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Become an Expert in the Art of Doing Nothing

When you’re running your own business, you’re always going to be short of two kinds of assets: money and time.

Both of those are fixable.

There’s plenty of money in the world. Come up with the right business idea and show the right people with the right funds that you can implement that plan, and you’ll get the money to test that idea. It won’t be easy. Investors don’t throw out their cash to just anyone. But there’s no shortage of money in the economy to fund growth.

Time is different. It doesn’t work in the same way. It doesn’t matter how rich, how powerful or how much you beg, you’ll still only have 24 hours in a day, just like everyone else. No one gets an extra hour, and attempting to squeeze in more time by giving up sleep always comes back to bite you. It’s no wonder you feel that you have to make the best use of every minute of every one of those hours.

And you do have to do that. Of course, you have to make good use of those minutes. Time is too precious to waste. But it’s also too precious not to enjoy, and too much of business-building—and too much of working in general—is spent doing things you don’t like and that you don’t have to do.

Every job has things that no one likes to do but that have to be done. A chef might dream of running his own restaurant but he’s still going to have to interview new sous chefs and call a repairman to fix the dishwasher. Computer programmers might get the thrill of pushing a button and seeing their code work, but more often they get the disappointment of pushing a button and seeing their code not work. And no one ever enjoys filing their taxes.

That’s all part of work. Every job has tasks like that. They’re not fun. They’re not enjoyable. And they’re also unavoidable. What is avoidable are the stresses and disappointments that we put on ourselves: the unrealistic deadlines; the targets that can never be met; the projects that feel meaningless and uninspiring. They fill our hours with misery, and they can be avoided.

There are a number of ways to do that.

First, do more fun stuff! Sure, not every project you take on is going to be the most interesting in the world. You might well find that occasionally you have to do work that isn’t exciting and that you feel isn’t moving you forward. But always make sure that you also have plenty of fun, interesting work, the kind that you’d do even if you weren’t getting paid, and that you’d even pay to do.

Always have at least one fun, personal project on the go and have the courage to say “no” when a task comes in that makes you groan. You don’t have to do them all.

Second, take time to yourself. Go for long walks. Ride a bike. Buy a surfboard. Give yourself time each week when you’re not serving customers or sitting at your desk. You’ll think about work in that time, and that’s fine. The clarity those moments bring will help to put your priorities back into focus and show you the path around the obstacles. When Bill Gates ran Microsoft he would spend one week twice a year in a cabin in the woods. He’d take boxes of papers pitching ideas from Microsoft employees, and spend seven days by himself reading and thinking. It was one of those Think Weeks that led to the creation of Microsoft Explorer.

And third, take your time. Of course you want to reach your goal as quickly as possible but what will happen when you get there? You’ll set yourself another goal, then another. The only person you’re racing is yourself and the only destination you really want to reach is a smile and a sense of satisfaction. You can reach both of those now.

Don’t waste your time rushing to do something. Enjoy the time you have now, even if that means spending some of those hours doing nothing. You may will find it’s the best possible use of your time.