Book Excerpt: How to Succeed in Business Without Working So Damn Hard

Today, Americans are working harder and longer than ever. Yet  it’s the innovators, visionaries, and new-thinkers who love their work who rise to the top—never the overworked drones. Instead of working harder, learn how to work better.

Book Excerpt

by Robert J. Kriegel
ISBN: 0446679860
Paperback (trade)

CHAPTER 1: Working Harder Works But…

You know you are working too damn hard when:

  • You always feel like you’re behind, running a little late.
  • You are irritable, critical, or short-tempered.
  • You see less and less of your friends and family.
  • You get more headaches and stomachaches.
  • You have a tough time relaxing.
  • You feel guilty when you aren’t working.
  • It’s all work and no play.
  • You’re married to your job.
  • You tire easily.
  • You have trouble falling asleep.
  • You sometimes feel depressed or sad without any apparent reason.
  • You need to be continually busy.
  • You’re not having much fun.

“The secret of my success is simple. I just work harder than anyone else,” said the first of four speakers on a superstar panel at a national convention of mortgage brokers. She then went on to describe her typical workday, which began at five A.M. and ended at about ten P.M. and consisted of calling on realtors, sending out weekly update sheets, writing new ads, attending open houses, shaking lots of hands, and endless schmoozing and boozing.

The next two speakers practically lip-synched her words. I was exhausted just listening. A great success strategy, I thought—for not having a life.


It’s no secret that people are buying into this marathon madness as their strategy for success. These days the average workweek is sixty hours and rising. The average business lunch is thirty-six minutes and falling. And a ninety-to one-hundred- hour workweek is the norm for many young hounds on the scent of the big score.

My seatmate on a recent flight, a young man in his early thirties who worked for one of the big five accounting firms, told me that his normal workweek was one-hundred-plus hours. And he was bragging about it as if it were an indication of how “cool” he was.

I often overhear people boasting about the meeting the previous night that lasted until two A.M. For these folks, success is directly related to the number of hours they spend at the office. As if the longer and harder they work, the more they will be looked at as superheroes. What isn’t admitted— or possibly even realized—is that when you work that late, your brain is too fried to be productive. Quality and creativity rarely emanate out of an exhausted mind. More mistakes are made when you’re tired or pumped on caffeine, which means having to redo in the light of day what you did at night.

“The last company I worked at had five different design teams. And there was a crazy contest that occurred at the end of the day,” Mike McDevitt, a Clio Award-winning graphic and Web site designer in New York City, told me. “No one wanted to be the first to leave. There was a stigma about it. It meant that you weren’t doing your job or working hard enough. Or that you were a wuss. It’s as if people’s self-worth was directly related to how late they stayed at the office.”

The Price

No matter how tough you think you are, the stress resulting from this work-longer-and-harder strategy is enormous. And that stress doesn’t magically disappear at the end of the workday. You don’t just leave your office and instantly transform into a relaxed, easygoing person.

As a culture, we have become more irritable, quick-tempered, cranky, and negative. Witness the outbreak of road rage and airline rage. We consume over fifteen tons of aspirin and roll upon roll of Rolaids in an effort to combat the nervous minds and jumpy stomachs caused by stress. Depressing? Well, more than twenty-two million people are taking mood-lifting drugs like Prozac and Zoloft.

Quality time with your spouse? Romantic evenings? Great sex? Fuhgeddaboudit! Over 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. Seen your kids lately? Been to a Little League game or the play they were in? A study of one thousand third to twelfth graders by Ellen Galinsky, cofounder of the Families and Work Institute, revealed that what’s most important to children is that their parents bring less stress home from work and focus more on them when the family is together.

Yet the children of today’s workforce, shuffled and shuttled from dance class to soccer practice to homework to bed, are managed rather than loved. And we wonder why so many have problems and act out.

Vacations, if taken at all, have become long weekends with a cell phone in the golf bag or a beeper in a backpack. It’s no wonder that so many people are asking the same tough question: “How come, if I’m so successful, I’m not having more fun? And if I’m so ‘together,’ why do I feel so out of control?”

The high stress level obviously leads to burnout, so it’s not surprising that a Wall Street Journal/ABC News poll found that more than half of all Americans would choose a new line of work if they had the chance.

Yeah, But!

“I’m going to work at this place for another couple of years, and then cash in and get out of the rat race,” my hundred- hour-workweek seatmate told me. Many like him are willing to put up with the stress and sacrifices in their pursuit of the big payola.

