Working long hours can be inevitable when you work in a corporate set-up, especially for people in operations and professionals, such as accountants, lawyers, engineers and those in finance. There are constant deadlines and an endless workload to get through.
As a practicing professional accountant, I often find myself working long hours just to finish financial reports and tax returns so my clients can submit them before the deadline. There will be certain days when I’m the first to come in to the office and last to come out. This was especially so during the first few months of setting up my accounting firm.
In the beginning, I didn’t have staff, so I did everything on my own: from answering inquiries, meeting with clients, closing engagements, picking up and sorting documents, bookkeeping and tax preparation, to filing and paying the tax return at the bank and the government offices. As the number of clients increased, the workload also increased commensurately, which lead me to work longer hours.
Working for long hours eventually had me exhausted and stressed. The thought of quitting entered my mind. The business started to feel like a burden instead of a blessing. Such negative emotion was triggered by stress and exhaustion.
To help me cope with the situation I talked to my husband to ask his advice, and I also started reading books on management: both time and business. From both these sources I learned ways to stop (or at least minimize) working long hours, without sacrificing productivity, quality of work, and, of course, income.
In this article, I’ll share with you 8 ways to help you reduce or stop working long hours.
1. Begin with the end in mind
My husband reminded me of an important principle I learned from the book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. That is: begin with the end in mind. This principle simply means before you start anything, you should already be thinking of the end, such as the future result or output. Allocate your time and align your actions to this end.
2. Identify the value-adding vs. the non-value adding
Now that you have the end in mind, the next step is to identify value-adding activities – tasks of great value to the end result – and non-value adding activities – tasks of less value to the end result. To help you do this, list down all the tasks you do, and then classify each task as value-adding and non-value adding. Your goal is to do more of those that are value-adding activities while eliminating non-value adding activities.
After identifying value-adding activities, you need to set priorities to determine which task should be done first, and which is going to be last. When you set priorities, your criteria can be based on value, importance, time and urgency.
Now that you already know the output you want to accomplish, have identified tasks that are value-adding, and have set priorities, the next step is to make a schedule of when to execute tasks within a given time. It’s best if you can create a weekly and monthly plan, and then stick to it.
Oftentimes, the reason why we work for long hours is because we want to do everything on our own. This is mostly because we don’t trust other people to do the work the way we want it. But in order for you to stop working long hours, and to grow, you need to start trusting other people and delegate tasks to them. Remember the saying: “two heads are better than one.” When you delegate tasks to other people, you have more time to focus on value-adding activities so you can accomplish more results.
Another important way to be more efficient at work is to keep your focus. I used to believe in multitasking, that is, doing many things all at the same time. But it only lead me to exhaustion. It was my husband who pointed out to me the importance of focus – just doing one thing at a time. He explained that when you focus on a single activity at a time, you are more efficient and effective in accomplishing the task. It eliminates the confusion and exhaustion brought on by multitasking.
7. Avoid distractions like social media, web surfing and emails
One of the possible reasons that people spend more hours at work is because of unproductive distractions like reading personal emails, texting, web surfing and constantly logging in to social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and the like. Avoid these distracting activities during working hours. It’s best if you restrict them to only a few minutes during break time.
8. Set a deadline on your tasks
The last but not least way to stop working long hours is to set a deadline for each task. This is helpful for both work and non-work related activities. Setting a deadline gives you appropriate signals and pressure on when to begin and to end each task. This will eliminate the idle time spent trying to figure out what to do next or when to stop.
On a final note, let me share with you an important quote on time management:
Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials. – Lin Yutang