How to Work Less

Two Methods:For the Self- or Flexibly- EmployedFor the "Very" Employed

It is possible to limit your work week by following a strategy that helps increase your productivity without increasing your hours. The key is to set a limit, but how you go about achieving the limit is the hard part. Here are some suggestions for limiting your work week.

Method 1
For the Self- or Flexibly- Employed

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    Set your limit. Decide the maximum amount of time you are willing to work in a week. It is suggested to set something like 4 days a week. You might be ambitious and shoot for 3 days, or even less. Or you might go for 5 days a week, 6 hours each day instead of 8 hours. Whatever seems ideal to you, go for it!
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    Identify the essential. If you have less time to do your work, how do you get that done? You have two choices: 1) work faster; or 2) do less work. It is recommended to take the second option. You need to determine what exactly you really need to accomplish within the limits you’ve set for yourself. If you cut your work week by 20%, for example, you need to cut out 20% of your work. That means identifying what must be done, and what can be put off. Make a short list. Do what must be done first, and don’t muck around.
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    Eliminate the rest. If you have a short list of your essential tasks, take a look at what’s not essential. Is there any way to eliminate it? Delegate it? Outsource it? Delay it? Think hard about this, because if you can somehow eliminate 20% of your list, you’ve made huge strides to meeting your self-set limits.
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    Batch. If there’s something you do every day, consider batching it all into one day. For example, you can write all your invoices at once instead of doing them every day. It saves time. You could do that with almost anything. Same thing goes for something you do throughout the day, like email or phone calls. Consider batching tasks like that into one session per day.
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    Do it in stages. If you have a big cut in work hours as your goal, you might not be able to accomplish it all at once. Go for a gradual change. First, set a smaller limit (maybe 1 hour less per day, for example, or only a half day on Fridays). Focus on making that first stage work, and when you’ve got that down, make further cuts. Keep doing this until you get to where you ultimately want to be.
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    Decide what to do with excess time. Setting limits on your work isn’t going to work if you don’t know what you want to do with that extra time. Decide on working 1 hour less each day? What are you going to do with that hour? It can be anything: fun projects, creating a side business, spending time with loved ones, reading, exercising, going to the beach, whatever. But set aside that block (or blocks) of time for something, and be sure to do it.
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    Watch communication tasks. Whether it’s email, phone, IM, Skype, Twitter or whatever, you can fill your work day with communication tasks. It will fill the time allotted to it. Instead, allot a small amount of time for each vital communication method (30 minutes for IM, 30 minutes for phone, 1 hour for email, or whatever) and don’t allow anything outside of that limit.

Method 2
For the "Very" Employed

Although many of the steps above are applicable to both self-employed, flexibly-employed and very employed people, there are more restrictions and expectations on those who are "very" employed. Most people don’t exactly control their work days or weeks. Part of the issue is developing a work consciousness and culture in which flexibility is important and in which once essential work is done, there is less need to have employees hanging around. But that isn't how most companies think! So how can you apply "haiku productivity" to your work week in that case? It’s still possible, but it’s more limited. The following steps provide some additional wriggle space for those of you desperately seeking some limits on the work week.

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    Manage expectations. You need to start with a conversation with your boss about expectations he or she has of your work. Talk about wanting to be more productive, which doesn’t mean producing more, but producing more important stuff. And then make that happen. If you can change the expectations that people have of you, you are well on your way. Here are some questions to raise:
    • What is it that they really want you to accomplish?
    • Is it so important where or how long it takes for you to accomplish that?
    • If you are able to do it from home, or in fewer hours, would that matter?
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    Use free time for other projects. You might be able to free up time by limiting your work to 6 hours a day (for example). But perhaps you can’t just leave work after 6 hours. Instead, use the extra time for new projects (work-related or otherwise, depending on the flexibility you have) that you’ve wanted to work on but couldn’t.
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    Work from home. If you can work from home, you’re set. You need to show your boss, through a one or two day trial run, that you can actually produce more from home. Know what your boss wants you to complete for that day, and do that and more. Once you get approved to telecommute, you can then set your work hours. Just be sure to get the work done, but how you do that is up to you.
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    Move to task goals, not time goals. This goes back to managing expectations, but you want your boss to set goals for you that are based on tasks or projects, not on how long you work. If you can do that, you have taken a big step towards being able to limit your work hours.


  • If you find yourself being more unproductive at certain times of the day, plan breaks. Your free time might even be a walk outside away from work to clear your head. Better a half hour of clearing your head and racing through the work happily on your return than plodding away with a sore head without the walk.

Sources and Citations

  • Original source of article, Zen Habits, Haiku Productivity: Limit Your Work Week, shared with appreciation under copyright-free generosity. Please visit and support those who freely share information.

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