Let’s assume for a moment that you work too much and you’re not that happy with that arrangement. You’d like to work as little as possible, maximize the time you do work, and make time for the stuff that really matters for you — your loved ones, your passions, exercise, hobbies, fun.
It’s possible. It’s not easy, and it takes some sacrifices, but if you really work at it, you can cut your work week in half.
It will require you to step back and re-design your work life. It will require some major life changes. But they are worth the effort. Here’s how to do it, in six steps:
1. Become super valuable. If you’re not already one of the top performers in your company, or an expert or extremely knowledgeable in a valuable area, this will be your first priority. You must become extremely valuable. This will mean that you’ll need to educate yourself, at work and after hours, and dedicate yourself to learning a skill set that most people do not have. This could take months, if you don’t already have a jump in this area. Burn the midnight oil, educate yourself on weekends, find a mentor, read books and websites, and practice. If you work at it, you can become an expert and have a skill set that will be valuable not just at your workplace, but wherever you decide to go.
2. Work for yourself. Once you’re super valuable, you’ve got what it takes to quit your job. Why give all this value to a company when you could be giving it to yourself? Cut out the middleman and hire out your services directly. As an interim step, you could do this as a side business while still working for your job. Or better yet, convince your work to let you work from home, reduce your salary and hours, and start up your side business while still getting a steady (if reduced) income from your regular job. Just be sure this isn’t a conflict of interest with your day job — you don’t want to get into any ethical tangles. If you’re super valuable, your day job will allow you to work from home rather than lose you.
3. Raise your rates. In order to support your lifestyle on half your work week, you’ll need to make the same (or more) money while working fewer hours. This means you’ll need to make a higher pay per hour. Figure out what you’ll need to make per month, divide that by the number of hours you want to work, and that’s your new hourly rate. If that’s way too high compared to the industry average, you’ll need to either be way better than everyone else, or you’ll need to find a way to lower your income needs. You can do this by reducing your spending and your overhead costs. Simplify to work less.
4. Know your biggest ROI tasks. Which are the tasks that will really make you money, that will make a name for you, that will give you the most bang for your buck? Find those truly valuable Most Important Tasks (MITs) each week and each day, and you will know what you need to concentrate on. Eliminate as much of the rest of your tasks (and distractions) as possible, and cut your work down to these MITs. Be brutal. If it’s not going to make you a lot of money, or pay off big time for you in the long term, eliminate it.
5. Set your hours. OK, you’ve done a lot of work to get to this step, but you’re now at that beautiful stage where you can control your work week. How many hours do you want to work? Don’t consider how many you think you need to work. Only consider how many you want to work. Now plot those hours in your work day and your work week. This is your new work schedule. Isn’t it wonderful? This is the payoff for the work in the first four steps.
6. Focus. OK, you’ve set your dream work week, and you know what tasks you should be doing during those hours (your MITs), and you’ve set a pay rate that’s high enough to support you financially. Now you just need to do the MITs within the hours you set. To do this, you’ll need to eliminate all distractions. Yes, ALL distractions. Email, feeds, IM, Twitter, Digg, forums, phone calls, TV, DVDs. Everything. Clear the clutter from your work space. Turn off all computer notifications. Now really do those tasks. If you’ve simplified your task list down to your MITs for the day, you don’t even need to worry about your productivity system. Just crank it out. Set a timer and really get into the flow of your work.
And when you’re done with your MITs, log your billable work, and get away from the computer. Go out and enjoy life.
Leo Babauta blogs regularly about achieving goals and becoming productive through daily habits on Zen Habits. Read his articles on Zen To Done (ZTD), the Top 50 Productivity Blogs, doubling your productivity, keeping your inbox empty, becoming an early riser, and the Top 20 Motivation Hacks.