Why hard work doesn't always pay when building wealth

Working smarter will help you to achieve better results with less effort

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It is normal to feel as though you spend too much time on things that do not add value to your life. So, are you a busy fool?

Busyness is like a disease. It gets worse over time. It is easy to work more hours than ever before while not being as productive as we should be.

The good news is that, as is the case with investing, it is now easier than ever to achieve better results with less effort.

The key is to work smarter, not harder. Taking actions that make you significantly productive. Freeing up precious hours to live a better life.

Here are five “hacks” to achieve better results in your life as you build your wealth, but with less effort.

1. Make the most of your mornings

Mornings are the time to set the trajectory of your day. Starting your day with intention and a plan to accomplish tasks is a huge driver of success.

If you use a to-do list, create this the night before and organise it by priority. Put what you don't want to do at the top of the list, also known as “eating the frog”.

The goal is to take the smallest number of actions that will produce your desired outcome. Break down any task to its fundamentals and eliminate any step that is not necessary.

2. Plan your day hour-by-hour

Planning your day hour-by-hour will help your efficiency and time management — and doing so gives you an intentional focus.

Schedule time blocks that are dedicated to completing a specific task or bundle of tasks.

Although this technique may not be necessary every day, it is extremely helpful when your schedule becomes overwhelming or spirals out of control.

It will not only help you to see where your valuable time is going but it will force you to consciously consider the importance and urgency of the task.

3. Set boundaries

Time is your most valuable and finite resource and setting boundaries will help protect you this.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett once said: “We must choose, with intention, what we say yes to and what we say no to. It all comes down to simplifying, prioritising and focusing our attention on what matters most.”

Prioritising yourself and learning the power of saying no are ways to set boundaries. Stand up for yourself and your beliefs. If things do not align with your goals and purpose, say no.

At the end of the day, you are responsible for all of your problems and all of your accomplishments.

4. Take breaks

There is significant research pointing to the importance of breaks and holidays, and how time away from your tasks only increases productivity, creativity and concentration.

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Those who dismiss breaks — because they think stopping is hindering their productivity — are heading for burnout.

Incorporating timeouts into your schedule has been proved to restore motivation and focus, while supporting better stress management.

5. Measure your results, not your time

Measuring the number of hours you have worked is putting emphasis on the wrong metric.

We often assume the number of hours spent on a task is an indication of the effort, interest and accomplishment applied.

This is not necessarily correct and can, instead, lead to inefficiency.

The 80/20 rule states that “80 per cent of your results will come from 20 per cent of your efforts”.

This principle highlights the importance of focused efforts on the 20 per cent of your actions that yield 80 per cent of the results.

In other words: work harder on the tasks that matter the most and don't sweat the small stuff.

You can apply the “smarter, not harder” rule to your finances, too.

The person in the hammock eating coconuts beats most hard-working stock market traders.
Sam Instone, co-chief executive of AES

It is best to ignore the markets. Professional traders analyse the markets. They ask, “Is it a good time to buy, or should we wait for a better time?”

They use quantitative analysis. They look at trends. They chase economic news like a cat on a laser pointer.

But peer reviewed research says that is a waste of time. For example, imagine somebody has a diversified portfolio of index funds. They get stranded on a deserted island for 20 years.

On their return, they would learn that their investments beat the performance of most hedge funds. It thumped the performance of most college endowments funds. It thrashed the performance of most day traders, too.

The person in the hammock eating coconuts beats most hard-working stock market traders.

The same goes for anyone who adds consistent monthly sums to a diversified portfolio of index funds.

By not paying attention to stock market levels, that sum buys more stock market units when stocks are lower and fewer market units after stocks rise.

As a result, such investors pay a lower-than-average price. They, too, thrash the results of most professional traders, without thinking about the markets.

Owning a globally diversified portfolio of low-cost funds means you own businesses that already make money.

You are not chasing shiny new ideas, glued to the financial news or trying to keep up with Bob next door. What's more, globally diversified portfolios always eventually recover after the markets drop.

For performance chasers or stock-pickers, that recovery could be longer.

You can work smarter by continuing to add money whenever you can. Because when markets do recover, as they always do, you will have more money for the things that add value to your life.

When it comes to investing, hard work doesn’t pay. Invest as soon as you have the money and let the markets do the work for you.

Sam Instone is co-chief executive of wealth management company AES

Updated: November 28, 2022, 5:39 AM