An interview on working light

I believe work is one of the things that defines us as human beings, along with our relationships. It’s our way of contributing to the society we live in, and it’s a powerful way of creating meaning. To pile all of that into a relentless sense of pressure and unhappiness and stress and dissatisfaction is ruining something that could be beautiful. 

Following is a transcription of a recent interview with me by Carsten Christiani, who’s had a history of working very hard and has now started to investigate working light. His questions are in bold type.

What would you tell somebody who comes across working light and they say, “All fun and good, but if I don’t get my work done then they’ll fire me? There’s too much to do and I just have to make it work.” The idea of working light seems almost cynical in this situation.

There’s a simple answer to that, which is that with a bit more energy and relaxation you feel better and you’re able to do more. You manage your work more easily. This is an easy change anyone can make.

What would that mean for my day to day work? How do I make time for all that stuff when everything inside of me is screaming, “I’ve got way too much to do already and I can hardly finish that, and now I’m supposed to make time for a course?”

This is about the principle of investment. If you invest a little time in doing the right thing, you gain time. What I find is that when someone invests half an hour in an activity that gives them energy, it plays out all day, giving them more time and more productivity as well.

For example, something drops off your to do list that you thought you would have to do. Something on your list gets done by somebody else. Something that would normally take several hours takes just 30 minutes. Something that would usually have turned out to be full of mistakes is right the first time. And if you have a team, they tend to get it right first time too so you don’t waste nearly as much time getting the wrong stuff done, having to explain yourself over and over again and dealing with all the consequences of poor communication or poor understanding between people.

When you make that investment, which is essentially an investment in your energy, what you get back is more energy. When you have more energy, you actually produce more. That’s what energy is all about.

So having more energy equates to having more time?

Most people are still trying to manage their time, but if you think about it, we all have the same amount of time, but what we do with that time varies enormously from day to day. For example, if you have one hour you can sit there, feeling absolutely terrible. It’s an awful day. You didn’t want to come to work. You’ve got a headache, all do you want to do is go to bed and lie down so you sit in front of your desk, drink three cups of coffee, move a few pieces of paper around and absolutely nothing happens.

The very next day you come in, you’ve had a good night’s sleep, you’re feeling great. You’ve got the same hour. You’ve got the same work on your desk because you didn’t get it done yesterday and because you’re feeling good, you get a whole lot done. You make decisions. You ship your work off to the right person and things move. It’s the same amount of time, but the difference between these two scenarios is your energy.

What you need to learn is how to manage and master your energy, not your time, because your energy is what gives you the leverage of your time. People who are very powerful and very capable have extremely powerful energy.

It doesn’t mean they have super batteries. They can’t run faster than you or do more sit-ups or do 10 times as many things in one hour as you can. But they have the power to achieve ten or a hundred or even a thousand times as much as you can in the same time. They may even be less busy than you, but what they achieve as a result is far more So that’s what energy is.
Energy relates to your capacity. It’s not just your physical battery. When you invest in your energy, you invest in your capacity and therefore you can produce more and literally work less to achieve more. That’s the first step of working light.

How does expanding your capacity work? 

The first level of expanding your capacity is simple stuff you can do on a daily basis that helps you to have more energy so you’re more productive. You’re more relaxed, you feel better and you produce more. That’s a really simple way of increasing your capacity.

Now imagine the difference between the person who does that daily over a long period, and the person who doesn’t invest in their energy, is stressed, doesn’t feel good and doesn’t sort out their productivity. The first is going to keep making small incremental changes, which will become huge over time. The second is going to get gradually worse and worse until either they burn out or more likely they just peter out by losing interest. They lose that spark. They survive their work. They get through it. They do what they have to do and then they retire. It’s not satisfying. It doesn’t feel like the way we should be living.

How does that time expansion thing work? What I’ve noticed with working light is that for some reason the days appear to be longer, like there’s more time to get stuff done and it gets done more easily. How is that?

It depends on your energy. You could make a single decision in a very short period of time that has a huge impact or equally you could fail to make a decision and that could make a negative impact or fail to make any impact at all. Time itself is not fixed. It’s a much more subjective experience than we tend to view it when we talk about it scientifically or rationally, so the first reason why this works is that when you change your inner experience, by changing your energy, you change your experience of time.

It doesn’t really matter if 24 hours is exactly 24 hours or not. What matters is what you do with that time. Are you doing more, achieving more or creating more than you were before? No one can deny it if you experience it for yourself.

Now, if you really want to look at how energy can expand time, you have to get a bit more esoteric and see that time is a very artificial way of dividing up life. At any one time, many events are stacked on top of each other, so while we tend to experience time in a linear fashion, in reality there are so many things going on simultaneously. This is true in your own body and everywhere else, but we don’t usually focus on it because we don’t have the capability of focusing on so many different things happening together. You may see one little thread, which is what you’re focusing on, but there are trillions of those threads going on in your body, let alone on the whole planet or in the universe.

When you start to work with your energy, you can stack up more of those experiences into one time and have more things going on consciously at the same time.

What can you say to someone who has maxed out their productivity? They’ve taken all the courses, they’re getting things done, they’re doing really well, they take care of their physical energy and they’re doing pretty good. How is this going to help them be more productive? 

It’s something you need to try, especially if things are already working well for you. There’s not much reason to go and do something new, why would you? But if you’re curious, even a very small experience of expanding your energy will show you quickly whether it’s going to make a difference to you or not.

