Cutting work time is not always simple. It is, however, possible. I used to work 16 or more hours per day. My lifestyle, health, family, and my capacity for logical decision making were starting to pay the price.
It seemed no matter how many systems I put in place, how much technology I purchased, or how many staff members I hired, I could not get my hours under control. So, here’s what I did:
The Simple Process: (Don’t worry, the hard part is coming!)
Cut your work time 15 to 20 minutes per day. I chose 20 minutes because I knew how many hours per day I wanted to work by a certain date in the future. In my case I wanted to work less than 4 hours per day to spend the time with my children I wanted during the summers and free up time for creating business opportunities throughout the rest of the year.
I needed to cut 12 hours per day from my schedule. At 20 minutes per day, over the course of 36 workdays (or 7 weeks and 1 day) I would cut my work time down to 25% of its previous life-sucking amount.
The hard part: (You asked for it!)
“How the heck can you get your job done in four hours per day?” I analyzed my time and realized that the key functions of my job – leading my team and actual face or phone time with clients – could easily fit in four hours per day. The rest of my time was spent managing my own processes, emails, calendaring, chasing down project management, discussing potential IT solutions, looking at marketing programs, writing copy, drafting contracts, and communicating about the same things over and over and over. Sound familiar?
Every day I set an alarm for 20 minutes earlier than the previous workday – 8:00PM became 7:40 PM and so on. By Day 3 I had just recaptured an hour! Voila!
After a week this started getting very hard. I was putting things off that we’re going to catch up with me. I was neglecting leadership opportunities. I wasn’t tracking down new client relationships. I was giving up the most important things and replacing them with urgent things like emails, IT solutions and marketing webinars.
Obviously, most things in my schedule were relatively important, however, not all things are important for me to do. I began to really use the systems and staff l had. I began to frantically use my shrinking number of hours to actually utilize systems and train staff, rather than having meetings about the same things over and over again. I was spending almost an hour a day talking about stuff I was talking about last week. Ahhhh!
By week three I was making significant headway, but it was easy to start work a little early (cheating the system so I could get more time in before my timer went off in the afternoon) or quitting maybe five or 10 minutes late every now and then. It was time for accountability. Who better than my wife and five kids? 🙂
So I brought home a stack of $1 bills. I told everyone that every minute past the daily deadline that I was late getting home, I would give each person one dollar per minute. Walking in the door talking on the phone counts as being late. No texting either! After $162 I was cured of my problem. (I’m a slow learner.)
Lastly, I made a rule that said I could not start earlier than a certain time per day, or if I did, I would shift my end time accordingly. I was definitely making progress and finding ways to keep myself from cheating. It’s amazing how many ways we find to cheat ourselves out of what we actually want.
From there on it was fairly smooth sailing. It was hard, no doubt, but it was do-able. I quickly became very efficient at creating a process, training staff and using technology. I got down to the four hours per day I had hoped for. I became so enthralled with this process I kept going. Before long I was down to two hours per day! Over the course of the next 12 months I got that down to 30 to 45 minutes per day of work time. OH YEAH!
I know that may sound incredible and hard to reach, but I’m not the only person doing this. It just takes a reasonable understanding of what can be accomplished, a clear knowledge of how to use the tools and empower the people who work with you, a well defined process, and accountability.
Still not sure if you can do this?
Invention is born of necessity. We all experience this on a regular basis. If a coworker is out sick for a month, we pick up the slack. If we need a vacation, we take a week off. Sure, there is more work to be done the day before and after vacation than usual. Also, there is more work to be done when a coworker is out. But have you ever measured this time? When we take a week of vacation we don’t literally do an extra week of work when we get back. When someone fills in for a sick coworker, that person is not doing double the work. Many things that can wait, or are unimportant, get pushed aside. Sometimes completely done away with. What’s going on here is a forced sense of urgency which corresponds to forced prioritization of tasks.
Prioritizing our responsibilities and tasks is nothing new. We all do it all the time. After all, no matter how much you work you have to eventually sleep. No matter how few days of vacation you take off, your eventually have to take at least one day. Because you don’t have infinite time and infinite capacity, you are prioritizing responsibilities and tasks. You are doing the ones you feel are most important and rejecting the ones you believe to be less important. The method of decreasing the amount of time spent on the work that I used does not suggest changing how you rank your priorities. It’s simply a way of forcing or imposing a sense of urgency that demands you accomplish your tasks and responsibilities more quickly, or that you reduce the number of tasks for which your are responsible. You may be surprised how your priorities shift during this process. It’s a normal part of the purging process. It’s hard, but it works. Don’t give up!
Reducing your work schedule just happens to be a simple goal to reach. It’s easy to calculate, reasonable to put processes around and simple to execute.
My staff and I have helped many people accomplish similar goals. I hope this has helped you realize what you can do next to cut those work hours. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s get those questions answered and get you away from work and back to living as soon as possible!