#18 Morten Hansen: Do Less, Then Obsess. How to Work Smarter

In the latest podcast episode of Future Forecast with Isabelle Ringnes, we were joined by Morten Hansen who reveals the true meaning of smart working. Morten, a well-known leadership expert and an award-winning researcher, applies his effective working methods to everything he tackles. He is also a best-selling author and a professor at University of California, Berkeley. His philosophy is to scrap the long working hours and “do less, then obsess,” which is one of his key principles of working better.

Performance is not defined by hours

Morten used to work 90-hour weeks and thought that was the only way to success. Then one day he wanted to talk to a colleague about her excellent work but he could not find her in the office in the evening. It turned out that his colleague left the office much earlier. This was a turning point in Morten’s career.


Over the years Morten has led a lot of research on how top performers work better and achieve more. In a ground-breaking five-year study Morten’s team analyzed how 5,000 top performers all over the world approached their work. He found strong commonalities that he divided into seven work practices. He concluded that high-achievers, across many fields and geographical locations, focus only on the things that matter the most and “apply intense targeted effort” to these tasks.

When a handful of projects are done really well with obsessed attention then more is achieved, which is what “work smart not hard” actually means says Morten. It is becoming more apparent that working non-stop does not equal productivity. A well-cited study by The Draugiem Group, a Latvian technology company, used a time-tracking application it developed to measure work habits of its employees. The results interestingly showed that its top performers work intensely for a short period of time, followed by a break, and they did not surpass eight hours in a day. Productivity and quality is not defined by the number of hours.

Real value is needed

Morten highlights that large companies are “drowning in the complexity of their own making,” so they must simplify and use meaningful success measures. To monitor how many hours people work is a “myth we need to kill.” Instead, leaders should understand how value is created in their business. Are customers getting what they need and what was promised? Morten recalled an interesting anecdote where a hospital measured its success through the number of patients who received the right treatment, rather than how many patients came through.

Business success starts with the individuals in a business; they must individually understand how they can add value. Taking this even further, individuals should figure out their purpose in the workplace. Purpose is “what you can give the world, not what the world can give you” says Morten. Once purpose has been figured out then passion should ideally follow. With this combination value can be added through focused energy.

Encourage debate

Individuals must work collectively but think differently. This is why diversity is important, but Morten underscores that diversity is nothing if there is no debate. Companies need diversity with diverse opinions to get the best ideas off the ground and turn them into reality through targeted working.

  • Interested to hear more from Morten Hansen? Listen to the Future Forecast episode below to learn how to work smarter, not harder: