What would you give to work less, but actually accomplish the same amount of work or more? What would you do with an extra 10 or 20 hours a week?
Nap. Sing. Exercise. Do Yoga. Travel. Spend time with friends and family. Read. Cook. Take the dog to the park. Learn how to garden. Pick the kids up from school every day. Join a softball team. Learn Japanese. Take a pottery class…
Those are just a few dreamy ideas, but the possibilities are really endless if you only had more time. The truth is, with a little insight and a few time-saving tools, you can learn to work far less than you’re working today and still be a productive rock star.
Here are some quick ideas you can start incorporating into your routine to slice your hours at the office in half so you can spend more time doing the things you love to do.
If I added up the amount of hours I have spent in my lifetime sitting in on meetings where I wasn’t needed, I would have been able to take a six-month sabbatical to Southeast Asia. It would have been time far better spent.
If you get invited to a meeting and you are not critical to the agenda, ask the meeting leader to send you a recap. If you are only needed for a small portion of the meeting, request that they review your project first so you can leave when you’re no longer needed.
Setting clear agendas not only makes meetings more efficient, they help you politely decline when it’s not relevant to your mission-critical priorities.
The average amount of time Americans spend getting to work is 25.4 minutes. Double that to include your commute home and that’s nearly 51 minutes every day spent just in travel time. Add to that the time it takes to get ready for work, look professional, and chat with coworkers—and your time in the office is costing you at least a couple of hours every day.
Many companies are getting savvy to the fact that telecommuting makes employees more productive. Of course, this isn’t true for those without any discipline, but it is true for many. Also consider the amount of time wasted when you are being unproductive, but must stay seated at your desk because of your schedule. If you could use that time to take a personally productive break (run an errand, make a call, take a walk,) you’ll fill that wasted time with things you need to do anyway.
Multitasking is not some sort of badge of honor. In fact, it completely counters your productivity. When you task switch, you lose time in the “ramp-up” process, as your brain must switch and settle into a new task each time gears switch. These “ramp-up” minutes add up over time, especially when you are constantly shifting from one thing to another, and back again.
Do one thing at a time, period. You’ll work faster and smarter.
Find Your Sweet Spot
After some trial and error, you may find that you can put in a good 50 hours a week without sacrificing quality, you may find that anytime you’re at your desk for more than 4 hours, your brain turns to mush. You may operate best working three 12-hour shifts in a row, followed by a long weekend. You may work best early in the morning or late into the night. Or you may indeed find that 35 hours a week is, in fact, your sweet spot. You’ll have to do the research for yourself to find out.
Christine Carter, sociologist, researcher, and happiness expert, defines the sweet spot as “When you’re operating with the greatest ease, with the least resistance, and the greatest power of strength.”
Start observing yourself and your work habits. When are you operating at your sweet spot—feeling the least resistance and the greatest ease and strength? Once you discover that information for yourself, you’ll want to schedule your most important work accordingly.
Use Your CEO or Department Leader as an Example
Regardless of how you feel about your CEO, there is no way that he or she is responding to every email and every request. Instead, CEOs keep their focus on what is affecting their top priorities—often referred to as KPIs or Key Performance Indicators in the business world—and let the rest work itself out. If they attended every meeting they were invited to and answered every email that reached them, they would be spending a lot of time on issues that didn’t matter all that much.
Imagine if your success was only tied to two or three main things. In what ways would you shift your work habits? Consider limiting your meeting calendar and tasks to what matters most to your success.
Recognize When You’re Sharp – and When You’re Not
I’m a writer, so it’s quite obvious when I’m on a roll and when I’m not. When I’ve hit a wall, I write the same line down many different ways, over-edit my own work, and get writer’s block. When I’m on a roll, I can hit a stride and log 1,000 words in a half hour.
It is not effective for me to work through a writer’s block or unproductive work session. When I reach these points, I go for a walk or take a break to hit the reset button. When I return, I’m usually focused and ready to be productive again. Having the flexibility to manage my own schedule and work when my mind is focused is critical to getting my job done. I can log 40 hours while I’m unproductive, or I can split those hours up, with breaks between to capture my sharpest moments at my computer.
Many jobs will require you to be in the office from 8 to 5, or 9 to 6. But there’s a shift to flexible schedules and many managers and companies are open to exploring new ways of working.
