lucky you might actually be.


Habits are easy and tough at the same time. Be hard to yourself to implement good habits and eliminate bad habits over a period of at least four to six weeks by daily keeping track in your diary and pushing yourself to stay on course of habitualizing.


Here are some relevant habits for your professional context to increase efficiency:


1)    Boss: Keep a good connection with your boss. Keep him/her informed. Do 1:1.

Hint: Be proactive. Deliver status updates, success stories, improvement ideas.

2)    Team: Do regular meetings with your team and stakeholders: Keep it efficient!

Hint: Efficient meetings have a purpose, agenda, code of conduct and result.

3)    Agenda: Just like in efficient meetings, have a purposeful agenda every day.

Hint: What is my main and most valuable task I will perform before 11 a.m.?

4)    Lunch: Never have your lunch alone. Not new. But highly relevant. Connect!

Hint: Switch your lunch partners or lunch groups to expand your inspirations.

5)    Mails: Strive for efficient mail routines. Use: Pareto. Filter. Timeboxing. GTD.

Hint: Use GTD principles. Capture. Clarify. Organize. Process. Deliver results.

6)    Team: Take your time to lead. Manage by objectives, delegation and presence.

Hint: Do regular „gemba walks“. Seek contact and connection with your team.

7)    Customer: Take your time for the customers. Keep record. Know your people!

Hint: Know at least the birthdays, the top 3 topics and track of success stories.

8)    Preparation: Schedule frames for preparation time. Victory loves preparation.

Hint: Use your commute or schedule a „smart 15 minutes“ before A actions.

9)    Debriefing: Prepare well, but also debrief well and track results and learnings.

Hint: Use tools like Wunderlist or Evernote for your knowledge management.

10) Dive Deep: Take your time to dive deep into important issues. No distraction.

Hint: Use models like DMAIC: Define. Measure. Analyze. Improve. Control.

11) Pause: Be a smart leader and plan conscious pauses. Calm down. Tranquilo!

Hint: Do active pauses (doing nothing) and passive pauses (sports, books, …).

12) Sport: I suggest daily sport. Clear tough call. Train at least every second day.

Hint: Sport keeps your mind clear and body tough. Foundations of efficiency.

13) Feedback: Give your team and peers proactive feedback. Ask for feedback.

Hint: Start with a positive detail and then: Perception. Effect. Wish. Result.

14) Weekly: No matter if demanded or not, report and track your weekly results.

Hint: If you use list tools like Wunderlist you have an automatic track record.

15) Kaizen: Inspire yourself and your team to invent and simplify smart solutions.

Hint: Ask yourself daily what you can improve. Plan it. Do it. Document it.

16) Reflexion: Reflect on yourself, your process and your people. Get time to think.

Hint: Enhance reflexion and learning effects by doing it at night with a diary.

17) Trash: Continuously eliminate irrelevant data, info and resources. Delete them!

Hint: Establish this habit also in your team. Keep waste out of your life and biz.

18) Training: Feed your brain and skillset with best input and train for excellence.

Hint: Don‘t read 1000 books. Pick vital few inputs and truly implement them.

19) Team sport: Try it out. Go for a smart run with your team or some colleagues.

Hint: You will be surprised how many people will agree and join the jogging.

20) Team development: Go for results and improvement, but also for development.

Hint: Lead by example. Suggest a topic you wanna share and train your peers.

21) Café: Dare and win. Take some stuff you work on and do work on it in a café.

Hint: Chose smart and wisely if you ask your boss first or if you just dare it J.

22) Home Office: Dare and win II. Ask for a home office day to boost efficiency.

Hint: Promise a result in advance and then ideally overdeliver on the topic.

23) Benchmarking: Keep your eyes and senses open for best practice examples.

Hint: Be hungry and be foolish… seek inspirations in every and crazy fields.

24) Lean: Experiment with a lean strategy in your area. Inspire your leadership.

Hint: Define results from customer perspective. Focus on value. Cut the rest.

25) 5S: Implement 5S in your area. Sort. Shine. Standardize. Sustain. Set in order.

Hint: You will be surprised about winning hours every day by disciplined order.

26) Leadership Letter: Write a letter to your boss how you will improve your area.

Hint: This is primarily a self reflexion tool. What are your targeted results and ideas?

27) Style: Define, live and train your leadership style, p.ex.: MBO, MBD, MBWA.

Hint: Lead yourself and others with goals (MbO), tasks (MbD) and presence (MbWA).

28) Routine: Manage your days, weeks, months and results with a smart routine.

Hint: PDCA… Plan your results. Do it. Check it. Act and adapt your learnings.




Those rules, tasks and tools are for sure no complete compendium of leadership tipps and success factors. They are meant to share some personal perceptions and inspirations on the leadership topic, and especially to be expanded and enriched by your real life experiences. Enjoy the process! If you practice conscious focus, smart tools and disciplined habits, you might be able to deliver results congruent with your professional and personal requirements in a more efficient and effective way.


In short:


Work smart. Inspire your team. Strive for daily excellence. And: Just get started. Do not wait for perfection. But: Iterate and adapt! Smart quote from Ragy Thomas to summarize: „The strength of purpose and the clarity of your vision, along with the tenacity to pursue it, is your underlying driver of success.“



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