The problem is not only that this “run, run, rush, rush, race, race” strategy creates stress and limits the quality of life, but, as you will see in forthcoming chapters, this work style also hinders performance, productivity, and creativity. “It’s tempting to link the United States productivity boom to the long hours American workers put in, but it just ain’t so,” writes Ted Fishman, a business reporter for USA Today. “Mindy Fried, a researcher at the Center for Work and Family, has found that overworked employees suffer from more stress and become less productive and capable than more rested ones. U.S. companies that have cut workers’ hours have seen worker morale and productivity improve. They also have more success retaining employees. By American standards, the Dutch, who work a mere 1,370 hours a year, compared to our 2,000 plus, might look slothful. Think again. Their economy is the most productive in the world.”

A Passionate 80 Percent

You may be thinking, “What is Kriegel telling me to do? Give up my dreams and go to work for the Motor Vehicle Bureau?” Not at all. What’s needed is not a new line of work but a new way of thinking. I’m not suggesting that you change your game, but rather change the way you play it.

The type of thinking I am talking about occurred at the mortgage brokers’ convention discussed at the beginning of the chapter. After hearing the first three superstars talk about their marathon strategies, I was ready to slip out of the session. But the first words of the last speaker, Scott Beaman, who was the top producer in the country, stopped me halfway up the aisle. “My strategy,” he said, “is to give a passionate 80 percent effort. I work my butt off six hours a day, five days a week.”

Beaman outlined a totally different strategy then the previous three workaholics. His day wasn’t made up of racing madly to open houses, sending out mailers, phoning prospects. His approach was to go to the local Chamber of Commerce to find out what companies were moving into the area. Then he would contact each company’s human resource director and get a list of the people being transferred.

He would e-mail these people and schedule a meeting at their company headquarters prior to their move. His presentations would include videos, slides, and handouts with information on housing, schooling, and other concerns about the area. He would also prequalify them for mortgages, find out their specific needs, and, upon his return, send them any additional information they requested.

Rather than competing with the other mortgage brokers, Beaman had changed the game. His success was not a result of working harder and longer, but of bold and innovative thinking. Beaman had broken out of the old mortgage broker “box” by rethinking the rules of the game and redefining his role with the customer. Reinventing the game enabled him to become successful without having to work as hard or as long as his sweating, sleep-deprived competitors.

“I used to be a work-a-maniac like most people in my field,” Beaman told me, “but I realized that though I was doing well, I didn’t have a life. I was missing seeing my kids grow up, and my relationship with my wife was lousy.

“So I took a time-out, stepped back from the action, and analyzed my game. Rethinking my approach helped me to realize that there were lots of new companies moving into our area, which meant lots of people who were going to be looking for housing and mortgages. So rather than wait for them to come to me, I flipped the rules around and went to them. I’m much more successful now, and I spend more time with my kids. I go to all their games and recitals and my home life is great.”


Working hard does work. It’s the American ethic. And it definitely can lead to success. But as you can see from the innovative strategy that Scott Beaman created, as well as the many others that will be discussed throughout this book, it’s not the only way. The American ethic is also one of a pioneering spirit, of exploring new territory, and of taking the path less trod. It is one of creating change, rather than responding to market shifts and new opportunities, and of being out in front of the wave, rather than trying to keep up with it.

The world is changing at an incredible pace. Mergers, acquisitions, and consolidations are happening at the speed of light in every industry, creating big new competitors with deep pockets and long reaches. The economy is unpredictable. Customers are more demanding and less loyal. Technology that evolves every time we turn around has changed—and will continue to change—the way we communicate, obtain information, sell our goods, and run our businesses. It is also transforming how, where, when, and what we buy, as well as who we buy from. And this pace of change will only speed up, not slow down.

To succeed in these rapidly changing times, whether you are an entrepreneur like Beaman or climbing the corporate ladder, it is necessary to challenge the old modes, myths, and mind-sets, and rethink, redefine, and reinvent your business philosophy. The innovative strategies discussed in this book will enable you to develop dramatic new solutions to old problems, create exciting new opportunities, and succeed beyond what you ever thought possible, all without having to work so damn hard.


Working harder does work but it’s not the only way to achieve your goals and realize your dreams

Copyright 2002 by Kriegel 2 Inc

Robert J. Kriegel, Ph.D., is a pioneer in the field of human performance and the psychology of change. A former coach of both Olympic and professional athletes, Kriegel is the coauthor of the influential business books Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers and If It Ain’t Broke…Break It!

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