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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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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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