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10 Foolproof Ways to a Two Hour Work Day

October 13, 2010

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One of the main benefits of quitting the rat race and starting to work independently is freeing up huge amounts of your time to do all the things you never got around to.  Things like writing your first novel, or taking a long meandering walk on a sunny afternoon or just enjoying watching your kids playing.

The only problem is that, for many of us, the moment we finally take the plunge and escape the 9 to 5 grind, we find it difficult to adapt to a different way of life and a changed working pattern.  We have become so conditioned to the necessity of being chained to a desk for eight hours that the idea of working for just four, three, or even two hours a day seems alien.

That’s why your first task as a fully signed-up freedom-seeker is to abandon outmoded notions of the ‘typical’ work day and strike out for a fresh new way of doing things – one where you work on the projects you love when and where you want.  Personally, I like to spend two or three hours writing in the morning before slamming the laptop shut and taking a long leisurely lunch.  The rest of my day is then free to spend exactly as I wish.

Some of you might choose to stay in bed all day and start work as the sun goes down.  That’s just the point – once you quit the rat race you become a master of your own time, free to construct your daily schedule according to your own whims.

Whatever pattern you decide on, here are ten valuable ways that you can start moving towards your dream work day right now.

1. Check email once a day

This is rule number one.  We’ve all done it, some days even I still can’t stop myself – but if you want to achieve a two hour work day, the first thing you need to do is stop checking your email twice every five minutes.  Instead of going completely cold turkey, maybe you could start by committing to opening your inbox three times a day and then quickly cutting that down to just twice.

A good strategy is to set a schedule and stick to it.  I started off by only checking my gmail at noon and then again at 4 o’clock.  This way I freed up the morning to work on the really important things, like writing, and still knew that I could respond to anything important that cropped up.  As time went by, I started checking just once a day.  Believe me, the world didn’t stop.  Once the people you work with get used to the idea that this is the way you do things a lot of the imagined ‘urgency’ of email just fades away.  In fact, it can be quite a liberating experience for others too as they open their eyes to a new more relaxed way of working.

2. Keep ‘em brief!

Another vital point is to keep the length of the emails you do send to a bare minimum.  Banish the temptation to write a thesis in response to a simple question or request for information.

3. Set a value on your time – and stick to it

A key strategy for drastically reducing your work time is to remember the 80/20 rule, which states that for many events roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.  When applied to your own work time this means that 80% of your income comes from 20% of your clients.

So, if you’re determined to drive down work hours, your first step is to produce a simple list of all your ‘money-making’ projects alongside the total time spent and the total money earned.  This will allow you to calculate exactly how much you earn on each project for every hour or day that you work on it.   The chances are that some projects will tend to make vastly more money per hour than others.

The next task is to simply stop working on the projects at the wrong end of the list.  Be ruthless, and eventually you should end up with a core group of activities that between them bring in the bulk of the moolah – this should give you a fair indication of the true value of your time.  Now whenever you take on another project all you have to do is make sure that you stand to earn at least as much, preferably more than, these ‘top payers.’  Over time this strategy will result in you working less hours for more money.

Remember though, this doesn’t have to mean that you have to give up working on something that you genuinely love doing – monetary rewards are much less important here.  Instead, I’m talking about eradicating the time spent on things that you don’t much like doing that don’t earn much either – simply put, these are just a waste of time.  I say ditch then and never look back.

4. Say goodbye to useless meetings

When I first began working full-time I sometimes used to look forward to a meeting simply because it broke up the tedium of being chained to the desk all day.  But then, as the years wore on, I grew to know meetings for what they really are, a pointless and time consuming vanity.  Sure, you need to meet up with people from time to time to discuss projects – and there’s no beating the value of talking to someone face to face, but does it always have to be so damned formal?  What with all the agendas and minutes and (yawn) introductions, most meetings take up the best part of a day’s work just setting up.

Instead, as Colin Wright says in his inspiring book Networking Awesomely, we need to turn our back on the dry dusty world of the business meeting and work towards cultivating ‘much stronger bonds, better social habits, a more fulfilling approach to life and a more valuable network.’  Another great read on saying goodbye to the bonds of traditional work-practices is Cloud Living by Glen Allsopp.

Alternatively, just abandon the idea of ‘traditional’ meetings altogether – if you really need to have a proper chat with someone what’s wrong with the pub anyway?

5. Don’t answer the phone

You know as well as I do that, if you’re not careful, just one call on your cell phone can end up lasting at least half an hour – that’s a full quarter of your ideal working day!  On just one call!

This is a difficult one but, believe me, 99% of your calls are non-urgent.  Remember, the ultimate aim is to hammer down your work time to just two hours or less per day – do you really think the outside world can’t wait that long?

