Want to be more productive? Start by doing the work

7 min readJul 24, 2019


My business was failing. I had worked my butt off for years to make it a powerhouse in the advertising industry. Then my divorce happened, and it all started to unravel.

Drowning in work — Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

When everything went sideways, my business was peaking and years of work was paying off big time. We were doing fantastic business, but when my divorce process started, I became depressed by the clinical definition. I found it difficult to get up in the morning, and even if I did, I found it even harder actually to get anything done. I would find myself lying on the floor for hours on end thinking “I should get up, I should do something,” and then an hour later I’d still be lying there. Before that, I did not believe that depression was something other than people just being sad and unable to cope. How wrong that assumption was.

If I managed to get to my desk, I could work an hour or two before my mind was spinning with uncertainties and endless contemplation about what went wrong, what could have been done differently, and what stab in the back was coming next from the other side. Every time my lawyer called, it would derail the rest of my day.

This was how bad it had to get for me to lose all of my power of productivity.

I was used to running at a very efficient level. I would wake up, immediately go downstairs to my home office, and I would be busy all day. I would work at least 8 to 10 hours a day, but most times 12 or 16. I was unhappy in my marriage, and I was having an affair with my work. But I was accomplishing so much, so productive, and making so much money! Or was I?

Trying to be as productive as possible, get everything done, and make more money almost cost me everything.

Don’t get me wrong, my divorce has been amazing. My ex-wife did me a favor by ending our marriage. Being a man of decisions, I had made a promise the day we got married, and I was not going to break it — but I’m glad she did. I’m happily re-married to an amazing woman, and we have a beautiful daughter and another on the way.

I’ve never been happier.

Concurrently, my business is finally booming again. Coincidence? No.

The truth is you are never going to be happy by piling more work onto yourself. It only seems obvious now that working more for more success is unsustainable and fundamentally flawed. The truth is, you’ll be satisfied most by accomplishing what you’ve set out to do,by keeping the promises you have made to yourself and others, as well as ensuring each day you are living the life you want to live instead of placing endless work hurdles in front of your happiness. That requires being efficient, productive, and setting boundaries that are aligned with what you want for your life and happiness.

At the initial break in my marriage, the downturn did not happen right away. As the Founder, CEO, and ‘fearless leader’ of my company, I abandoned my team for a whole week without notice before I was barely functional enough to come back.

We coasted for a long time. Just months after the break, we won multiple awards for “Best Advertising Network.” The following year, we won more awards for the same, plus the crown achievement as “Businessman of the Year.”

At that time I was traveling around the world. I was trying to find myself and dating full-time. Over time I had started working more, but I still wasn’t myself.

Finally, after just one year, I found the love of my life. I was happy. I was in a long-distance relationship for three years and on a plane every two weeks. Even though I was finally back to working a typical day, my chronic absence had done damage to the company.

During those years, a lot of the high-level decision making and strategy had not been getting completed. Revenue started to plummet as we had not kept ahead of trends and the needs of the company. Both myself and my company were rock stars in our segment of my industry, but things were falling apart.

People were fired. Expenses were slashed. It was messy. I started to diversify for fear that my core business was going to end, but never gave up.

There had been hours and days spent trying to squeeze more productivity out of my days to save the company. I had wasted an enormous amount of time building lists and priorities. I spent more time moving papers around, planning my days, and re-writing all of the incomplete items onto tomorrow’s list. Day after day, I was drowning myself.

That’s when I realized that I was not doing the work.

I was receiving my sense of accomplishment from building all the to-do lists.

My time was being wasted getting ready to work, rather than working.

So I put my head down and started to work.

A new strategy was devised and launched. We changed the way we operated, started working smarter with the resources we had. I began to put the time in to completing tasks because it was now or never.

That’s when things started to turn around.

It was enormously difficult at the beginning. There was no possible way that I would ever accomplish everything I wanted to do, no matter how I arranged it, or how I built my lists. There was just too much, and there always would be. To some, this might seem immensely discouraging and make the task even more daunting. It did for me. However, once I started to dig in, it became evident that it was a necessary truth. Like an alcoholic admitting they had a problem.

I reduced multi-tasking, focused on deep thinking, planning, and focus. Handling one thing at a time allowed me to finish it and strike it off the list. Each day was filled with many small wins. I tackled my email and reached Inbox Zero (what I had always considered to be impossible). Small tasks getting done lead to larger projects and goals getting completed. Momentum was building and a new foundation was being built.

Nearly a decade prior, I had given up my favorite sport of mountain bike racing, due to lack of time. Last spring, I committed myself to improve my health and fitness. My focus went into life hacking my workouts and training at least an hour per day. Training indoors allowed me to stack tasks like reading, strategizing, and decision making on top of my workouts, and so no productivity was lost — and I was getting into shape! I raced the provincial mountain bike championship at the end of the summer and nearly won.

Because I was getting things done, I was able to start living again.

Because I was starting to live again, my business came back to life.

You can do all those life hacks you read about online, but at some point when you find grand success, there won’t be enough time in the day no matter how much you work. You will be faced with a choice: Either decide to work harder and longer to try to do everything (and possibly lose everything important). Or — choose to admit that you cannot do it all (and need help), and dedicate yourself to getting done what you can.

If there are things that need to get done and you are not doing them, it is critical to find someone who will do them. If not, you are not just hurting yourself, you are hurting your company.

Maybe its because you don’t have the time (or maybe its because you just don’t want to do them). Regardless, the only way forward is to find help, because working more does not work. It is impossible.

Instead, what has been working well lately is getting better productivity by starving the work day. As a general rule, humans are only efficient for 40 hours (or less) of work per week. But, many countries and companies have employees working less than that and find similar (or better) efficiency.

Think of life as a limited about of time on Earth. It is too common for people to sacrifice short-term happiness for long-term happiness by working more, and then just forget that they are one-in-the-same. When I started to actually live my life again — travel, spend time with friends and family, read, write, go mountain biking, and all the other things that are enjoyable — it became obvious that working more was to reduce entrepreneur anxiety and that it was more effective to reduce the time available for work to force myself to handle everything that was most important with the limited time left in those days. Working weekends? Gone. Working late nights? Gone. There will always be more work than there will be time to accomplish it.

Either way, the only way forward is to start. During those dark years, I stopped doing the daily grind that entrepreneurs are always talking about, and stopped putting in the effort that drives the fastest and most profitable results. It does not matter if you are the grunt doing the work or the person delegating it. Actually doing something to push tasks forward is the only way to be productive.




Rich in Life, Love, and Business. Jay Van Ginneken is the founder of LifeCandy, a venture capital, strategy and marketing firm. Email: jay@richcanadian.com