At the end of every work day you should have an immense sense of accomplishment. If you don’t have this feeling every day, then something is broken. The good news is it can be fixed…and without working longer hours. In fact, the way to address this is to work less! Up to 80% less! Before you call B.S. on me, take a moment to relax and read today’s blog. It will definitely be worth your time. I will show you how to have more time for everything that is important to you.
Let’s start by cutting down the time wasters: emails, meetings, office politics and chit chat. You will soon learn how to reduce these often senseless things, which will save you 1 to 2 hours per day. The effect these have on your productivity is two fold, not just for the time they take from you, but for how they take away your ability to focus on important tasks.
Recognize that a lot of what you spend your time on at work is noise. Emails should be used to communicate status, while meetings should have one purpose: to answer open questions resulting in a decision or next step. If you are having status meetings and debates over email here’s what I suggest: Do not accept a meeting without an agenda which clearly states the problem that will be solved. If the length of the meeting seems excessive, challenge this and ask for it to be shortened. It’s human nature to fill time. An hour-long meeting reduced to 30 minutes will help all involved to stay on task.
Emails are not your priority. You should turn off email alerts and resolve to check emails as little as possible: once or twice a day. When you start your work day, you should focus on the most important thing. To do this create a simple daily to do list – each item on the list should state the deliverable (what), recipient (who) and the list should be in priority order (why and when). Estimate how much time each task will take. If a task will take more than 60 minutes break it down into smaller tasks. Plan for unknowns with a 25% buffer – for example: if you plan to work on task list items for 4 hours then you should only put 3 hours of tasks on your list for the day. Commit to working only on your list in priority order and ignore all distractions! Once you get good at estimating your daily to do’s, start making weekly to do lists.
Avoiding small talk in the office and on phone calls is an art that once mastered will make you one of the most efficient people on staff. When navigating the office, avoid talking about personal information and rumors. Keep conversations on-point, resolving work questions you or your coworkers may have. Really, not being at work at all is the best way to avoid all the nonsense. In fact, working at home is also the best solution if working less is your goal. If you don’t think your boss will go for that, ask for a trial and show her/him just how much more work you get done on those days.
However, if you must be in an office, find out where the quiet parts of the building are and move your desk there. If you can’t move, then wear headphones while you work – even if you aren’t listening to anything, you will be surprised how people will avoid you. When people interrupt your work, be up front and let them know you are very busy before they start. If they don’t have a relevant work question, they will usually go on their merry way. If not, you could offer to have them help you with your work.
How’d we do with axing the time wasters? There’s more you say? Oh yes…all those administrative or remedial tasks that must be done as part of your job. Well, there’s a great way to cut those down 1 to 3 hours a day as well: delegate to a virtual assistant (VA). You may be surprised at what a VA could do for you – common skills include: email/schedule management, data management, file storage/organizing, travel assistance, research, marketing services, sales assistance, social media, web development, graphic design, presentations, media editing and content writing, or even personal tasks. A great thing about using a VA company is that you can try different VAs before settling on an individual who really understands your needs and gets things done for you, your way. A VA in the USA will usually cost between $15-$30 per hour. If that’s too much, you can consider VAs from from other countries. This is a big industry in India and the Philippines with companies like Taskvirtual and Taskbullet, respectively. Both of these companies have VA rates that run about $8 per hour if you require 60 hours a month, with the per hour cost going down if you need more help. An added benefit of working with a VA on the other side of the world is that they can also work while you sleep.
With the time wasters whittled down, you now have time to get to work on your top priority the moment you start your work day. Don’t even think about looking at emails and avoid meetings until 11am! You should be able to get through most of your priority list before then. Your brain works the best at this time, especially if you exercised just before – you’ll be at your creative best with the blood flowing and endorphins pumping. Your ability to focus on these most important tasks rather than having to deal with constant context switching to the distractions noted above should save you an additional 1 to 2 hours per day.
We’re not done yet. Potentially, the most important thing you can do to work less is to conduct an 80/20 analysis of your work. Which parts of your work are giving you the most results? You will likely find that 20% of your efforts are leading to the most significant 80% of your outputs. Making this apparent to those you work with, to the point where you are able to focus on that 20% all the time, you could get up to 5x more done! Or you could decide to keep some of that time for yourself, saving an upwards of 5 hours a day…especially if you work from home.
Follow the tips in this blog and you will get more done in less time, plus you will enjoy your work more. If you need help, put my proven record with 15 years experience as a corporate program manager to work for you: contact me. At this point you might be having one of those “if I only knew then what I know now” moments. Well, let’s pay it forward and help others so they can get to that point quicker. If you have kids, there is plenty we can do so they have less of those moments later in life. In my next blog, I’ll discuss methods for setting your kids up for success with their own foundation for an organized life.