Yusaku Maezawa: Why Working Less Brings in More
Episode #6 of the course Productivity hacks: Lessons from top leaders and billionaires by John Robin
Welcome to Day 6!
If you’re not familiar with today’s multi-billionaire innovator, then you might be familiar with his current aspiration:
To send a SpaceX ship full of artists on a round trip to the moon.
Yusaku Maezawa, whose net worth was estimated at $3.6 billion by Forbes in May 2017, made his fortune in online retail. He has also earned a reputation as a big spender on the arts, to the tune of $200 million. Paying for a customized trip via Elon Musk’s SpaceX in 2023 for the sole purpose of enriching artists in their inspiration (who will all ride for free, once he chooses them) reflects Maezawa’s unique work philosophy and one thing he attributes to his success:
• Stop wasteful activities.
• Stop wasteful conversations.
• Stop wasteful meetings.
The goal of this:
• Go home after six hours of work so you can further enrich your personal life.
Maezawa’s company, Zozotown, employs more than 1,000 workers and is worth $8.4 billion. It has managed to grow continually despite all employees embracing six-hour work days in 2012.
The Science of Working Less
We saw in Day 2 why the Pareto principle—and Warren Buffet’s wisdom—suggests spending 20% of our time on what gives us 80% of our results.
There are exactly 168 hours in a week. Twenty percent of this is 33.6 hours. Spread across a Monday-Friday work week, that’s a little over six hours/day.
Maezawa might onto something. In fact …
A study in Sweden conducted in 2015 showed that the ideal work week is closer to 30 hours. Other studies have shown it could be as low as 20 hours, depending on the type of work. These results were taken seriously enough that Amazon itself has begun an ongoing study with dozens of employees under a 30-hour work week model. Though ongoing, psychologists analyzing the data suggest this model makes workers less stressed, more refreshed, and therefore more effective.
This research also extends to how people work during this shorter day.
The roots behind what is known as the Pomodoro technique go back to a French-Jewish philosopher named Henri Bergson, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1927. Bergson studied how our perception of time as a succession of events generates less stress than when we have no structure. Later studies have shown that the typical attention span is 20-45 minutes and that this can be repeated in succession, provided we take short breaks. In fact, further studies have shown that short, mindless breaks increase your ability to concentrate when you are focused for the next period of 20-45 minutes—provided you keep them short (no more than 4-5 minutes).
There are many variations of the Pomodoro technique, but broken down to its nuts and bolts, the principle behind it is the same one used by Maezawa: Work with focus and no distraction, using breaks to get as many of these periods in as possible during a six-hour work day.
There is no exact amount for how much one can work in a given day, but we already have incentive both from Maezawa’s success and from the Pareto principle to set a limit of six hours—20% of our 168-hour week, spread over Monday to Friday.
I personally use this method and find that in a typical work day, I am two to three times more effective than I used to be before using it.
I like to work in 25-minute intervals, with 4-minute breaks, but that’s just my sweet spot. Yours will differ.
One tip I highly recommend is that you use timers for this. I use an app called MultiTimer, since it lets you run multiple timers at once. When I finish 25 minutes of focused work, I reset and immediately hit the 4-minute break timer. I usually take less than four minutes, but the purpose of this second timer is to limit my break so I don’t take too long and so lose the momentum.
This method can be applied for any kind of work you do, but it’s especially helpful for task-oriented work.
Probably the biggest insight from Maezawa’s approach is that forcing our work day into a narrow six-hour period leaves us no time to waste.
This week, work as if you are one of Yusaku Maezawa’s employees.
Get the MultiTimer app. Use Buffett’s strategy to work on your top five priorities. Set SMART goals you can be working toward during each focused period of 20-45 minutes.
This might take time before it becomes your default, but guaranteed, it will help you spot the wasteful activities, conversations, and meetings that are making you work longer and live less fulfillingly.
Tomorrow, we’ll continue to explore how successful people get results, even when they might seem impossible: the art of redefining the problem.
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