6. Go with the flow

Have you ever experienced that feeling when you’re totally immersed in the act of creation – when you’re totally ‘in the zone’ and completely unaware of time passing or things happening around you?  Well, it’s called flow and, if you plan on quitting the rat race, it’s one of the most important traits to nurture.

First coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, (a mouthful I know, but he himself jokingly adopts the phonetic ‘chicks sent me high’) flow is the name given to a mental state where people become ‘fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of an activity.’  When in a state of flow you become ‘positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.’  The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.

Sound good?  Even better, it’s a sure-fire way to enjoy yourself while simultaneously increasing your productivity … and reducing your work hours in the process.

So how do you achieve a state of flow?  Well the best way will be down to each individual.  Kids tend to get there almost instinctively when playing and perhaps that’s the key – treat the work you enjoy as a kind of play and it’ll stop even feeling like work at all.

One of the best books I’ve ever seen on this subject is Leo Babauta’s brand new eBook Focus – A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction.

Another good strategy to increase flow is to adopt the pomodoro technique.  Personally, I don’t tend to work well with this sort of thing, but for people really struggling to achieve a state of flow it can prove to be a pretty powerful method.

7. Stop reading the news

I’m sure you know the feeling – you’ve just settled at your desk, or in your garden (or wherever else you plan on working today) fully intending to get cracking on the latest project but, before you start, it’s time to take just a little peek at The Guardian or The New York Times … and before you know it you’ve spent more than an hour filling your mind with news of events that depress you and that you are in no position whatsoever to influence.

No, better to start shaping your own world rather than reading some editor’s second-hand and reduced version of what constitutes the ‘issues of the day.’

Like the rest of us, I browse through a newspaper every now and then but try to keep it to an absolute minimum.  Some people even advocate a total media blackout for a set period as an antidote to stress and anxiety.

Way back in the Nineteenth Century, Thoreau saw newspapers for what they really are when he said:

“I have no time to read newspapers.  If you chance to live and move and have your being in that thin stratum in which the events which make the news transpire, thinner than the paper on which it is printed, then those things will fill the world for you; but if you soar above or dive below that plane, you cannot remember nor be reminded of them.”

Well Henry, I’m with you on that one.

8. Set a strict limit on social networking

Social networks can be the ultimate time-sink.  Some people I know are signed up to more than ten of them and counting.  Sometimes, they’ve even been known to spend an entire work day doing nothing more than digging, stumbling and tweeting – that’s plain mad!

If you’re stuck in the social network vortex and don’t know how to get out here’s what to do:

  1. Slash the number of social networking sites you subscribe to.  I’d advise sticking with just two or three (maybe twitter, facebook and perhaps one other);
  2. Reduce the number of people you follow on each network down to a manageable number.  Remember Dunbar’s law, which states that it’s impossible to maintain a stable social relationship with more than around 150 people;
  3. Never spend more than around half an hour on social networking sites each day.
  4. Read up on strategies to maximize the benefits of the time you spend social networks.  One of the best I’ve ever read on the subject is Tribes by Seth Godin.

9. Do your chores

One of the simplest strategies I ever hit upon for drastically reducing my work day was to make sure that I’d dealt with all of my daily household and administrative tasks before I even sat down to write.  Nothing’s more guaranteed to prevent you getting into a creative frame of mind than the nagging feeling that you need to pay your electricity bill or wash the dishes.  For all the simple chores, the best thing is to batch them all together into a half hour or so and just work your way through each one as quickly and efficiently as possible.

If the chore is a little longer, say something like filing your tax return, the thing to do is divide it up into a series of smaller tasks, set a schedule for completing each task, and write it down.  You’re now free to start working without all the background chatter.

Remember, the ultimate aim is to free your mind from all the pointless clutter of everyday life so that you can concentrate on the things that really matter.

10. Turn the ‘to-do’ list on its head

Another powerful way to revolutionize your work schedule is to turn the ancient practice of writing a ‘to-do’ list on its head.  As Everett Bogue, author of inspiring book The Art of Minimalism says, we need to start creating ‘not to-do’ lists.  This is a simple and effective way of banishing the unimportant from your life once and for all.

Bogue’s strategy is to create a list of the four or five things that are most important in your life (he chooses, reading, writing, cooking and yoga) and working to stop doing all those activities which are not directly related to them.  In this way you start to focus you attention much more effectively on the things that really matter most to you, (like quitting the rat race) and free up much more time to spend doing them.  Another great book that I’ve read on this strategy recently is Leo Babauta’s The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life.

Hopefully, by the time you’ve implemented each of these simple tips you’ll be well on your way to a two-hour work day or, who knows, you might even get as effective as Tim Ferris and whittle it down to a Four Hour Work Week!

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