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It Was Never Just about Working Hard

It was always about working smart. But somehow that got lost.

In the Winter of 2019 – Paul Slater was finishing up after a long week at the Microsoft Office in Bellevue Washington. He would have probably stayed longer, but he had promised to meet his colleague Ryan Tubbs after work to debrief. “I remember at the time I was a bit annoyed to be pulled away, but part of me knew I wasn’t getting much done anyway” Paul said. “It turned out those after dinner drinks changed both of our lives”.

That evening started in frustration, as Paul and Ryan compared notes on how little they felt they were getting accomplished, how difficult it was to focus, and how challenging it was to switch off at the end of the day.

“Basically work was feeling like Groundhog Day – starting each morning in almost the same place we began the previous one. And it was getting really difficult to stay motivated” Ryan recalled.

It shouldn’t have been that way. Paul and Ryan were working on something incredibly rewarding at Microsoft – co-founding an internal startup to help patients get access to life saving therapies faster. They had tons of autonomy, knew how to do their job well, and were working on something that could have an impact on millions of people. Yet something was definitely missing.

“I think if it had been just one of us, we would probably have just chalked it up to individual burnout. But something about the similarity of our experience made us wonder if we were dealing with something bigger. We wanted to research that” Paul said.

It Was Supposed to be a Book

300 in-depth interviews later, what they found was perhaps not surprising, but it was shocking. Over 90% of people they spoke to had deep frustration on how ineffective they were day to day, not just in the workplace, but across their whole lives. For some it had had a profound impact, with interviewees admitting to depression, relationship problems, even suicidal thoughts. These issues were affecting everyone from kids leaving college to CEOs in larger organizations, and almost nobody seemed immune. Within weeks, they had a passion project – a book to examine the root causes of burnout in the digital age.

“We were going to call it “Unsustainable” – We started in earnest fleshing out the chapters, but as we learned more, it seemed like a book wasn’t going to be enough” said Paul. “I love writing books, but let’s be honest, a lot of them get left on people’s shelves and very few of them lead to any meaningful change. This is an issue affecting millions, probably billions of people, and all we could do is pontificate about it? That seemed wrong”

So, after a lot of consideration, Paul and Ryan took the leap, and left Microsoft to form BillionMinds, with the mission of making a Billion people start every day with purpose and end it with accomplishment.

Making the “How” of Work Effortless

As technologists, one of Paul and Ryan’s key insights was how much tech is actively contributing to the problem.

“The issue here is that so called productivity solutions are mainly built for flexibility, not to make us more effective” said Ryan. “We can work anywhere at any time with anyone, and that is great, but figuring out HOW to do that and still be effective each day, its left up to us. The result is we wind up struggling with what to do first, how to stay on task, and sometimes even how to get motivated to do anything at all”

“We want to make the HOW of work effortless, by nudging users to the most effective behaviors that deliver the most consistent results” said Paul. “If we can take away the cognitive tax everyone pays on how they do their work, we can all achieve results much easier, and be able to shut down at the end of each day, knowing we’ve done great work, and excited to take on the next one.”

As we head towards the end of 2021, and hopefully out the pandemic, the team has seen the need for their solution only increase. “So many more people are working from home, and its blurring the lines between work and the rest of our lives even more” said Paul. “Many of us who started thinking they were working from home now just feel they are living at work. We’ve built our services to help people recreate that separation, to pull themselves away from work to recharge and be ready to take on the next day with enthusiasm – an optimized day to make people consistently effective over time.

In other words, working smart.