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Minimize Work: Cut Your Work Week in Half in 6 Steps

Minimize Work: Cut Your Work Week in Half in 6 Steps
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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    Leo Babauta

    Founder of Zen Habits and expert in habits building and goals achieving.

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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