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8 Ways to Stop Working Long Hours

8 Ways to Stop Working Long Hours

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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    3. Prioritize

    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.

    4. Plan

    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.

    5. Delegate

    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.

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    6. Focus

    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

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    Last Updated on May 23, 2019

    Ditch Work Life Balance and Embrace Work Life Harmony

    Ditch Work Life Balance and Embrace Work Life Harmony

    How do you usually go about your day?

    Do you wake up in the morning, get ready for work, and then spend the whole day looking forward to being at home and unwinding?

    We often hear about work life balance – having a good balance between work and personal time. Whilst this may sound like a smart idea, it can also imply that we should dedicate at least half of our time to work–and sacrifice time for our “personal life”.

    To me, that seems…off balance. Because, the truth is, it’s nearly impossible to split your time equally between the two. And, you may end up stressing out if you’re not able to meet that expectation of balance.

    Instead, why not think of having work life harmony instead?

    With this mindset, you can actually integrate work into your life in a way that feels more complete. This way, you don’t need to view work and having personal time as separate.

    So, how do you achieve work life harmony?

    Work Life Harmony Explained

    The difference between work life balance and work life harmony is pretty simple. With the former, there is an implication that you have to sacrifice your “life” for work. But, this is the worst way to go about things! How can you truly be at peace in life if you dread 8 hours of your day?

    Work life harmony on the other hand, allows your work to be a part of your life. This means that you can choose to be happy both at home, and at work! Work no longer needs to be seen as the ‘bad’ or un-fun activity.

    Having work life harmony also ensures you’re truly present in whatever place you find yourself.

    Just take a look at Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon for example.

    He uses a non traditional approach to work by making time for breakfast every morning with his family, doesn’t set his alarm before going to bed, schedules surprisingly few meetings, and still puts aside a few minutes every day to wash his own dishes.

    He believes that all his staff should stop trying to achieve a ‘balance’ in their work and personal lives as that implies a trade off. Instead, he envisions a more holistic relationship between the two.

    As the world’s richest man, he must be doing something right!

    Rethink Time Management

    Now, when we think of striking a balance, we usually associate it with time, don’t we? How much time are we spending at work versus how much time are we spending in our personal lives?Are we taking enough time to be with our loved ones, to do meaningful activities with others or even for ourselves, or are we just dedicating all our time to work?

    This is the so-called-balance that many struggle with.

    With work life harmony, we learn to rethink time management. By re-assessing how you manage your time, you’ll have a lot more of it. It’s incredible how much time can get wasted over the period of a day–especially when you’re not accurately tracking it.

    Unfortunately, unless you’re consciously making an effort, your brain is not always the best at making accurate judgement calls when it comes to prioritizing. It tends to have a bias towards short term benefits and short term costs.

    As there are often many more options our brains link to short term benefit; when you’re trying to focus on a task that gives you a long term benefit, that task usually becomes low priority. This is otherwise known as Priority Chaos.

    In order to overcome this and be in better control of your time, identify the tasks that need the most focus to get accomplished. If it’s a big task, then it’s good to break it down into smaller bite-sized actions that will provide you with a clearer short term benefit.

    When setting up tasks, give yourself a time limit. The brain has a bias towards short term benefits, and your attention span is limited, so if your tasks are going to take ages to complete, you’ll end up losing focus… and wasting time.

    Once you have all your tasks written down, it’s time to prioritize them. Since you have a time limit, your focus should be on the top priority tasks. By doing this, you will already be able to get more done in less time at work!

    Have Passion for What You Do

    Managing your time is important in achieving that work life harmony. But, perhaps of greater importance, is loving what you do in life. One of the most effective ways to achieve a work life harmony is to really enjoy, or find a purpose, in what you do for a living. Even though everyone isn’t always lucky enough to find a position that pays them for pursuing their passion, you can strive to find meaning in what you are already doing, or pursue something new entirely!

    For example, say you work at an office that sells paper. While many people wouldn’t consider this a world changing pursuit, I beg to differ. Think of all the individuals in the world that rely on paper. From creative types to quantum physics experts, your role at your workplace brings incredible value to many many people all over the world. You will have, without a doubt, helped bring a new idea into existence. Several new ideas to be precise.

    So have a think about what you’re doing now. Is it something that allows you to embrace your passion?

    Or perhaps you might not even know what it is that you love or enjoy doing. Why not explore and reflect on what gives you joy and contentment? Is there an area or industry that you could see yourself exploring to experience that fulfillment?

    Can you find a deeper purpose in what you’re already doing?

    When you’re able to find meaning in your work, you’re that much closer to achieving work life harmony.

    Don’t Be Intimidated By Obstacles and Limitations

    Creating work life harmony is also about understanding yourself–which includes your limitations and past obstacles–as this allows you to become more resilient.

    If you never had to experience struggles, challenges or setbacks, then you would never be forced to adapt and mature. So in theory, having to face obstacles in life is actually quite necessary.

    Most of us think of setbacks and obstacles as negative. Though, if you’re able to maintain an optimistic attitude, you’ll almost always have a higher chance of success of overcoming those obstacles to reach your eventual goal.

    Your attitude towards setbacks will define the outcome of whether you rise from the challenge or remain stuck in it. So, in order to achieve work life harmony, it’s important to have a resilient attitude as challenges will always come your way–especially when you strive to integrate work into your life, and not a separate or dominant part of life.

    Delegate When You Need To

    Of course, when you want to increase productivity and minimize the time or effort spent, a great way to do so is to delegate!

    If you spend a lot of time doing tasks on your own that could be delegated to others (whether at work or at home) you’re losing a lot of precious free time that could otherwise be spent elsewhere.

    At the end of the day, we all have a limited amount of time. So we should all be striving to create a harmonious work and living situation where we can find meaning in all that we do.

    While an overall goal may be meaningful, not all of the milestones or tasks needed to get there may be meaningful. That’s because we have our strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. Not every task is going to be enjoyable or easy to complete. That’s where delegation comes in.

    Delegation simply allows you to leverage time from an external source, thus giving you opportunities to increase your own quality of time. Keep in mind that delegation should be done with deliberate attention, otherwise you may end up over relying on others.

    If you find that you’re running into the problem of over delegating, then it may be time to re-evaluate your motivation for doing whatever it is that you’re doing.

    Embrace the Circle and Become Happier and More Productive

    Living in harmony is about feeling good about the ways in which you spend your time, despite how busy you may be.Your switch from work mode to a more personal mode should be effortless. It’s about integrating your personal life and the things you love into your busy work life!

    It all begins with the shift in perspective. Understanding what your passions are, and learning to be resilient, before taking a different approach to the way you manage your time and everyday tasks.

    These are steps that you can start taking to move away from balance to harmony. 

    Featured photo credit: Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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