If you aren’t tied to a schedule, explore your work rhythm. Are you most productive first thing in the morning when no one is in the office yet? After a run or yoga class? In the evenings? Try new schedules and find out what works for you. When your output increases, your boss won’t mind if you’re working at 11am or 11pm; in fact, they may ask for your secret.
The human mind cannot focus on more than one thing at a time. So when your smart phone is dinging with a new text, or you take in sips of Facebook throughout your focus time, you are pulling yourself out of the productive mindset, and watering it down with a dose of distraction. You can get texts, check Facebook, and chat with co-workers, just turn it all off when you’re focused on your priorities—unless you want it to take twice as long. But you’re reading this article, which infers you are interested in cutting down your work time.
So whenever you sit down for a productive, heavy-thinking session, turn off all notifications—and that includes vibrate.
Make a Short List at the End of Each Day
When you declare you’re done for the day, make a to-do list that only includes three things for the next day. You may be tempted to add more than three things, but don’t. If you’re feeling stressed and it’s because you have too much to do, take five minutes to write down all that’s swimming in your head – and then from there, prioritize the top three.
Removing items off your to-do list that aren’t important so you can focus on what is, is incredibly helpful to reduce overwhelm. Remember, if your to-do list is overwhelmed, chances are you are, too. And it’s hard to focus and be productive when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Yes, that’s right—as much as distractions kill your productivity, you also deserve a break. If you strategically place your distracting vices in your day, they won’t be destructive.
Call it the modern-day smoke break—just limit the amount of time allotted for these distractions to about the amount of time it takes to smoke a cigarette, say 10 minutes, and to times when you are noticing your productivity slide anyway.
When it becomes obvious that you need a quick break, use that time to:
- Take a quick walk
- Stretch, do jumping jacks
- Grab a snack or cup of tea
- Check your email
- Hop on social media
- Chat with a coworker
Make sure to set a timer so you limit yourself to 10 minutes. This will prevent the downward spiral that distractions can offer.
Set aside 30 minutes each day or two hours a week to tackle the little things. If you don’t, they’ll either pile up and haunt you, leaving you feeling stressed and guilty that you haven’t paid a bill or called Sally in accounting back yet, or you’ll constantly be doing these little things without a limit.
Each time you switch tasks, you have to acclimate to the new project, however small. When you batch similar types of work—especially mindless work that doesn’t require real thinking—you track through it all swiftly.
Try batching things like:
- Paying bills
- Opening mail
- Online shopping, travel planning, and reservations
- Phone calls
- Making appointments
You can either schedule this type of work for your least productive hour of the day, or tackle it when you’re in an inefficient place and need a break from your real work.
Hire a Virtual Assistant
Speaking of busywork, are there any tasks that you don’t personally need to do? If you value your time—and make more hourly than it would cost to hire a virtual assistant (VA)—you might consider delegating some of your weekly tasks to an assistant. VAs are great for personal tasks like:
- Researching a product or service
- Buying birthday or holiday presents
- Planning an event
- Making dinner reservations
- Scheduling appointments
Look for a VA with an expertise related to your job, and they can also step in with work tasks and projects. Once you find one you like and they get to know you, you may even find they are qualified to handle more important tasks, too.
De-clutter Your Space
If your environment (especially your desk) is cluttered, chances are your mind is cluttered, too. And when your mind is cluttered, it takes longer to focus and accomplish to-dos.
Schedule a time to tidy up your space, intentionally choose to keep only items that are beautiful and useful to you, and let the rest go. As Japanese cleaning consultant and bestselling author, Marie Kondo wrote in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, “Tidying ought to be the act of restoring balance between people, their possessions, and the house they live in.” It is difficult to find balance when you live and work in a cluttered space. Do yourself a favor and clear your space to find that balanced mind.
Say No More Often
Not important? Not going to affect your top priorities? “Sorry pal, no can do,” should be your response. While saying no is a difficult skill to learn, it’s important to remember that a No to one thing, allows for a Yes to something you really want to do.
Check out my posts on Saying No for ideas on how to maintain your kindness but also limit your obligations—so that your top priorities are yours and not someone else’s:
How do you spend your time? And how do you want to spend your time? If there’s a large gap between your responses to these two questions, you may want to incorporate some of these time- and energy-saving strategies.