It’s difficult to explain in words. It’s like skiing. I can tell you what it feels like, what I experience when I ski and what happens when you stick those heavy boots onto your feet and those boards and you put yourself on a slope and slide down the snow, but none of that will tell you anything at all about skiing. It’s only when you do it that you experience it.

What I hear people say, for example, is that they meditate much better when they have more energy. Very capable, high performance entrepreneurs have told me they gained three hours a day of additional productivity by starting their day taking care of their energy. Now that’s a grand claim. To me, that’s something worth testing to see if it works for you. There’s no point in making promises. What’s actually important is does it work? Because if it does then do it and if it doesn’t, don’t do it. You can get your money back if you find you know it all already.

Let me turn the tables now. What’s changed for you since you started trying out working light?

The main thing that has changed is I don’t worry about stuff all that much anymore. I just do what I can do that day and then I let it go. 
I probably don’t get much more done yet, but it’s more enjoyable. It’s less like Chinese water torture getting through the workday. 
Apart from productivity and time games, for me at least that investigation into working light has changed the way I experience work. It’s become more pleasurable. 
Could you speak more about that? 

Take that maxed-out high performer who probably isn’t enjoying work all that much. It’s a bit of a fight that he or she wins most days, but it’s still exhausting. It’s still a struggle.
When you have more energy, there are two different things that happen. One is that there’s less struggle. Obviously you’re not having to fight so much and therefore you feel better because you reduce the pressure and stress massively. You feel more relaxed, so you reduce the unpleasant feelings that go with working really, really hard.

At the same time, the process of charging up your energy feels good in its own right. It’s a very enjoyable experience, and that tends to flow into your day. If you’ve spent 20 minutes or half an hour increasing your energy and feeling good, that’s going to influence all day.

The other thing is really simple. If you have more energy, you don’t feel so tired. People often say to me they have energy when they go home in the evening. They have energy for their kids and their partner, which they didn’t have before.

Having more energy makes life more enjoyable because you’re able to be present. You’re able to have fun. You’re able to play with the kids. You’re able to have a decent conversation over dinner. You’re able to concentrate. These are the simple things we all want and we sacrifice to a large extent when we work so hard and so relentlessly, constantly under pressure.

What about the shift from working hard, where something that needs to get done but isn’t particularly enjoyable can be achieved by working playfully, so actually enjoying each step of the day. 

In my experience, it goes in steps. The early stages are feeling more relaxed, feeling more at ease, having more enjoyment in the day, having more energy during the day and being more productive. But the real shift from working hard to working light is a longer-term process and at a certain point it requires you to become much more conscious about how you’re doing things and why.

When you start to become more conscious and ask deeper questions, you start to unpack the deeper rewards. I think it’s very important to be aware that this is a journey. There isn’t a formula which I’m going to pop in front of you and you’re going to say, “Oh, jolly good. Now I can do it and we’re all happy.”

It doesn’t work like that. This is a really significant shift in habits that you probably developed at school, so they’ve been there for most of your life. It’s a shift to a much lighter way of working and it requires you to ask questions about why you do what you do and why you do it the way that you do it. When you start to be able to answer your own questions, you’ll find yourself automatically changing the way you work.

So many of our habits go unquestioned every single day. We just do it because we’ve always done it that way and because it’s subconsciously primed into us. That’s the way to do things. That’s the way you get ahead. That’s the way you get successful. That’s the way you make money. It’s only when you start to question that you start to open up the possibility of doing it a different way.

This is where the real rewards of working light come. The early stages are giving you a taste, creating enough space in your life to ask the questions. Then once you start to ask the questions, you can work out for yourself what your version of working light looks like. It might not be the same as mine, but the point is that there is a way you can create what you want to create in your life without having to destroy yourself and your health, wellbeing and happiness in the process.

In one to three points, why do I absolutely have to start working light?

You have to start working light for your own sanity. Because if you don’t work light you’re going to work hard. Which would you prefer? That’s the first reason to work light.
The second reason to work light is because that’s the way things are going. Life is getting more complex and I don’t think we can take any more complexity if we’re working hard or even working smart. Our brains will get fried if we have to manage more complexity and more technology. So to me it’s part of our evolution. We have to find a better way of doing it.
Thirdly, energy is the new thing. Energy is the great scientific discovery. It’s not so new, but it’s coming out more and more now. Energy gives us the answers that we’ve been looking for. You have to learn how to do this to prevent burning out, which is running out of energy. You actually have to address the energy equation if you burn out because if you don’t, you won’t ever fully recover. If you want to prevent burning out, that’s a great reason to start working light now.

How much of our life do we spend working? A third at least for most of us. The idea that we spend that much of our lives not enjoying it – that’s craziness.

The point is that we spend so much time working, and our work is a really important part of our life so it’s a great pity if the way you work feels like survival. Imagine what it would be like to love your work and feel fully alive. Then you know you’re doing what you came to this planet for. That’s the whole point.

Nobody ever said on their deathbed, “I wish I would have worked more,” but that’s only because of the way we’ve been taught to work. Personally, I believe work is one of the things that defines us as human beings, along with our relationships. It’s our way of contributing to the society we live in, and it’s a powerful way of creating meaning. To pile all of that into a relentless sense of pressure and unhappiness and stress and dissatisfaction is ruining something that could be beautiful.

If you’re ready to make your work beautiful and want to learn how to work light, please join the program (starting 11 June) or join A Conversation About Working Light to discover more about it.

If you have any questions you’re welcome to email me any time.

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