“I spent 15 years chasing time,” begins Jansson. “I was always running late, getting home from the office at 9 in the evening and working on weekends. It took me that long to understand that it wasn’t that I didn’t have enough time, but that I didn’t know how to optimize it!” Jansson remembers that, when he worked as a strategy consultant in Stockholm, he only ever did things in a hurry. “Like most of my colleagues, I was convinced that I always needed more overtime to wrap up my work, but that was totally wrong!” Jansson came dangerously close to burning out before he grasped that it was not time that was in short supply: it was his ability to focus his attention and energy on what really matters.
A growing but painful awareness
When Johan had a brush with burnout in March 2014, his wife persuaded him to quit his job as a consultant and take some time out for himself. “That was the moment I started to take a serious interest in the question of efficiency. Reading The 4-Hour Workweek (Crown Business, 2007) was very inspirational. Author, Tim Ferriss, claimed that four hours of work a week are all you need to have a sense of fulfilment — and to make money. Even if that’s a bit exaggerated, one idea did catch my attention: the fact that working longer hours does not always mean you’ll be more effective – quite the reverse.” Jansson’s reflections about the real reasons for his lack of efficiency led to one inescapable conclusion: he had been confusing working long hours with working productively. “That was a real shock for me, because I realized then that the first 15 years of my working life were founded on an error of judgment. I had sacrificed part of my family life and my hobbies without any real impact on my professional performance. The extended hours had probably even had a negative effect on my job.”
A problem of attention and energy
“I’m what you call a ‘slogger,’ “ Jansson explains. “I don’t have any special abilities, and I’ve always thought that I had to work harder than everyone else to be as good as them. In fact, I realized I had a particular problem concentrating my attention on what was important”. At the end of 2014, while he was thinking about setting up his own consultancy firm, Jansson devoured 20 or so books on personal efficiency, and began to reconsider his relationship with time. For six months, he scrupulously noted down how much time he spent on each and every task in an Excel table, as well as rating his concentration and energy levels on a scale of one to ten. After the six months, Jansson took stock of the situation: “When I analyzed the table, I found that my attention and energy levels varied enormously during the day. In particular, I noticed that my attention fell dramatically after 45 minutes of intensive work on a task, and that my energy dropped as the day progressed before going up again at 5 pm. I recognized for the first time that an eight-hour day would be more than enough if I could reorganize my work so that it matched my attention and energy cycles.”
Set a clear goal: the 40-hour week
In early 2015, after setting up his company, Jansson decided to apply a formula advocated by Tim Ferriss: set a simple objective and stick to it. “It was perfect, because being my own boss was meant to be a way for me to have a better work / life balance, so I needed to make the most of my time.” Jansson set himself the goal of limiting his working week to a maximum of 40 hours. It was up to him to make sure he squeezed in his client meetings, his consulting and administration. “Deciding on this simple constraint revolutionized the way I work. Previously, for instance, I would often relax my concentration during the day and procrastinate, telling myself that I could push on in the evening or at the weekend.”
Interview with Johan Jansson, Senior business consultant, Spotify, October 2017.