Reducing your work hours by increasing your engagement at work isn’t just a far-off goal. It’s not something you’ll get to when you find your dream job. It can be your reality today.
The secret is that no one will give it to you; you have to make it happen for yourself.
Step 1: List Your Work
Invest 30 minutes right now to think about your work. Write down all your tasks in one of the following three categories:
- Work that allows for effortless focus from you.
- Work for which you can crank out relatively quickly and easily with the use of a little self-discipline.
- Work that you dread, aren’t engaged in, and that takes a Herculean effort to force yourself to stay focused on.
You may find that some columns are shorter than others or completely empty. That’s okay! Here’s a sample from my list:
|Effortless||Some Discipline Needed||Herculean Effort|
|Planning of any kind: project, strategic, communication planning||Writing blog||All bookkeeping tasks|
|Problem-solving with others||Reading industry updates and magazines||Keeping my inbox clear|
|Designing new programs||Following up on outstanding items from others|
Now that you see it all in black and white, the goal is to focus on the effortless work and figure out what to do with the other two columns.
Congratulations! You’re on a roll! If you can carve out 30 more minutes, do it now. If not, block 30 minutes first thing tomorrow morning for the next step.
Step 2: Analyze What You Could Change
As you think about how you can change the tasks in the second and third columns, consider if much of what’s listed are essential parts of your job. For example, if you’re drained by hiring new team members and giving performance feedback, but you are the manager, you’ll want to consider if the job is right for you.
But let’s assume that’s not the case. Look at each task, and consider each of the following four questions, in this order.
Can it be eliminated?
We end up doing a lot of things because we’ve always done them. This is the first question because if you remove something from your list, you won’t have to bother with the next three questions.
Get in the habit of continually questioning what you do and whether it even needs to be done! Focus on increasing the amount of time you spend on mission-critical tasks that move the organization forward and reduce time on other things.
Common tasks for the chopping block are reports that no one finds valuable anymore and meetings that have become inefficient and ineffective.
Can it be automated?
Automation doesn’t have to require fancy software. Sometimes a simple spreadsheet can dramatically automate a task.
If you need help on this one, reach out to a strong Administrative Assistant or IT colleague for ideas.
Can it be delegated?
The rule of thumb here is to only do the things that you and only you are best qualified to do. If someone else could do it just as well or even better, delegate it or discuss it with someone who has the authority to do so.
Of course, you wouldn’t delegate giving performance reviews to someone else. There is some work that are essential functions of your job, but you’ll likely find there are lots of other tasks that are open for delegation!
Can it be improved?
In other words, how can we move it one or two columns to the left? Is there a way to re-frame the task in your mind so it’s more engaging by focusing on the people that are helped by the task? Is there a way to add more creativity to the work so that it’s more interesting to you?
If you’re like me, you may find that it’s just starting the task that takes a lot of discipline, but that once you’ve begun, you quickly get pulled in. For those, identify ways to make it easier to get started.
That may be a little self-discipline like blocking time for it first thing in the morning and resisting the urge to check your email or other distraction of choice until later. (This one works well for me!)
Using discipline to get started but not needing it to get all the way through is a wise and effective use of your energy.
Step 3: Implement the Top Idea
You’ve almost reached your target of getting more done and working fewer hours!
The time step 3 will take will vary greatly depending on what they are. If it’s eliminating something, it may simply be dropping it, or it may require communicating with others to determine if it is something that can be stopped.
Don’t try to tackle them all at once. Start with the one change to your work that will save you the most time. Even if it’s one hour a week, over a year, you’ve found yourself a full work week of time to rest and rejuvenate outside of the office!
Once you implement the top idea, make a plan to implement at least one more each week, and gradually move the time you leave work up in 30-minute increments.
Track your improvement by writing down how many hours you’re working right now, and then measure again at the end of every month.
Seeing your improvement will inspire you to make this exercise a continual part of your work planning process so that you don’t inadvertently slip back into the long-hour grind.
Quality Over Quantity
You now understand how limiting your work hours can increase your productivity. You know the role of focusing on the most important work. You have a simple method for shifting to more high engagement work to increase your focus and resulting productivity.
Now go out and celebrate your success in your new free-time!
For more productivity tips, click here.
Before you go, what one thing will you change today to enable you to reduce your work time? You can leave your answer in a comment below.
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