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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.

    The Gentle Art of Saying No How to Find Your Passion and Live a Fulfilling Life Simple Productivity: 10 Ways to Do More by Focusing on the Essentials How to Pare Your To-do List Down to the Essentials A Guide to Becoming a Better Writer: 15 Practical Tips

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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