By Leo Babauta
Even though our modern lives have an incredible number of time-saving devices, we seem to end up working more and more all the time. From time-saving devices in the home (microwave, the robot vacuum, and dishwasher, to name three), to time-saving devices at work (spreadsheets, email, Internet, etc.), we don’t seem to be able to take advantage of the time saved and claim it for ourselves.
Let’s claim that time and decide, from this day on, to work less.
- Reduce your work hours. Give yourself a set amount of time to work each day and each week, and stick to it. You’ll find yourself becoming more productive during the time you actually work, because you have to get your stuff done faster. To help you stick with your new work hours, set appointments for 30 minutes after you’re supposed to get off work. So if you tell yourself you’re absolutely going to leave work at 5 p.m. (or even better, at 3 p.m.), set an appointment for 5:30 p.m. and stick to it. Make it a doctor’s appointment, or a barber or beauty shop, or an appointment with your spouse or kids or workout partner. Whatever you do, stick to it. Best tip yet: cut your work week down to 4 days (or even 3). You’ll find that you can do all you need to do within that time period.
- Work from home. More and more people are finding ways to work from home, to either do their current job by telecommuting or to find a new career that doesn’t require them to work at the office. Consider this for yourself — write up a proposal to your boss, telling her how this will make you more productive and save money for the company. Or think of other job options that are more flexible. This step alone won’t save you work hours, because you can end up working even more, but you have to combine it with step 1 above — limit your work hours in the home, and set very strict boundaries for yourself.
- Have set email or RSS times. Don’t allow yourself to be available to the world every minute of the day. Set times when you will check and respond to email, or read your feed reader, or check your voicemail, and stick to them. You really don’t need to be connected all the time — people were somehow able to survive without it before. Now take that time that you save from responding to email, and claim it by reducing your work hours as in step 1 above. Also, now that you’re not being interrupted all the time, focus more, as in step 4 below.
- Become focused. If you want to work less, then become better at getting tasks done. That means you need to stop multi-tasking and focus on doing the task before you. Shut off all distractions, reduce distracting clutter, and focus on the one task before you. Get into a state of “flow” and really pour yourself into your task. This will make you more productive, meaning you can get more done in the smaller amount of time you set for yourself, instead of constantly becoming distracted, interrupted, and switching from task to task.
- Set time boxes. Parkinson’s Law says that a task will expand to fill the time available for it. So only give yourself a limited amount of time to complete a task, and you’ll do it. It may seem paradoxical, but it works. Give yourself 30 minutes to complete something, or an hour. If the task is too large to complete in an hour, break it into smaller tasks, and time box those smaller tasks.
- Do only the big tasks with big returns. Of all the tasks on your to-do list, which is the most important? Not the one that will take the most time, or that you want to do least. The most important task is the one that will give you the biggest return, however you measure that in your job. In freelance writing, that’s the article that will pay the most for the least amount of time spent on it. In programming, that might be the program that will become a giant killer, that will get you a million downloads, that will make a name for you in the programming world. All the rest is just busy-work — focus only on the key tasks with the most value.
- Outsource the rest. If a task or project doesn’t give you a huge amount of value, you shouldn’t be doing it. Give it to someone who needs the work. Find the repetitive tasks, the ones that need to be done but that aren’t worth your time, and hire someone else to do it for less. If it’s something that doesn’t really need to be done, eliminate it. Be ruthless with your time — you don’t need to be spending a million hours working.
- Reduce your commitments. You probably have too much on your plate. If you edit your commitments, you can reduce your workload and the amount of time you need to work.
- Shut off the computer. The biggest distraction ever invented. I know, you need the computer to work. But if you set limits for how long you’re on the computer, and shut it off the rest of the time, you’ll find that you get everything you need done within those limits. Don’t allow yourself to be on the computer all the time, or you’ll never be done. There’s always something else to do, something interesting to read.
- Change jobs. Does your current job not give you the flexibility to implement these tips? Then start looking for a new job. There are a million of them out there. Look online. If you’ve got skills (and you may have more skills than you think if you give it some thought), you can market them and find a job that fits your needs. Be confident in your skills, and ask for enough pay that you don’t need to work 40 hours a week or more to make ends meet. If you work 60 hours now, and double your pay, you only need to work 30 hours. If you don’t have the skills you need now, start learning them while working your current job. Important: don’t quit your job until you have another lined up.
Bonus tip: Find ways to make passive income. This is income that you don’t need to do much to earn every week. Investments, a web site that is self-sustaining, a business that doesn’t require your active management … these are just a few ideas for passive income. This will require an initial investment of capital or time, but once it’s going, you’ll be making money without having to work.
Reclaim your time and suddenly you’ll have a whole bunch of extra time to work on your life goals, to relax and de-stress yourself, to spend time with family and friends, to read, to educate yourself, to work on a hobby, to exercise. It’ll be one of the most important things you do.